10 Things to Check before Lawyering Up (LawXero)
How to pick the GOOD out of the Bad and the UGLY and HOW to get the most out of each of them
1. Who are you talking to and how experienced are they? Qualification of a regulated professional should be easily confirmed. This blog post is focused on solicitors (Solicitors Regulations Authority) so to check whether the person who claims to be a Solicitor is currently qualified to practice, go to the Law Society Website; Find A Solicitor. Individual solicitors and their law firms can be found. For barrister, go to the directory for the Bar Council Directory and for OISC advisers. A good thing about using a legal service marketplace like LawXero is that we aim to work with only the regulated professionals who can be verified in the public domain. So any fee quote you receive from us will have been checked initially. Questions like 'have you done many of these cases before' won’t tell you much.
2. Avoid those who 'guarantee' a result. That one should ring BIG ALARM BELLS inside your head and here’s why: Most of what we do as lawyers is to assist you to present your case to a decision maker be it the court, local council's licensing panel, the Home Office or the HMRC (Tax authorities). Lawyers are not the decision makers ourselves. It is precisely for this reason that we cannot - and should not - guarantee the success of any process you are attempting. We can guarantee that we will give it 100% of our utmost skill and care but a guarantee anything beyond this is likely to be a meaningless fib, quite frankly.
3. Avoid those who give you % rate on the success of their previous cases. It’s never a good measure of competence. After all, someone who has done 1 case with success could claim 100% success rate. You see where I am going with this?
4. Do double check your lawyer's availability at the outset - ask for a clear timescale of when the work is expected to begin and end. Lawyers almost always have several cases on the go and we manage these in the order of priority. If your lawyer is anything like me, she might prefer this timetabling exercise just so that she could organise yours and others’ cases in order to carve out time to give your case sufficient attention.
5. Know what (or for whom) you are paying. Is it a fixed fee or hourly chargeable? If the work is chargeable hourly, who else besides your main lawyer will be working on your case? A junior solicitor? Paralegal? Trainee solicitors? What is their rate and how experienced are they? Do you even want trainees, juniors on your case? (If not, can you afford to have only the senior lawyer on the case?)
6. How much should you be paying? This is a difficult one as there is no clear 'market rate' for lawyer's work. Plus, some works are completely unpredictable in terms of complexity, length, and depth of involvement so a pre-case tariff can’t be given. The profession is catching up with the market demands though and it has been suggested that law firms must publish their prices - a la carte. But generally, a good tip is not to fall for the cheapest sounding offer, unless it comes with some plausible reasons for the discount (e.g. lawyer with limited experience is branching out to a new area of practice? Trainee or a Junior to primarily handle the case under supervision? Carefully manage the frequency of contact with your lawyer- that’s right, the more often you contact us, the higher your bill will be!). Lawyers usually charge by the hour. Even fixed fees are calculated by reference to our hourly rates - we just decide to fix them in certain cases if we think we could take the risk of the work running over. Lawyer marketplace platforms such as LawXero can deliver directly to your Inbox fixed fee quotes from several lawyers which will give you an idea of how much you should budget before any work begins. LawXero is not a bidding or barter system and our lawyers are treated fairly when they are asked to give a quote. Unlike other lawyer marketplace business models, we don't exist to undercut the lawyers on their fees by encouraging competition between them. This means that our lawyers are happy with any client they receive and remain competent by being able to focus on their craft without being distracted by money talks.
7. Pay on time, every time. I know it sounds a bit like a snake oil salesman but there is no way to avoid this topic. Let's face it; it’s a service like any other and it must be paid for. Law firms are not a charity. Okays clients often forget this part but unless the money drops, lawyers can’t take responsibility for any work, let alone advice, that you might later rely on. In practice, unless money is paid (whether for a fixed fee or money on account of hourly chargeable budget), the lawyer can’t start on your work. But what about those lawyers who are - let’s just say - less than scrupulous? So there are some crooks who are just after your money. Sure. But in majority of the cases, no lawyer goes through 3 years of undergraduate, a year of intensive law school, endure through countless rejections from training contract applications, while amassing a debt the size of which is on par with an SME's annual income, only to come out the other end a seasoned crook. In fact, most starry-eyed lawyers will recount the first moment they decided to get in to law that involves some incident of prejudice and injustice and wanting to help people (or even worse, trying to make the world a better place!). Most lawyers don't want to haggle on price. The traditionalist in us think it vulgar, time-consuming, and most of all, we just want to get on with what we do best - start working on your case! Time spent on talking about fees will not be charged but you might lose out in other ways as it eats into the lawyer’s availability for more important works that they could be doing in your case. You don't want to go down in the file history as 'that client' who never pays bills on time without challenging each item twice.
8. Along with prompt payment, get the basic ID documents ready. Especially if you are in a 'hurry' to get some help, nothing 'activates' a lawyer fastest than giving them the following:
a. Copy of Passport (or Driving licence, anything with your photo ID on it);
b. Utility Bill, bank statement, or council tax statement with your name and address on it (from
the last 3 months and not any older); and
c. Payment for the job (whether it's the whole of agreed fixed fee or initial fee).
In fact, a lawyer in possession of these three things will not be able to refuse to start working.
9. Don’t be 'that' client who nit-picks spelling mistakes in the lawyer's informal email. Don't call your lawyer every day (unless, of course, this is necessary and is arranged between you). Lawyers typically divide their time into time for doing legal work (you know, the work you are paying them to do), admin (talking about money, opening client files), and business development (attend networking or devise a brilliant marketing strategy to bring in more clients, more work). Anything outside of the time for doing legal work is not chargeable to clients but it does eat into the time that the lawyer has to spend in your case. And it might give the lawyer a bad impression of you as a client.
10. Be nice to your lawyer. Give him/ her plenty of confidence and praise when things go well. After all, one of the legitimate reasons to break off your retainer with your lawyer is where the client has lost trust in the lawyer's advice or professional competence. We are professionals but we are not robots - no matter how 'Rainman' some of us might come across. We have feelings. We like to do well and we like it even better if clients recognise the hard work for all its worth. And you know what? We want to do even better! To make you happy! After all, what we provide is an utterly personal service and because Individual lawyers are regulated by the Solicitors Regulations Authority as well as the law firms we work for, much like Vidal Sassoon (of the hairdressing fame from the 80s), "if you don't look good; we don't look good". If we are lavished with your trust, your lawyer is most likely to go that extra mile beyond just the contractual obligations in order to help you.
Co-Founder of LawXero & Immigration Specialist Solicitor-Advocate
See Original Post at LawXero.