Not all lawyers are made equal. Just because they’re a lawyer, it doesn’t mean they know the area of the law that you need help with. Also, the way legal firms run their businesses are very different – you need to be aware of a few things when you are choosing a lawyer.
Just like any other high-end item that you might buy, when you are shopping around for legal services, you should do your research. My husband and I are sticklers for research – if someone doesn’t have a website, we discount them straight away. If someone’s website is not up to date, we discount them straight away. We look at forums, recommendations, and what sort of information the business is putting out, before we make a decision. With legal services, I am suggesting that you do the same.
Are they up to date?
Just like someone with no website, or an old website with no content, will not make me want to work with them; if a professional hasn’t kept up to date with the law, then you should reconsider working with them.
The legal profession must to a certain amount of continuing professional development (CPD) training each year. But that’s not to say that everyone does – I have know solicitors to book a conference, attend in the morning to get their named signed off, and then not to the training. Then others do the easy training that will get them their points, but does not actually push their knowledge.
For some solicitors, it has been a long time since they studies and did their law degree, and legislation changes a lot, and the Courts are always putting out new judgments and precedents. So for those who studied in the 60s or 70s, if they haven’t kept up, then they have probably been left far behind.
What is their experience?
Like the medical profession, you can go to a general practitioner (GP), or you can go to a specialist. With lawyers, you should use someone who has experience in the kind of legal matter that you have, rather than someone who will ‘give it a go’ for you.
Check what memberships the lawyer has – are they a member of the Law Institute of Victoria; are they a member of the Legal Council of Australia; are they a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), and many other professional memberships that could assist with their professionalism and learning.
Also, the law society in each State has an accredited specialist program for lawyers. Those who complete the accredited specialist training in their particularly area of the law have done much more study, and have passed a difficult scrutineering and examination process by their peers.
It’s also important to remember that just because a lawyer has been doing the same thing for 20 years doesn’t mean that they have kept up to date, or are good at it. They may still do things the same way they did 20 years ago, and haven’t actually learnt anything in that time!
What are their values?
Everyone can find a lawyer that meets their needs. For those who really want to litigate and cause trouble, they will find a lawyer without scruples who will tell them what they want to hear. There are also plenty of lawyers who will charge a lot of money for a sub-standard job.
You should find lawyers whilst doing your research that you can relate to – they should be real people who you can talk with. They should also put your needs ahead of their own; hence, they would prefer to solve your problem rather than prolong it just for the sake of increasing their fees.
How will they work with you?
Lawyers all work differently. Some are very responsive, and get back to you within 12 hours, like us. We communicate well, and believe in efficiency. There are many lawyers who still believe that it’s a privilege for you, that they are doing your work. So they will take their time, and only return calls when it’s convenient for them. You don’t have to put up with this kind of arrogance.