Most of us need expert legal help at some time in our lives. Some of the most common issues are to do with buying a house, getting a divorce or making a will. But you might also need help if you are setting up home with your partner, starting your own business or organising an older person's finances.
The law can be complicated so it's important to get the best advice you can. Solicitors are the experts when it comes to the law and how it affects you. So for legal advice that you can rely on, contact a solicitor.
Finding a list of solicitors is easy using our helpline or website. Call 020 7320 5650 or visit www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor to start your search, but think carefully about what type of service you need. Here are just some of the issues you should consider:
Solicitors may offer services in a wide range of legal subjects, although more and more individual solicitors are specialising in only one or two subjects. If your usual firm of solicitors cannot help you with all your needs, they will be happy to refer you to another solicitor. Or, if you prefer, they can get the advice of a specialist on your behalf.
All solicitors in private practice must hold a practising certificate issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the independent regulator (set up by the Law Society) which sets the rules that all solicitors must follow. This guarantees that the solicitor is qualified to practise and has insurance to protect you if anything goes wrong. If you want to be sure, ask to see the certificate (which should be on display in your solicitor’s office) or contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority on 0870 606 2555 or go to www.sra.org.uk to check.
Solicitors may use other staff to deal with some aspects of your case. These staff will always be supervised. You can also ask your solicitor whether the practice has received any quality awards to prove that they have high management and customer care standards in place. If the practice has received our ‘Lexcel’ quality award, we will be able to confirm this (you can e-mail us at email@example.com or phone 020 7320 5933).
Individual solicitors might also be members of ‘quality-assured accreditation schemes’, run by the Law Society or the Solicitors Regulation Authority that cover a number of legal subjects. To join one of these schemes, solicitors must show that they have considerable specialist knowledge and expert skills. You can find details of solicitors in your area who are members of one of these schemes by visiting the 'Find a Solicitor' area of our website. You can get more details of particular schemes from the website.
Where a solicitor is based is obviously an issue of convenience. Do you need to use a solicitor who is close to where you live? If so, this will narrow your search. Solicitors should be happy to visit you at home, so if you find travelling difficult, it’s well worth asking about this.
If you are on a low income or receiving benefits, you may be eligible for legal aid. You can find this out by contacting your nearest citizens’ advice bureau or law centre. Some solicitors do legal aid work and some do not. You can find solicitors that do legal aid work on the Community Legal Service website at www.legaladviserfinder.justice.gov.uk.
For certain types of case, including personal injury, your solicitor may be prepared to work on a conditional fee basis. This is more commonly known as a ‘no win, no fee’ arrangement. If you win the case, your solicitor’s fees will usually be paid by the other side. If you lose, you do not have to pay your solicitor’s fees. You may be asked to take out an insurance policy to pay for the other side's costs if you lose. There are various types of conditional fee arrangement, but not all solicitors take cases on this basis.
If you need to see a solicitor about a personal matter, such as a relationship breakdown, you will want to choose someone who makes you feel comfortable. Most solicitors will be sympathetic and understanding if you are distressed, but you may prefer to deal with someone who is the same sex as you. Don’t be afraid to say, if this is what you want.
If English is not your first language, you should mention this when you are trying to find a solicitor. If you tell them in good time, they can arrange for an interpreter to be present at your meetings.
Solicitors must make sure that disabled people can use their services. If you have a disability which requires a reasonable adjustment you should tell your solicitor straight away. They will tell you what adjustments they can make.
Once you have found a suitable solicitors, you may need to make an appointment to meet or discuss your case by telephone. If you are meeting, let the solicitor know if there’s anyone you want to bring with you. Ask if you should bring any documents with you, such as proof of identity or income.
The more preparation you do before the appointment, the more you’ll get out of it. Make a list of the main points you want to make or the questions you want to ask. Get together any paperwork that is relevant and put it in some kind of order so you can refer to it quickly. This will make it quicker and easier for your solicitor to understand your circumstances and give you proper advice.
Check how long the appointment will last so that you don’t suddenly find that ‘time is up’ before you’ve made all your points. Have your notes in front of you, tick off each point as it is covered, and don’t be afraid to ask if anything is said that you do not understand.
Finally, ask your solicitor to send you a letter to summarise the advice you’ve been given, and confirm the following details.
Legal advice, like anything else you buy, costs money, but its value can be enormous. Charges vary between solicitors, and will depend on the expertise and experience of the individual solicitor as well as how complicated the work is.
Before making a decision about which solicitor to use, you may want to ‘shop around’. Decide on what sort of solicitor you need to speak to and get quotes from several. Many solicitors charge little or nothing for a short first interview. It is worth asking.
However, price is not the only thing you have to consider. Above all, try to find a solicitor who you are comfortable with and whose advice you feel you understand.
Solicitors don’t always charge a fixed fee for a particular job. The bill will often be worked out on an hourly basis, so the longer it takes, the more it costs. A solicitor must give you a cost estimate at the outset, usually at the first interview.
If an hourly rate is quoted, you may want to agree a fixed spending limit. If the costs look likely to go over this limit your solicitor will contact you to warn you and get your agreement to continue.
Once you have appointed a solicitor, they must consult you at every important stage, to check how you want to proceed. Similarly, you need to tell your solicitor about any changes to your personal circumstances which could affect the case. This includes any changes in your financial position which could alter your eligibility for legal aid..
The solicitor will give you details about its complaints procedure. If you want to complain about your solicitor you must use this procedure first. If you are still not happy when you have done that you can contact the Legal Ombudsman on 0300 555 0333 or at www.legalombudsman.org.uk. The Legal Ombudsman handles complaints about solicitors.
We can make the information in this leaflet available in other formats and selected languages on request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.
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