Hiring a Solicitor: The Ultimate Guide
Most people will need the services of a solicitor at some point in their lives. Whether it be for a house purchase, writing a will, making a personal injury claim, dealing with a divorce or drafting a business contract. Finding yourself in any situation that requires the need for a solicitor can feel like a daunting and unnerving experience. The law can be a complicated minefield, so employing the skills and knowledge of a solicitor can be reassuring, and often an absolute necessity.
The following guide provides a wealth of practical advice on how to source and hire the most suitable firm of solicitors for your legal needs, avoiding potential pitfalls along the way.
Section 1: Understading Your Requirements
The first step is to get a good understanding of your requirements so that you understand your need for a solicitor, what type of solicitor you need, and whether your search will be confined to solicitors within a particular location or nationwide.
DO I NEED A SOLICITOR?
It may seem obvious, but the first step is to understand your needs and determine if your legal issue requires the help of a solicitor? There are legal situations that can be dealt with sufficiently by yourself without the need for hiring a solicitor.
Depending on your circumstances, legal advice for your situation may be available through online resources, local authorities, trade unions or support charities. If you are not sure if you need a solicitor, the Citizens Advice Bureau is a fantastic free service to discuss your problem and determine if hiring a solicitor is your best course of action.
Most solicitors are happy to provide a free initial consultation to discuss your legal requirements, during which they would be able to confirm if they can help, and if so, what they can offer you.
WHAT TYPE OF SOLICITOR DO I NEED?
Many solicitors will be able to provide legal assistance for multiple areas of law. But there are some that may specialise in a single practice area, such as personal injury or employment law. So before contacting any solicitors, it is important to determine what type of solicitor you need so that you can source suitable firms.
In a lot of cases, it will be fairly obvious what type of solicitor you need. If you have been injured in a car accident for example, most people would know that they would need to find a personal injury solicitor to help them make an accident claim. Or if you feel that you have been unfairly dismissed by your employer, it is fairly clear that you would need the help of an employment law solicitor. However, there are lots of grey areas, where you may not be sure what area of law your particular legal issue would fall under.
Within our online directory of solicitors, we have 22 legal practice areas, making it easier for you to find local solicitors that provide the services you need. Here is a brief summary of the type of legal issues that would normally be covered by each of these practice areas. Although you should also keep in mind that there are some law firms that may specialise in a particular niche, such as a personal injury firm specialising only in accidents at work for example.
- Children Law - A solicitor specialising in children law will be able to help with child custody and other legal issues regarding children.
- Clinical Negligence - Clinical or medical negligence is a specialist area of personal injury law that can help the victims of medical negligence claim compensation for injuries they have suffered.
- Commercial Property - A commercial property solicitor can help businesses buy, sell or lease land and property for commercial use, as well as dealing with commercial property disputes.
- Company & Commercial - A company or commercial law solicitor can help businesses with the legal aspects of running a business, and disputes that may occur as a consequence of business.
- Consumer - Consumer rights law provides legal protection for consumers when purchasing goods or services that are not up to the standard expected.
- Conveyancing & Property - Conveyancing & property law covers the buying and selling of houses and land, lease agreements, and property disputes.
- Corporate Finance - Businesses entering into financial arrangements with banks or other financiers may require a corporate finance solicitor to help with the legal and administrative requirements.
- Criminal - If you are accused of committing a crime, a firm of criminal lawyers will advise you on your rights and represent you should your case go to court.
- Education - A solicitor practicing educational law can help in situations where individuals are denied access to education, or teachers are under regulatory investigation.
- Employment - Employment law covers most work-related issues, including the dismissal of employees, working conditions and discrimination in the workplace.
- Environment - An environment law solicitor helps businesses and individuals to navigate environmental laws and regulations regarding contaminated land, pollution and other environmental issues.
- Family - A family law solicitor can help with relationship and family issues such as divorce, adoption, domestic abuse and child maintenance.
- Human Rights - A human rights solicitor can help provide legal protection for people who feel that their civil liberties and human rights have been abused or infringed upon.
- Immigration - An immigration lawyer can provide legal advice and assistance on all aspects of immigration, including visa and asylum applications and appeals.
- Information Technology - Solicitors practicing information technology law will help businesses with IT related issues such as data protection and software licensing agreements.
- Intellectual Property - An intellectual property lawyer can help people and business secure and enforce legal rights to designs, inventions and artistic works.
- Libel & Defamation - If the reputation of a person or business has been damaged due to the false written or spoken words of a third party, a solicitor practicing in this area of law can help.
