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Finding and using a lawyer: A guide to choosing a lawyer

First Steps

As with choosing any other service, it pays to do your homework before making your choice.  As well as personal recommendations from friends and colleagues, you can search the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives CILEx Lawyers Directory. The Directory ensures you that the person is qualified and regulated to provide you with advice.

Do I actually need a lawyer?

There are many laws to protect you and help you sort out disputes and problems you may have with people and organisations. These could be, for example, problems:

  • To do with your home (your landlord or your neighbours)
  • To do with your relationship with your partner
  • To do with your job (your boss or the organisation you work for)
  • Dealing with companies you buy goods and services from
  • Buying a house or flat.

Many problems can be sorted out simply by talking to the person or people involved. It is always better to try to resolve any problems this way first. But if this is not possible you may need help from a professional who has expert knowledge of the law . This might be if, for example:

  • You’ve been injured in an accident that you think someone was responsible for
  • Your landlord is trying to force you to leave your home
  • A company you owe money to is harassing you.

What kinds of lawyers are there?

Lawyers are people who are trained in the law – usually a particular area of law – and are there to help you. You don’t have to be wealthy or have a very complicated problem to use a lawyer. They are there to help you understand your problems and to use the law to solve them. They will do this in a way that gets you the best result as quickly as possible. Using a lawyer does not mean that your problem will have to be decided in a courtroom.

There are several types of lawyers, including Chartered Legal Executive lawyers, solicitors and barristers. Some deal only with specific matters. For example, licensed conveyancers deal only with the legal contracts for buying and selling houses or flats. Others may specialise in family law business law or divorce.

How do I find a lawyer?

The right lawyer for you is a person who knows about your type of problem and can deal with it in a way you want. You may want to talk to someone who can give you general advice about your options first.

This could be:

  • A Citizens Advice Bureau – see under ‘Citizens Advice’ in the phonebook for your nearest
  • CLS Direct – 0845 345 4 345

How should I approach a lawyer?

We would advise talking to at least two lawyers in your area who deal with your type of problem, before choosing one to take on your case. This is so you can make sure that:

  • They have the right expertise and experience for your problem
  • They will offer you value for money
  • And most important, you feel comfortable working with them.

Once you have the names of lawyers in your area who can deal with your problem, you should phone them and ask for an ‘initial interview’. Many will offer this interview for free – but do check first. If the initial interview is not free, find out the cost before going ahead. The interview may be short, perhaps just 15 minutes, but it should be enough for the lawyer to understand what help you need, and for you to decide whether you feel comfortable with them.

What should I do when I meet a lawyer?

To make sure you choose the right lawyer, you need to make the most of your initial interview. So go prepared. Take with you copies of any:

  • Letters or emails about your problem (for example, letters from the person or organisation your problem is with)
  • Any court documents you may have received about the matter
  • Other documents that may help the adviser (for example, a tenancy agreement, if your problem is about your home).

Your lawyer should explain several things about your case. Make sure they cover the following points (if they don’t, ask them):

  • Your options for sorting out your problem – especially if the lawyer cannot sort it out for you
  • Your chances of getting the result you wantHow long they think your case will take
  • Whether your problem can be sorted out without going to court
  • Whether legal aid is available to you, and other ways of paying for legal services if it is not
  • What you may have to pay if you lose your case
  • Who will be handling your case (if it is not the lawyer you are speaking to)
  • What to do if you should be unhappy with the service you receive.

They should also be able to give you an estimate of the cost of the work on your case. This will only be a guide price, not the final bill. However, their estimate should be broken down into their fees and other amounts you may have to pay, such as court fees.

What is the best way to compare lawyers?

If you have had initial interviews with at least two lawyers, you should decide which one to use based on:

  • How well you believe they understood your problem
  • How confident you are that they know the best way of handling your case
  • How helpful they were in giving you information and advice
  • Their estimate, what it includes and whether you can receive legal aid.

What should I expect from a lawyer?

When you employ a lawyer, you will probably have another, longer meeting to discuss your case and how the lawyer will handle it. Depending on how complicated your case is, you will probably have other meetings, too. After any meetings with your lawyer you should make sure you know:

  • What you need to do next
  • What action your adviser will take nextWether you need to provide any extra information or further documents
  • Whether there are any key dates or deadlines you need to know aboutwhen your lawyer will contact you again, or when your next meeting will be.
  • Your lawyer must follow professional rules, including keeping information you provide private and confidential. You must be prepared to tell them everything about your case, so they can make sure you get the best result at the lowest cost.

What can I do if I'm not happy with my lawyer?

If something goes wrong or you’re unhappy with the service you’ve received, complain in the first instance to the lawyer, or their firm. Many will have a complaints procedure which will explain, for example:

  • How to complain
  • Where to complain
  • How your complaint will be dealt with.

If you have a problem with your lawyer, ask for a copy of their complaints procedure. If you are unhappy with their response to your complaint, you can then take your complaint to their professional body’s complaints service. These include:

  • The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives Complaints Service, for complaints about Chartered Legal Executives: phone 01234 841000
  • The Law Society’s Consumer Complaints Service, for complaints about solicitors: phone 020 7242 1222 or visit www.lawsociety.org.uk 
  • The Bar Council’s Complaints Commissioner, for complaints about barristers: phone 020 7242 0082 or visit www.barcouncil.org.uk

Whatever type of lawyer you have, their complaints procedure should tell you what you can do if you are unhappy with their response to your complaint.

Meetings with your lawyer

Face-to-face meetings with your lawyer are always better than letters or phone calls, but they can take up time, and you will normally be charged for them. To get the most out of any meetings you have – make sure you cover all the things in this checklist. Be sure you know:

  • What you need to do next
  • What action your lawyer will take next
  • Whether you need to provide any more information or documents
  • about any key dates or deadlines.

You also need to know about when your lawyer will contact you again, or when your next meeting will be and how long they think your case will take.

The first visit

When you first visit an adviser to see if they are going to be able to help you, go prepared. Check you have these things with you:

  • Copies of any letters relating to your problem (for example, letters from the person or organisation your problem is with)
  • Copies of any court documents relating to your problem
  • any other documents that may help the adviser Your adviser should explain several things about your case. Make sure they cover the following points – if they don’t, ask them
  • Your options for sorting out your problem – especially if the adviser cannot sort it out for you
  • Your chances of getting the result you want
  • Whether your problem can be sorted out without going to court
  • Whether legal aid is available to you, and other ways of paying for legal services if it is not
  • What you may have to pay if you lose your case
  • Who will be handling your case (if it is not the adviser you are speaking to)
  • What to do if you are unhappy with the service you are receiving.

Further meetings may often be required and, of course, these will also be chargeable.

Using legal services can sometimes be a daunting prospect, especially if it is in conjunction with a difficult or sensitive matter. Approaching the task of finding and using a lawyer in a in a systematic way will help ease those inevitable worries. 

Search for Chartered Legal Executives near you using the CILEx Lawyers Directory.