Finding the right lawyer is vital when there is so much at stake. The choice can be daunting, especially if you have never needed legal assistance before.
These questions (and the right answers) will help you identify the best lawyer for your case.
This is an independent measure of a lawyer’s experience and expertise. The Law Society of Queensland and New South Wales recognise experience and skill in legal practice by accrediting specialists in each area of practice. An accredited specialist is recognised as among the very best lawyers in their field of expertise. An accredited specialist must have at least 5 years in practice in their area of accreditation.
Learn more about accredited specialists.
A lawyer is only qualified to represent clients when they are “admitted” as a solicitor of a Supreme Court and issued a practising certificate. This will tell you how long a person has worked as a lawyer as opposed to training or having another role in the law.
Experience counts. An experienced lawyer knows the best tactics to use and the pitfalls to avoid. There is no need to settle for a lawyer with limited experience when there are many experienced lawyers available.
Every area of law has complexity. Insist on a lawyer describing the expertise they can use to assist you. Ask about other similar cases the lawyer has worked on. Choose a lawyer who specialises in the relevant area of law, a family lawyer for a family law issue or a criminal lawyer to deal with a police charge.
Reality check what a lawyer says about their experience. Choose a lawyer who provides advice about options and likely outcomes specific to your case not just general advice that could apply to any case. For example in criminal law matters, be wary of penalty advice that stops at the maximum penalty. The maximum penalty is so far from the likely outcome in most cases that it amounts to irrelevant fear mongering.
You need a lawyer who fearlessly tells you everything you need to know, all your options, all the possible outcomes, the good news and any bad news.
If a lawyer does not provide frank advice, you can’t be confident they have considered all the opportunities and risks.
The best lawyers, the ones genuinely interested in protecting and advancing your interests, will tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. They will provide and explain all the options so you have the power to make the best choices.
A good lawyer takes the emotion out of the situation. A good lawyer provides all the options and the pros and cons for each.
Frank advice includes explaining what is and is not value for money in your case. For example, do the prospects of success of a submission or an application to a court, justify the additional cost.
The best lawyers exploit and supplement their experience by developing a system of resources, policies and precedents. Good lawyers don’t just rely on what is in their head. The right systems multiply the benefits of experience.
Does the firm use practice management software? Does the firm use precedents and policies to streamline work and create both quality of service and savings for clients?
Choose a lawyer who leaves nothing to chance.
Choose a lawyer who provides a written client service charter they promise to honour. You are paying for a service, you are entitled to a guarantee of the quality of that service.
Client service guarantees should include timeframes for attending to your case, how quickly your lawyer will respond to any communication, complete and reliable disclosure of costs, and a formal complaints process if you have any concerns.
Law firms committed to providing superior client service invest in software and systems that guarantee that level of service. Ask what systems your lawyer uses.
Better lawyers use systems including document management software, client management software and an enhanced file management review system to ensure nothing in your case is missed.
Every lawyer needs to provide advice that is clear and easy to understand.
The best lawyers take the time to explain the considered reasoning behind their advice so you understand your case. Lawyers should actively involve their clients in decision making. It is your case.
A good lawyer will provide clients with written information about the law and legal process as well as discussing that advice in person.
Lawyers divide their time between looking after their clients and seeking to secure new work. Lawyers differ in their priorities.
Better lawyers prioritise providing the services they promise to their clients. A client focused law firm sets aside time to complete work for existing clients and manages the time available to see potential new clients.
The best law firms have policies against accepting new work if it will compromise the quality of service the firm offers.
A lawyer can withhold client documents in certain cases. Law firms have different policies about how they handle your documents if you want to change lawyers. It is important to understand your lawyer’s policy upfront.
A client focused law firm will adopt a policy of always releasing documents to a client so they have the best chance in their case whatever lawyer they choose.
There should never be any nasty surprises. You are entitled to know what you need to pay.
A lawyer must disclose their full fees in writing. This includes fees for barristers and experts. This is a legal obligation. You should be given a costs agreement before you are charged for legal work unless the matter is urgent.
You should be advised the possible fees for every step in a case, not just the fee to start. You should be informed about all the factors that might increase the fees payable. Be wary of anyone who is evasive about fees or quotes a low fee for only a small step.
Some law firms openly advertise their fees consistent with the legal obligation to disclose fees.
Always be clear about what services a fee includes and more importantly what it does not.
Lawyers are slowly moving away from time billing, the practice of charging for every 6 minutes of work. This is a system that tended to favour law firms and confuse clients.
Better law firms offer their clients the certainty and comfort of Fixed Fees. You need a lawyer who clearly explains what is (and is not) included for a fixed fee or what developments will incur further fees.
An experienced lawyer knows what work a case requires. An experienced lawyer works through a case effectively and efficiently. It is that knowledge and experience that allows a good lawyer to offer a fixed fee service.
Make sure a fixed fee offers value for money. Ask how the fixed fee is calculated. Find out the lawyers hourly rate and calculate how many hours work the fixed fee funds. Satisfy yourself that is the amount of work your case requires or seek an explanation.
You can, as a client, often do things to manage and reduce your legal costs with a lawyer’s guidance and support. It is your choice whether you are comfortable with this or if you want your lawyer to do everything. Choose a lawyer who gives you the option.
A good lawyer will actively advise the opportunities to manage costs. A good lawyer will have systems in place to assist you manage legal costs including client guides for common tasks like providing instructions.
Better law firms use a flexible approach to assist clients when funds are limited. This includes providing resources if you are self-represented or the law firm is acting on a limited basis and providing Unbundled Services, to assist with important aspects of the case to improve the whole case.
Listen to a lawyer’s advice with a critical ear. Choose a lawyer who is quick to identify the relevant issues. Choose a lawyer who can provide on the spot advice about the law and how it will affect your case. Choose a lawyer who either provides a clear indication of the likely outcome for your particular case or explains the range of possibilities and what will affect the outcome.
Good lawyers use their brains. A lawyer should be caring and empathetic but not emotionally involved. Emotions tend to cloud better judgement. Good judgement is what you are paying for.
Some cases call for a more aggressive approach. It is an intelligent and strategic approach that achieves the best result in the vast majority of cases. An unnecessarily aggressive approach risks missing a strategic opportunity and often adds to legal costs by extending or expanding a case without improving the result.