- Mental Health - A mental health law solicitor can help to protect the rights of individuals with mental health issues and vulnerable people that lack the mental capacity to make decisions.
- Personal Finance & Tax - A solicitor practicing in the area of personal finance and tax law can assist with issues such as tax liability, managing a trust and insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings.
- Personal Injury - Personal injury solicitors can help people make personal injury claims for car accidents, work accidents and other accidents that are caused by the negligence of a third party.
- Professional Negligence - If you suffer financial loss due to the negligence of professionals such as accountants, solicitors or surveyors, you may be eligible to make a professional negligence compensation claim.
- Wills, Probate & Trusts - This area of law covers the drafting or contesting of a will, the creation and management of a trust, and dealing with the estate of a person that has passed away.
If you are still not sure what type of solicitor you need, simply contact a local solicitor. All good solicitors will be happy to confirm if they are able to help with your legal issue, and point you in the right direction if it concerns a practice area that they do not cover. Alternatively you can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau. Their advisors would be able to provide you with general legal advice and confirm the type of solicitor you would need to hire.
Do I Need a Local Solicitor?
Deciding if the location of the solicitor is important to you will help to narrow down your search. In our Find a Solicitor directory, we have profiles on over 10,000 solicitors based in towns and cities throughout the UK. So whether you are looking for a solicitor in Newcastle, London, Swansea, Glasgow, Bedford, Stockport or Southampton, we can help you find a local solicitor suitable for your legal requirements.
In most cases, we would recommend hiring a local solicitor whenever possible, as this gives you the option of visiting the solicitor in person, which can help with communication. By hiring a local solicitor, you may also benefit from having a solicitor with local knowledge of your area.
In many cases the location of the solicitor you hire will come down to three points:
- 1) The type of legal issue you have - choosing a local solicitor will have more importance when dealing with certain legal issues than others. For example, if you are being charged with a crime and need a criminal law solicitor, you will most likely need to choose a local firm to represent you in order to have face-to-face contact. If you are going through a divorce, you might also prefer a local solicitor so that you can discuss face-to-face what are likely to be sensitive and emotional issues. If on the other hand you need a solicitor to help you make a personal injury claim or draft an employment contract for a new business, you may find that communication via telephone, email and post is sufficient for your needs. In this case, the location of the solicitor you choose is not as important.
- 2) Local availability of solicitors that specialise in the area of law you need - if you live in one of the larger towns or cities in the UK, you should be able to find plenty of solicitors that cover the area of law your issue relates to. However, if you live in a more rural area and have a fairly specialist legal issue, you may find it more difficult to find a local solicitor and have no option but to look further afield.
- 2) Personal preference - in many cases, whether you decide to choose a local solicitor or not will simply be down to your personal preference. If your issue does not require any face-to-face contact with a solicitor, and you are happy to communicate over the phone and through email, the location of the firm of solicitors you chose has much less importance.
SECTION 2: HOW TO CHOOSE A SOLICITOR
At this stage, you have now established the type of solicitor you require and whether you need to find one in a particular location. You are now in a position to narrow down the list of possible solicitors to contact, which will make comparing solicitors and finding the right firm for you much easier.
Make Sure They Are a Legitimate Solicitor
All solicitors practicing law in the UK must have a valid practicing certificate before taking on any clients. These certificates are issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is the relevant governing body for solicitors in the UK. Solicitors are a highly regulated profession and are therefore monitored to ensure they work according to the SRA Code of Conduct. Due to their position of authority, solicitors must conduct themselves in an ethical manner, and under the SRA Code of Conduct, they should refrain from any actions that may diminish public trust in the legal profession.
Solicitors with a valid practicing certificate will have an SRA ID number, which is also referred to as their SRA authorisation number or their "roll number". The SRA ID number should be displayed on the firm's website (it can usually be found in the footer of the website) and on any correspondence they send you on their company letterhead. You can check a solicitor's SRA ID number by searching for the ID or the solicitor's name on the Law Society directory of solicitors. Alternatively you can check on the Solicitors Regulation Authority website (sra.org.uk) or contact the SRA on 0370 606 2555.
It is a criminal offence for a person to either act as a solicitor or call themselves a solicitor without holding a valid practicing certificate. If you have any doubts or suspect that a person or company may be passing off as a solicitor, you should contact the SRA immediately. If found guilty of being a bogus solicitor, the offending person could be prosecuted.
Is The Solicitor A Member of Any Relevant Accreditation Schemes?
