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How to pick a solicitor

How to pick a solicitor

The coming months may see plenty of new names entering the legal services sector, so it's important to pick the right firm to deal with.

John Fitzsimons

Investing and pensions

John Fitzsimons
Updated on 21 August 2011

In the coming months, the new ‘Tesco Law’ will radically shake up the way that legal services are provided, potentially making life more difficult when it comes to picking a suitable solicitor.

The incoming Legal Services Act has been nicknamed the Tesco Law in some quarters, as it essentially turns legal services into a commodity, allowing non-legal firms (such as supermarkets) to start offering legal services.

And this makes life potentially tricky for those of us in need of legal assistance. Are legal services really the sort of thing you should pick up while waiting in the queue at Sainsbury’s? As with insurance, it’s important that you make the right decision, rather than simply the most convenient, or else it may cost you far more in the long run.

So how do you go about picking a solicitor?

What services do you need?

Legal help comes in lots of different forms, and different solicitors and legal firms will specialise in different areas. So make sure that the firm you go for at least has experience in the area you’re looking for, whether it’s wills, conveyacing or whatever.

Personally, I always feel happiest if I am using a specialist – when I had my will written a couple of weeks ago, I made sure to go with a firm that exclusively deals with wills.

Finding a firm

There was a time when searching for a legal firm was no more complex than a quick flick through the Yellow Pages. And while that approach still works today, you can be a little more thorough!

I really like the search facility on the Law Society website, which allows you to search not only for specific firms or by post code, but also by their specialist areas of law. However, there are plenty of other websites promising to put you in touch with decent legal representatives, like Contact Law and Legal Centre.

Word of mouth is also a great way of finding a decent law firm, so ask around your friends and family to see if they have any recommendations.

Check their regulation

As the name suggests, the Solicitors Regulation Authority is the body which regulates the 120,000 solicitors across England and Wales, ensuring that the services they offer meet a certain standard.

The body requires solicitors to abide by the Code of Conduct, which you can read on its website.

So before you go ahead with any firm offering legal services, be sure to check that it is regulated and appropriately qualified. You can also check the solicitor’s record, to see if it has been disciplined in the past.

Are they insured?

[SPOTLIGHT]It’s very important that solicitors have appropriate professional indemnity insurance, to cover you in case they make a mistake which causes you financial damage. However, with the insurance market for solicitors on the tough side at the moment, there are concerns that some are unable to get this insurance.

So be on the safe side, ask to see their insurance certificate.

Get a clear price list

If you use a legal firm regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, then you should be told in the clearest of terms exactly how much the services are going to set you back.

According to the regulator, you must be told at the outset, or at least told how the costs will be calculated. You should also get a clear explanation at the end of the transaction as how your final bill total has been reached, or indeed at any earlier point should you ask for it.

It’s also worth asking what happens if they have underquoted for the amount of time they will need to handle your case – while some firms now charge a fixed rate for their services (which would mean an underestimation would not cost you anything) not all do, which may see you spending more than you expected.

Interview them!

Before you commit to using a firm, there are a number of questions you should be asking them. Find out if they will provide a free initial consultation, something that many legal firms are happy to do. Ask them about their specific experiences with cases like yours, and see if you can get references from former or current clients, ideally ones in a similar boat to you.

And be sure to ask exactly who will be working on the case. You may meet the partner to discuss the case, but will it be him or his secretary that is doing the work? And what happens if they are away and something develops with the case?

You might also like to ask if the firm is part of a larger network, so that support and assistance is in place if there are any gaps in experience or knowledge, or the workload builds up beyond the expected level.

Legal aid

If you are lowly paid or on benefits, then you may qualify for legal aid, which will help cover the costs of your legal advice. Things are a little up in the air with legal aid as the Government is trying to adjust the circumstances in which you can claim it. However, Directgov has a really useful section on legal aid on its website, while it’s also worth having a chat with your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Many thanks to highstreetlawyer.com and Contact Law for their help with this article.

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