So you are faced with a problem or an opportunity? You may be buying or selling a house, you may want to make or review your Will, were you injured in an accident at work or a car accident, do you need a Contract of Employment, have you been threatened with dismissal? Whatever your particular problem or indeed opportunity, you need to be able to choose the right Solicitor for you. It could be this firm, it could just as easily be another. Hopefully, these guidelines will be of benefit to you. This is just our take on the question.
Before you choose to retain a Solicitor, you should make sure to ask him or her the following questions:
How much experience do you have with my type of case?
Whether you are hiring a Personal Injuries Solicitor*, an Employment Law Solicitor*, a Conveyancing Solicitor, a Probate Solicitor or a Solicitor who deals with any other area of work it is important that the Solicitor has experience with your specific type of case. You should ask, and you are entitled to ask, about the specific types of case that the Solicitor has handled in the past.
You are entitled to ask what their case load is like.
You want a Solicitor who is experienced and knowledgeable. You do not want a Solicitor who is too busy to handle your case with the level of attention that you deserve. A good Solicitor should be able to tell you whether they have the facilities to take on your case. You should ask as to what the communication policy is of the Solicitor. You are entitled to ask how quickly you can expect replies to your phone call or emails. Equally you should check that the Solicitor’s availability to take a phone call or reply to an email will match your requirements. If you are dealing with a Solicitor who is involved in buying and selling houses, they will probably be in the office more often than a Solicitor who is involved in Court cases.
A Solicitor who is involved in Court cases is more likely to be available either early in the morning before Court starts or late in the afternoon when Court is finished. You also need to check as to when they will be able to see you. While most Solicitors will be able to accommodate you on reasonable notice, because of the type of work that the Solicitor does, there may be times during the day when they are not normally going to be available. If you are only available to deal with the matters over the phone and wanted to do so by phone and can only do so in the mornings and the particular Solicitor tells you that they are usually in Court in the morning, then that Solicitor may not be the right Solicitor for you. You need to choose a Solicitor who is experienced and knowledgeable and whose communication policy and availability to meet with you is acceptable to you.
What legal fees will I have to pay?
This is a very important question for any client of a Solicitor. It is going to be very important for you. In contentious cases such as accidents or personal injury*, claims or employment law* claims a Solicitor is not entitled to claim fees as a percentage or portion of any award or settlement. That is the law. A Solicitor in such cases can however set out the basis under which they are going to charge. This could be an hourly rate, or it could be a set fee. You can also ask are there going to be any incidental costs? These would include out of pocket expenses, for such matters as postage, copying documentation, Court filing fees or fees for Medical Reports. In non-contentious work such as Probate, buying a house or apartment or doing up a legal document for you, you should discuss the fees with your Solicitor before asking that Solicitor to act for you. You are entitled to know how much it is going to cost you. There is nothing wrong and you are encouraged to ask your Solicitor “how much will this cost?” You are entitled to know. Your Solicitor may not be able to give an exact amount day 1 but he or she should be able to estimate a likely range of probable costs for you.
Are there time limits?
In Personal Injury*/Accident Cases* and Employment Law* there are strict time limits. If you are challenging a Will there is a time limit of 6 months from the date that the Grant of Probate issues. If you are buying a house or apartment or any property, the Contract will provide a closing date on which you must complete and if you don’t, interest could be charged on the balance of monies payable on completion. You need to know about what time limits apply.
In a Personal Injury*/Accident* case or Employment Law* case you may ask how much you can recover? No Solicitor can make promises or guarantees of recovery. He or she should be able to give you an estimate of what a claim may be worth. This however will depend on the strengths and weaknesses of your particular case. Until they have all the facts and sometimes not until they have all the reports, medical and otherwise, will the Solicitor be able to give any realistic estimate on your case. Saying this, even at the start of your case, your Solicitor may be able to give you a rough estimate. This will often determine whether you wish to proceed or not.
What information do I need to provide?
This question is often overlooked. Your Solicitor is there to represent you. Your Solicitor will represent you on the basis of what you tell him or her. You need to know from your Solicitor what information he or she needs from you. The sooner you can gather this information in a timely manner, and in the manner required by the Solicitor, the better he or she will be able to represent you and advise you.
Should I ring round to get the best price?
Of course you can ring a number of Solicitors’ offices to get a quote. You are entitled to do this. However, simply ringing around is probably not going to allow you to ask all the questions that you need to ask and work out whether this is a Solicitor who you want to engage to act on your behalf. It is sometimes said there are three types of service, GOOD/CHEAP/FAST.