There are a number of quality marks you can look out for to help identify solicitors that specialise in the area of law most relevant to your legal issue. The most common of these is the accreditation scheme administered by The Law Society. This voluntary membership scheme awards quality marks to firms and individual solicitors that can demonstrate the highest standards of expertise and client care within specific areas of law. A firm holding one of these quality marks has been put through rigorous and independent tests by the Law Society, helping to give consumers and businesses confidence in the knowledge and expertise of the solicitor.
There are currently 14 different Law Society accreditations, with each one relevant to a particular area of law. The practice areas covered by these accreditations includes personal injury, family law, employment law, conveyancing, mental health and criminal litigation.
The Law Society also administer the Lexcel accreditation. A firm of solicitors with the Lexcel accredited quality mark has undergone independent assessment and has been confirmed as having the highest standards of practice management and client care. A Lexcel accredited practice has to follow a key set of rules regarding the way they manage and interact with clients, with annual assessments against these standards.
Does The Solicitor Have a Good Reputation?
With the popularity of websites like Tripadvisor and Amazon, more and more people are turning to online reviews before buying products, booking hotels or hiring tradespeople. Hiring a solicitor is just the same, as of course you want to feel confident that the solicitors you hire are going to provide you with the standard of service you expect when hiring a professional firm. In many cases you will be handing over personal information, or discussing sensitive and emotional topics, so you will want to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company and solicitor that can deliver the result you want to achieve.
One of the best ways to assess a solicitor's reputation is to source references from previous clients. The firm itself should be able to offer you examples of references and feedback they have received - all the better if they encourage you to read them without you having to request them. Do be aware though that references provided directly by the firm will have been chosen to highlight their strengths and promote their business. It is unlikely that they will provide you with reviews that show their firm in a negative light.
It is therefore advisable to also search for independent reviews online. The quickest and easiest option is to make use of Google. By simply searching for "solicitor name reviews" you will usually find out pretty quickly if they have received any ratings or reviews online. These independent reviews should provide you with a broader idea of the solicitors reputation, experience and service. Unlike references provided directly from the solicitor, reviews found on online rating and review sites will highlight occasions where the solicitor has provided poor service as well as good. So it may provide you with fairer representation of their overall reputation. Although you should always keep in mind that according to studies, people are more likely to provide online reviews to complain about poor service than they are to highlight good service they have received (Source: zendesk.com).
Another option to check a solicitor's reputation is to find out if any regulatory action has been taken against them. You can check a solicitor's regulatory record on the SRA website. You will need to enter either the solicitor's name or their SRA ID number.
When using this service, the SRA provide a few points to keep in mind:
- Not all regulatory decisions made against individual solicitors or law firms are published.
- If action has been taken against a solicitor or law firm in the past, the root cause of this action may have since been resolved.
- Some regulatory decisions are made as a precautionary measure to protect the public, rather than as a direct consequence of any misconduct or dishonest behaviour.
SECTION 3: CONTACTING SOLICITORS
You should now have a shortlist of potential solicitors that match your basic requirements. So the next step is to contact these firms to discuss your issue and gather further information that will help you to decide which solicitor to hire.
Never feel obliged to accept the first solicitor that you engage with as being the most suitable for you. The majority of solicitors offer a free initial consultation, where they will assess your case and offer their services while communicating their skills and costs. This is an excellent opportunity for any client to assess the suitability of a solicitor, ask questions and get an overall feel for the solicitor. After all, it is important that you feel comfortable with the solicitor you choose to work with.
What Questions Should I Ask The Solicitor?
You will want to ask the solicitor a number of questions to determine their suitability. It is therefore a good idea to prepare a list of questions before you contact any solicitors. This will make it easier for you to gather the information you will need to compare and choose the best solicitor for you.
The following are some questions we would recommend asking during your initial contact or consultation with a solicitor:
1) How much experience do you have in this area of law?
By asking the solicitor to confirm their area of expertise you can determine whether they are qualified to meet the needs of your specific requirements.
2) Have you worked on similar cases to mine?
Depending on the type of legal issue you have, establishing whether your solicitor has worked on similar cases before can help to provide you with confidence in their ability. If they have worked on similar cases before, what was the outcome? Did they win the case, and if not, can they detail why not?
3) How much will the services cost?
Cost is obviously a key consideration, so it is essential that you are fully aware of all costs that you may incur. How and when will payments need to be made, and are installment options available if required? Is the fee fixed or variable? If you are eligible for legal aid, does the solicitor accept these cases?
