The solicitor-client relationship is in many ways much like a partnership. Like partners, the relationship is most effective when the parties trust each other and are working together towards the same goal. Making your solicitor’s job easier helps you. Here are some of the ways that you can help your case.
See a solicitor early
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Seeing a solicitor can help avoid future legal problems. If you are going into business, a lawyer can draft a written agreement to protect your interests. If you are getting married, a lawyer can prepare a pre-nuptial agreement. If you are unsure about whether something is illegal or can get you sued for it, your solicitor can advise. There are numerous other examples.
If you have a legal problem, you should see a solicitor sooner rather than later. Firstly, there may be time limits that apply to your case. If you don’t see a solicitor soon, you may find that you have missed a time limit. Secondly, you must give your solicitor plenty of time to prepare your case. Expecting your solicitor to win in court after seeing him for the first time only two days prior is a recipe for disaster. In fact, you may find it rather difficult to get a solicitor to agree to act for you in such circumstances as their professional indemnity insurer warns strongly against it.
Provide all the relevant information
You must be truthful and tell your solicitor everything about your matter that is relevant, including information which puts you in a bad light or which may be detrimental to your case. Failing to be frank with your solicitor may result in your solicitor not being able to prepare your case properly, or you receiving inaccurate advice which you then act on to your own detriment. Furthermore, if your solicitor discovers such information at a later date this may harm your case, cause embarrassment to you and damage your relationship with your solicitor.
Any communications between you and your solicitor are protected from disclosure by client confidentiality. So please tell your solicitor everything that is relevant!
Pay your accounts on time
The reality is that clients who pay their accounts in full and on time get more priority and attention than those who don’t. Clients who are good payers are valued, and solicitors are more motivated to make them happy by providing greater care and attention to their matters.
On the other hand, failing to pay your accounts on time may result in costly delays, or even your solicitor refusing to further act for you. The result is that your matter goes nowhere because you are constantly in conflict with your lawyers over fees. Additionally, your case may be thrown out and/or costs orders may be made against you because of delays that originate from your failure to pay your accounts promptly.
Stay with the same solicitors
It is generally advisable that you retain the same solicitor from the start of your matter through to the finish. Of course, there may be situations where that is not possible or desirable, such as when a conflict of interest arises, the law firm winds up or your solicitor is clearly not doing a good job. However, there are numerous advantages with sticking with the same solicitor.
Firstly, a solicitor who is with you for the duration of your case has an intimate knowledge of it which will help them represent you better when preparing or presenting your case, instructing barristers and the like. Secondly, you will save on legal fees as you won’t have to pay more than once to have a solicitor find out what your case is about, what has happened in the case, what needs to be done etc. Thirdly, mistakes are less likely to be made and things are less likely to be overlooked.
Do what your solicitor asks
When your solicitor asks you to do something, it is usually for an important reason. Not doing what your solicitor asks you to in a timely manner may harm your case. Don’t expect your solicitor to chase you up by asking more than once – he or she probably has plenty of other clients and may not have the time to ask you again. If you fail to do something you are asked to, this can harm your case or weaken your position.
Read documents carefully
When your solicitor asks you to read something or sends you correspondence, you must read such documents carefully. Often they contain important information or advice. If you don’t understand what you have been asked to read, contact your solicitor to explain it to you. If you fail to read documents carefully and properly, you may make a decision that you later regret.
Remember that at the start your solicitors know very little about your case. As a result, you should explain things clearly and logically. For example, you should try to give a chronological account of what has happened, mentioning when things happened to the best of your recollection. Mention everything that is significant. Try not to get side-tracked into irrelevant mattes. Focus on the facts rather than your feelings or opinions. Otherwise it is very hard for your solicitor to grasp your story.
A surprisingly common mistake that some clients make is to assume that their solicitor already knows the characters in the story when the client hasn’t previously mentioned them, as the following example demonstrates:
Client: She came in one day and was upset with me
Solicitor: Who is she?
Solicitor: Who is Judy?
Client: She’s my landlord
As the above example demonstrates, the client failed to tell the solicitor at the start the name of the person they were referring to and who they were. Of course, such information is essential to understanding what really happened.
The more logically you explain your story to your solicitor, the faster and better they will understand it.
Don’t flood your solicitor with letters or emails
Please keep your correspondence to your solicitor short and to the point. Some clients have a tendency to send repetitive, numerous or unnecessarily long emails or other correspondence to their solicitor. It is very difficult for your solicitor to note or remember everything you send in such cases. Furthermore, if most of what you are putting in your written correspondence is repetitive or not legally relevant, you increase the chances that your solicitor will miss the important bits.
When deciding what to discuss in your correspondence, ask yourself whether the information will help your case or whether you are simply ‘letting off steam’. Letting off steam only distracts your solicitor from the legal case.
Don’t ramble on
On a related note, when you are speaking to your solicitor about your matter, try not to turn the conversation into a venting session. It is understandable that you may feel the need to vent about your case: no doubt it is extremely important to you. However, the truth is that we solicitors find it hard to listen carefully to what clients are saying when they are speaking for long periods and most of what they say is repetitive or not legally relevant. Remember that we are lawyers, not counsellors! Whilst we can express sympathy with your predicament, we can only help you with your legal problem. And if you are constantly venting/rambling on we might just ‘tune out’ and miss the important bit of information.
Answer the question!
Similarly, some clients don’t always answer the straightforward questions their solicitors ask them. When you are asked a question, pause and think for a moment about what information your solicitor is trying to obtain from you. Chances are there is a good reason why your solicitor wants that information. Don’t use the question as an opportunity to rant! If you talk about what you want to talk about instead of answering the question, you are making it harder for your solicitor to stay focussed and gain a better understanding of your case.
In particular, if you are asked a closed (yes or no) question, please answer simply with either a yes or a no. Only elaborate on such an answer if there is a good reason why the yes or no will not suffice, and only to the extent necessary to give an accurate answer. There is perhaps nothing more frustrating for a solicitor than to ask a closed question and get a long-winded answer which does not answer the question at all!
Failing to answer the question makes it hard for your solicitor to elicit the necessary information from you, making it harder for him or her to understand and prepare your case.
Listen to your solicitor
Some clients seem to think that their appointment only involves them speaking to their solicitor, and not their solicitor speaking to them! Whilst there may be occasions when you will do most of the speaking because your solicitor needs to obtain information from you (eg the first interview), remember that you should also be prepared to listen. For example, a solicitor may explain the legal issues to you, or advise you of an important requirement that will have to be met by you.
If you don’t actually listen to what your solicitor is advising you, you may not receive the important information you need to know. This may result in you failing to take steps which would assist your case. Or not fully understanding the legal issues that apply to your case. In which case you may be sleepwalking into a legal minefield.
Please ensure that you are available to be called, check your emails and collect (and read) your mail frequently. There may be something important or urgent that we need to advise or ask you. If you change address, let your solicitor know within days, or preferably in advance. If you are going on an overseas holiday, advise your solicitor where you are going, for how long and how you can be contacted during that period if the need arises.
As you will have noticed, this article has provided advice on how to get a good relationship with your solicitor and make it easy for your solicitor to act for you. The above tips will hopefully turn you into a model client that your solicitor loves working for and hearing from! Although observing these tips cannot guarantee a successful outcome, there is no doubt that they will help. Having a good relationship with your solicitor maximises the chances of a good result.