You can pick any two:
GOOD Service CHEAP won’t be FAST;
GOOD Service FAST won’t be CHEAP;
FAST Service CHEAP won’t be GOOD.
We do not do “FAST service CHEAP”. If you are looking for a “FAST” and “CHEAP” service then you are far less likely to get an experienced and knowledgeable Solicitor. The cheapest option may or may not be the right option for you. Think about buying a pizza. You can go from the basic Margherita up to a version of pizza loaded with the most exotic toppings. Maybe you are a Margherita person. Maybe you prefer some toppings. There is a price difference. Sometimes you may find that something in between suits your needs, likewise the cheapest price may decide matters for you. Equally, the quality and expertise may be important and you may need a service more tailored to your needs. It is always your decision, but take time before deciding. Meet the Solicitor or more than one and then decide.
You have to use a Solicitor regulated by the Law Society of Ireland if you are buying or selling a house or any property.
Only a Solicitor can draft a Will and be paid for doing so. You can use a non-qualified accident claims handler or somebody who holds themselves out as an Employment Law Consultant or some other similar title to deal with Personal Injury/Accident claims and Employment cases. However, there is a drawback. You have no guarantee that these people are properly qualified. They are not regulated. Unlike Solicitors, they do not need to do continuing professional development, known as “CPD”. Unlike retaining a Solicitor, you have no method of checking if you got a proper service. In accident cases a claims handler cannot appear in Court, therefore they can only deal with matters up to and including the Injuries Board. If the Injuries Board Assessment is not sufficient, the claims handler cannot bring your case to Court. You will have to ask yourself in such circumstances will such an individual attempt to tell you that it is a good assessment or will they tell you to take the file to a Solicitors’ Office? You can answer that one yourself.
In Employment Law cases non-Solicitors at best can appear before the Labour Relations Commission, the Labour Court, the Equality Tribunal and the Employment Appeals Tribunal. What happens if matters need to go to a higher Court? Solicitors are trained by the Law Society of Ireland. They have to pass exams proving competency and the law. They are regulated by the Law Society of Ireland. They have to do continuing professional development in the areas in which they practice to remain up to date with the law. Only such a Solicitor, so qualified, can bring your case to a higher Court. It is always best in all matters legal to be represented by a trained professional. The only trained and regulated professionals in this country are Solicitors and Barristers. Some people may call themselves “Advocates” or something similar. Unless they use the term “Solicitor” they are not Solicitors.
Where do I go to find a Solicitor to represent me?
Very often there will be a family Solicitor who has acted for your family in the past. If not, you may know a friend or colleague who needed a similar service and they may be able and willing to recommend such a Solicitor to you. There may be a local Solicitor who you have heard about. Many Solicitors will have a website setting out in broad terms the type of work that they do. A good starting point is to check out Solicitors’ firms local to you. This may be close to where you work, or close to where you live. At times you made need a special specialist Solicitor in a particular field of law. It is therefore important, if you are using the internet, to do a search setting out in broad terms the particular area of expertise that you need. Sometimes if you have a Solicitor whom you have dealt with in the past there is no problem going to them and asking that they refer you to a particular specialist if they do not have the specialist knowledge themselves. Alternatively, your Solicitor may be able to engage themselves another specialist in the particular area of law that you need assistance with.
You then have the advantage of a Solicitor with whom you have dealt with in the past and whom you know and trust being able to act on your behalf to get the specialist legal advice and support that you need. A great advantage of Solicitors is that Solicitors have access to other specialists. The Law Society of Ireland can also help you in finding a Solicitor should that prove necessary.
If you have a legal problem, what’s the first thing you should do?
Speak to a Solicitor, speak to the professionals. It is our business as Solicitors to assist you.
Declan O’Toole & Co. Solicitors provide specialist legal services in the areas of Personal Injury/Accidents*, Employment Law*, Commercial Contracts, Commercial Litigation, Estate Planning and Probate, Conveyancing, in buying and selling all property, in matters of divorce and separation. We are not a full service firm, we never claim to be. We provide services only in specific areas of the law where we are both experienced and competent. Whether you use or services or indeed another firm for your legal needs, we strongly advise that you always use the services of a Solicitor regulated by the Law Society of Ireland for all such matters.
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice. Individual situations differ. You should always discuss your individual situation with a Solicitor regulated by the Law Society of Ireland.
*Please note that in contentious cases a Solicitor may not charge a fee as a proportion or percentage of any award or settlement.
Declan O’Toole BCL TEP is a Trust and Estate Practitioner and has been practising as a Solicitor for over 32 years.