4) Can you offer no win no fee service?
For certain legal issues, such as personal injury, solicitors may be willing to offer you a conditional fee agreement, commonly known as a 'no win no fee' service. If this is a service you will need, it is important that you ask the solicitor to make sure they can take you case on a no win no fee basis, and any terms and conditions that may apply to this.
5) How will I be kept updated with the progress of my case?
Find out how and when the solicitor will update you on the progress of your case. Do they use any case management software to track progress? Will you have direct contact with the person dealing with your case?
6) How long is the case likely to take?
In many cases this will be an educated guess, as the duration of a case may depend on a multitude of factors that aren't necessarily controlled by the solicitor. However, for some services such as drafting a will or an employment contract, solicitors should be able to provide you with an expected timescale.
How Will You Communicate With The Solicitor?
Communication is key to a successful relationship between solicitors and clients. When determining the most suitable solicitor, you are well advised to ensure that the firm you choose is happy and able to communicate in your preferred way. For example, if you prefer to communicate by email only, this should be established before hiring a solicitor. Likewise, it is vital to understand the solicitor's expectations of you. For example, if the solicitor finds it necessary to have face-to-face meetings or can only communicate by postal mail in some instances, it is important that this is understood from the outset.
If you have any commitments that may affect how and when you communicate with a solicitor, it is important that these issues are discussed to ensure it will not cause problems or delays. For example, if you are only available to talk on the phone after 6 pm due to your work commitments, you may want to inquire about the firm's working hours. Are they available after 6 pm? Are they open at weekends? Can the case be conducted successfully without any face-to-face or telephone contact with the solicitor? By asking these questions at the beginning, you can make sure that the solicitor you choose will be able to fit in with your family and work commitments.
Depending on the nature of your legal issue, some solicitors may be able to provide you with access to a case management service. This service is normally accessed online through the solicitor's website, giving clients a way to electronically track the progress of their case 24 hours a day. This is particularly common with conveyancing, and can be used by the solicitor to request information from the client, as well as keeping the client updated with the current stage of the conveyancing process. In some cases this can also include email or text updates whenever the system has been updated with new information regarding your case. Although not suitable for all legal services, if you feel this is something that you would benefit from, it is certainly worth enquiring to find out if this is a service that the solicitor can offer.
Do You Have Any Special Requirements?
If you have any special requirements, it is important that you discuss these with a solicitor before hiring to ensure they can accommodate your needs.
If English is not your first language, or you have a limited understanding of English, you will need to find a solicitor that can accommodate your language requirements. You will either need to find a solicitor that speaks your language, a solicitor that can provide you with a relevant translator, or have a friend or family member accompany you to any meetings. Fortunately, there are many multilinguist firms available throughout the UK, and plenty of firms that will be happy to provide a translation service. So finding a solicitor that can help you overcome any language barriers should not prevent you from getting the legal help you need.
If you have any disabilities that may affect your ability to communicate with the solicitor or access their premises, you should discuss these from the outset. This could include the following questions:
- checking that their office premises have wheelchair access or disabled parking facilities.
- asking if they can provide written communication in large print or braille if you are blind or visually impaired
- asking if they can provide assisted hearing services for the deaf or hard of hearing, such as audio induction loops or sign language.
All solicitors should ensure that people who are disabled can use their services by making reasonable adjustments when required. The duty to make reasonable adjustments is a legal requirement under The Equality Act 2010, with the aim of ensuring that disabled people, as far as possible, can access the same services as people who are not disabled. The level of changes or adjustments considered reasonable will depend on a number of factors. This includes the size of the firm, how practicable the adjustments are, the cost of making the adjustments required and the resources available to make the changes.
Be Honest And Open With Your Solicitor
When describing your situation to a solicitor, it is vital that you are honest and provide accurate information at all times. By bending the truth, providing misleading information or holding back relevant points, you are making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the solicitor to provide you with accurate legal advice. This could result in the solicitor recommending a course of action that would otherwise not be suitable for your situation. Starting legal proceeding based on inaccurate information could massively impact the outcome of your case, and potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of pounds in wasted legal fees.
It is important to remember that when sharing information with a solicitor, they have a professional and legal obligation to keep this information confidential. This duty of confidentiality applies to all members of the firm, including solicitors, legal executives and support staff. Confidentiality is a fundamental feature of the client-solicitor relationship, as detailed in chapter 4 of the SRA Handbook, which sets out the standards and requirements that all solicitors must adhere to.
