Differentiating between solicitors who all say they are expert in the same thing is an extremely difficult exercise.
While there is information available on large commercial law firms, there is little information available on 'high street' law firms.
The Law Society runs an accreditation scheme for many specialist areas of practice, whether it be family law, bankruptcy, property, etc and you can check on the firm's website or ask the law firm if they have accredited members in the area of law which you need advice on.
It also makes sense to ask prospective solicitors for their hourly rates and estimates of how much your work is likely to cost and depending on the type of work involved, it may be possible to negotiate fixed or capped fees.
Solicitors are required to supply you with a client care letter, which sets out their terms and conditions, to which you must agree before they start work.
Deciding which solicitor to use is just the beginning of the task in hand. While many solicitors will agree to a 'free' first meeting, their charging structure means they charge by the hour after that - so keeping an eye on the clock is a good idea. Conversations should be short and focused - why pay for small talk?
Issues to be discussed with your solicitor include prospects, timescales, costs (which should include barristers' fees or any other items such as search fees).
Also find out what you can do and answer your solicitors' questions as accurately as you can. The clearer your information is the easier it is for the solicitor to help you.
Do not shy away from asking your solicitor for clarification if you do not understand what they are saying. Likewise, correct them if you think they have not fully understood your case.
Checklist: What you need to ask
What will it cost?: Is the initial meeting free of charge? How much do you charge per hour? What is your overall bill likely to come to? What other expenses are there? If considering litigation, could I be responsible for the other side's costs?
What is the timescale? How long will my matter take to conclude? What could delay the conclusion of my case?
What are my prospects of success? If litigation, what are the prospects for success? Would mediation or negotiating directly with the other party be a better course of action? Does the solicitor properly understand what my problem is?
Do you understand my case? Ask your solicitor to also summarise the advice you've been given and read it carefully when it arrives. This will demonstrate whether the solicitor has fully understood your case. If you are not happy that this is the case, now is the time to clarify the situation – or find another solicitor if your first choice does not inspire confidence.
What do I need to do? After the meeting, the solicitor will send you a client care letter, which should contain:
· Confirmation that the firm has agreed to handle the case.
· Who will handle your case and whether that person is a solicitor, trainee, legal executive or paralegal.
· How often you will be updated in the progress of your matter and by what means (e.g. telephone, email or letter).
· The main points of the case, an outline of your objectives, what options you have, an outline of any advice already given to you and what will happen next.
· How long the matter is likely to take to conclude.
· An estimate of how much the matter will cost, including the solicitors’ fees and other expenses and the basis on which these will be paid. If there is a risk that you will be liable for the other side’s costs (usually in the event of litigation), then this should also be included.
· The name and contact details of the person at the firm who is responsible for handling complaints.
As the case progresses, your solicitor should keep you informed about its progress and, in particular, any factors that may increase the cost of your case.