Choosing a Solicitor

You have a problem. To you, it’s important and you need to get it resolved. You may have tried to resolve it yourself but failed and (unknowingly) possibly made things worse. Many people or proprietors of small businesses try to sort out related disputes themselves or draft what they believe is a straight-forward contract without legal advice. In some cases that is fine, but where they find themselves unable to do so and they then bring in a lawyer, it may be too late to resolve the problem and so the lawyer’s job is one of damage limitation. When two parties are contracting they may submit to paper what their respective roles are. At this time there is

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goodwill between the parties and eagerness to get on with the business. In some such situations they may commit to paper the ‘arrangement’ between them. They may be friends or even related and may not feel the need for a formal contract. This is a recipe for disaster. People fall out. Then one of the parties goes to their solicitor, and guess what? One could drive tractors through the gaps in the contract. These situations can be very hard to solve and costly too. So you have a problem and it needs sorting. You may have used a solicitor in the past. Don’t automatically lift the phone to ring ‘your’ solicitor. Ask yourself, ‘Is this solicitor right for this problem?’ You may know solicitors from a sporting club or socially and they are nice people. Sure they are, but do they have the right experience to take your problem on? A solicitor’s work may be associated with solving legal problems, but their skill also is in preventing legal problems. The wisdom of engaging a solicitor to advise you on dealing with consumer or commercial issues surrounding the introduction of a new product or service could save your company thousands of Euro if any claims arise and you have in place, thanks to the solicitor, the means to deal with it without the loss of valuable man-hours and money. So how do you choose the right solicitor?   Horses for Courses If you have a sore back and you know of a GP who has a good reputation for bad backs do you go to him or to your own GP and hope for the best? Well, the same applies to solicitors. Most law firms have a general practice and their websites will tell you the areas of law they practise in. So

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if you have a copyright problem and your usual solicitor’s firm doesn’t list intellectual property on its website, or it does but with little emphasis, then that firm is not for you. If you have a good relationship with a solicitor you have used in the past but believe that solicitor may not have the experience in your particular area of concern you could contact them and ask them to refer you to a solicitor with the expertise you need. This may be a good starting point but nonetheless, before following up on the name, still conduct your own research. Also, if you do use the referred solicitor enquire from them when discussing fees whether you are paying a referral fee too. Before you ask around, do your own research. Google solicitors in Ireland with the area of law your problem is in. Ask people you know if they can recommend anyone. You can decide whether you want a big, medium or small firm. The size of firm does not necessarily mean it is better. The bigger ones will be more expensive and they will have highly skilled solicitors employed. But there are many smaller firms with particular expertise and lower cost that are just as good. When choosing a solicitor it is wise to find one who has experience in the area of law of interest to you. So if you want a specialist – that is a solicitor with a lot of experience in the area you require –then eliminate the firms that appear to have a general practice. When you think you have found a solicitor or drawn up a shortlist ask around if people you know have used them and what they thought of them. While law firms’ websites are informative, they are not objective so you need to do your homework. The more time you put into finding the solicitor for you the better chance of getting one suited to your business or problem, so you start with a feeling of confidence in your choice of lawyer.   Fees Ask around for what people paid for solicitors. This will give you a general ‘feel’ for this important matter. Look to see if their websites cover fees. Not many do but where this is the case this is useful information for you before initiating contact. The fees question is very important so do as much research as you can on this matter before meeting the solicitor. At this stage you are only getting ballpark figures but it prepares you for the outlay you will incur and it’s better to have a real understanding of this before venturing further. There is a difference between advisory work and litigation. In the former the expertise is within the law firm so it is here you are paying the hourly rate and fees should be easier to estimate. In litigation, solicitors acting for you will incur costs in issuing the proceedings so it is not unreasonable for solicitors to seek some costs upfront for this. Also in litigation, surprises can occur adding time to the preparation of the case and making it harder to pin down the cost. Do all this before you make contact with the solicitor.   Litigation Considerations If the matter you are seeking advice on is contentious and litigation is likely then remember the solicitor spends most of their time in their office and not in the courtroom. Certainly the solicitor will research the matter, and consult the legislation and case law before forming an opinion on where your case is going. Where the solicitor advises bringing counsel (i.e. a barrister) in, they will, when advising counsel, often venture their take on the case. Preferably sound out this from the solicitor at the first meeting. If the solicitor believes the case will be a ‘fighter’, has the solicitor dealt with similar cases in the past? If so, how do they see your case panning out? The solicitor can only express their opinion as every case is different and contains different personalities, and while the case may be in the same area of law, there are so many permutations that the solicitor will not be able to predict the outcome but only offer their opinion based on their experience. It is at this stage that the possibility of settlement can be discussed and when would be the best time to raise this with the other side. Whether your solicitor makes the first move or awaits an approach from the other side is a matter for them (see Chapters 9 and 10). Negotiation is a skill and needs to be dealt with in a strategic way. Before that is considered, your case’s strengths and weaknesses have to be assessed.   Clients’ ‘Do’ List

  • Do conduct research on finding a solicitor for you
  • Do seek a solicitor who has experience in the area you need

  Clients’ ‘Don’t’ List

  • Don’t try to solve a legal issue yourself; seek help
  • Don’t rush in engaging a solicitor; make your choice after careful research

  Author: Bart Daly Managing Director of First Law Ltd And author of “How to Get the Best Out of Your Lawyer” book.

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