How Much Will Hiring a Solicitor Cost?
Inevitably, the cost is always going to be a prime consideration for most clients. The cost of using a solicitor will vary greatly, depending on the type of legal service you need, the complexity of your case and the expected duration. As with most services, solicitor costs will also vary from firm to firm, depending on the size of the firm, their experience, their location and many other factors. So before hiring a solicitor it is important to get a clear understanding of the costs involved and to discuss legal fees with at least three firms to give you a good base for cost comparison.
Fixed Fees vs. Variable Fees
Before hiring a solicitor, you should determine whether the cost of the service they will provide is fixed or variable. Whether a fixed fee service can be provided will depend on the nature of your legal issue. If a fixed fee service can be provided, you will know the full cost that the solicitor will charge for their service right from the outset.
If the cost of the legal service is variable, you would normally be given an hourly rate. The rate will often depend on the experience and position of the solicitor, with higher rates being charged by solicitors in more senior positions within the firm, such as partners. With variable fees, the costs have the potential to increase depending on factors such as duration of the case, documentation production, communications, etc.
Conditional Fee Agreements
Most people will have heard of the phrase ‘no win, no fee'. This is a conditional fee agreement (CFA) which simply means that if a solicitor is unable to complete your case or has an unsuccessful outcome, you will not be charged a fee. This way of compiling and completing a legal case is most prominent in personal injury claims, but may also be available in other circumstances, such as employment law disputes.
To take a case on a no win no fee basis, the solicitor may ask you to take out an insurance policy that would pay the other side's costs if your claim was lost. This is known as legal protection insurance, and in some cases may be covered by an existing insurance policy, such as your house insurance. If this is requested, your solicitor would explore your options and provide a recommendation.
With a no win no fee agreement, you will only pay your solicitor a fee if your compensation claim is successful. This is known as a "success fee", and it would be deducted from the amount of compensation you are awarded. The success fee solicitors charge will normally be a percentage of the compensation awarded, and this percentage will vary. So it is important that you discuss and fully understand this cost before hiring a solicitor.
As they will only receive payment if the claim is successful, solicitors taking a case on a no win no fee basis will take time to ascertain the chances of winning your case, and they will often only accept the case if they believe there is a strong chance of success.
In recent years, conditional fee agreements have also become increasingly common in the provision of conveyancing services under the term "no sale, no fee". As the name suggests, under a no sale, no fee agreement, a conveyancing solicitor would agree to undertake the legal work on the basis that if the house sale does not complete, the client would not be charged any fees.
If you are receiving state benefits or are on a low income, you might be eligible to receive legal aid to help cover the cost of legal services. The aim of legal aid is to help ensure fair and equal access to justice for people who may otherwise be excluded from legal advice due to cost.
Eligibility for legal aid will usually depend on the type of issue, the seriousness of the case, and your financial situation. To apply for legal aid, you will usually have to provide evidence of any income, savings, property or benefits you have. You may also be required to provide those of your partner, or your parents' or guardians if you are under 18 years old. You can find out if you are eligible to receive legal aid by using the legal aid eligibility tool on the Gov.uk website.
Not all solicitors will take on legal aid work, so if you require legal aid, it is important that you discuss your requirements with any solicitors you decide to contact.
Hiring a solicitor doesn't have to be daunting. By understanding your requirements and doing some research, you can find and compare solicitors that are best placed to provide the legal services you need. Here are the key points to remember:
- Determine if you actually need a solicitor, or if your issue can be resolved by yourself
- Determine what type of solicitor you need, and if location is important to you
- Make sure you are dealing with a real firm of solicitors
- Has the solicitor been awarded any relevant quality marks from the Law Society or other relevant bodies that demonstrate their expertise in the area of law your issue related to
- Check the solicitor's reputation by reading references and reviews
- Create a list of questions to ask the solicitors that you have shortlisted
- Discuss how you will communicate and keep updated with the solicitor to ensure this will meet your needs
- If you have any special requirements, make sure these are discussed with the solicitor from the outset
- Make sure you are clear and understand all costs that you may incur before instructing a solicitor
- Always be open and honest with the solicitor's you contact to ensure they can provide you with accurate legal advice.
What is in this guide?
To help you navigate our ultimate guide to hiring a solicitor, we haven broken the guide into 3 sections. To jump to a particular topic you can use the links below:
- Make sure they are a legitimate solicitor
- Is the solicitor a member of any relevant accreditation schemes?
- Does the solicitor have a good reputation?