Monday, 22 December 2014

Choosing a solicitor: Part 2 – Value for money

Lots of solicitors offer good value for money, find out which suits you

This is part two of our three part series on choosing the right solicitor for you.  Follow the link to read part 1, which deals with finding a solicitor with the right expertise.

They say you get what you pay for and that is just as true of legal services as it is of anything else.  I was recently approached by a lady who was about to stand trial for failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis – an offence that can easily lead to a prison sentence – her solicitor had only just obtained an expert report that was essential to her defence.  When I read the report I was shocked.  It was by an expert who appeared to have no expertise in the area he was giving evidence about.  He made several basic mistakes that showed he did not understand the area at all.  When questioned, the lady revealed that the firm she had instructed had charged her a total of £915 for their services.  What had she got for her money?  The advice of a paralegal – no contact whatsoever with a qualified solicitor.  She had been advised to pay an expert who was totally unqualified to give advice in her case.  As a direct result of that she eventually accepted that she was going to lose the trial and decided to plead guilty – she had completely wasted her money and lost a very winnable case.
Did she get value for money?  I’d have to say that she did not.

What could she have done differently?  First, she should have shopped around and asked questions of the firms to whom she spoke.  Questions such as: 

1.       Who will act for me?
a.       What are their qualifications?  If they are not a qualified solicitor then ask yourself whether you want to be represented by somebody who is unqualified?  They should be supervised by a qualified solicitor but how often will they be supervised?  How often will a solicitor review your file?  Will a solicitor be in control of your case?
b.       How much experience does this person have of handling your type of case?
2.       When will I meet my solicitor?
a.       If all communication is handled by email or telephone then ask why that is?  Are they a firm that “piles ‘em high and sells ‘em cheap”?  You can’t do that if you are spending time preparing for and attending client meetings.
b.    If you aren't meeting your solicitor then ask what exactly they are doing for you?  Beware of "national" firms with only one office.  If you instruct a firm in Manchester or Devon to represent you in London will they be taking their fee just to pick up the phone to a London based Chambers - which is probably not a specialist set at all - and get them to do all the work?
3.       Who will represent me at court?
a.       In 90% of cases, I will act as the solicitor and advocate for every client – if your solicitor is planning to instruct a barrister then ask yourself why your solicitor won’t represent you – does he or she lack the experience or qualifications?
b.       When will you meet your advocate?  I often hear of people only meeting their advocate on the morning of trial – are you happy to do that?
c.        Many firms like to outsource advocacy to barristers who they may never have met nor seen in court – ask them whether they do that and if, for example, the firm is based in Manchester and your case is in London ask how often they see the barristers they instruct in court?  If their answer is “we instruct him all the time and never get any complaints” then ask yourself if you are happy giving your case to a firm that doesn’t take the time to properly vet its advocates.

You should also ask how the solicitor sees your case taking shape – what will they do?  When will the work be done? 

Once you have asked all these questions you are ready to ask “how much is this going to cost me?”  The more specialist the solicitor the better he or she should be at predicting the cost of your case because they are likely to have seen many cases similar to yours.

Let me be blunt for moment, solicitors are not the cheapest service you will ever buy – there’s no getting away from that fact.  Solicitors cost a lot to employ because we have a lot of overheads in terms of insurance (my firm carries £3,000,000 of insurance per case and have never had a single claim against us), regulation, law updates (I personally receive 80 email updates every month containing multiple cases and new/amended Acts of Parliament as well as regularly attending courses and conferences).  If the price sounds too good to be true then it probably is.  A top city-based commercial solicitor will cost you anywhere from £500 upwards, my own commercial law solicitor charged £350+VAT per hour.  The most expensive legal advice I have ever bought cost me £1,000 per hour!  It can get very expensive very quickly. 

Motoring solicitors are significantly cheaper in comparison to our city-slicking cousins.  I don’t charge an hourly rate; instead I charge a fixed fee per case.  Fixed fees mean you know exactly how much your case is going to cost you and there are no nasty surprises.  It also means that I can agree payment terms with my clients whether that’s money up-front or staged payments over a number of months.  Ask any potential solicitor what their payment terms are and, if you would prefer to pay monthly rather than in a lump sum then do not be afraid to ask.  Do remember to ask whether your solicitor will charge interest on any monthly payments - they shouldn't normally do that.

Once you have all the facts you can sit down and decide which firm offers you the best value for money.  Who is going to do the best job for you at the best cost for that work?  Once you have decided that you can decide who is the right solicitor for your case.

If you do require expert legal advice on any aspect of motoring law then please do contact the London Drink Driving Solicitor on 020 8242 4440.

Next time we will be looking at trust, commitment, careand attention you should expect from a solicitor you employ to work on your case.

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