Do you really need to call a lawyer?
Research suggests that 2 out of 3 people who need a lawyer don’t actually involve one, leading to poorer outcomes....
This is why the perennial debate about the cost of justice continues unresolved because clearly money buys bargaining power, professional advice and representation. Despite the high costs of hiring a lawyer, the outcomes are often well worth those costs.
The problem is most people simply do not have the money to spare to hire such services. So, what can be done yourself, if need be and when should you absolutely hire a professional?
I have been repeatedly amazed at the tenacity of consumers and small businesses who have battled through disputes unrepresented. An example was a case of a self-employed builder who’d been hired to build a £2000 wall, but had later been sued for £30,000 for not building a far higher specification wall, about which he knew nothing.
Ordinarily such a dispute; which went through several Court hearings, would have had lawyers for both sides but this chap did not have access to such resources, so he applied himself stubbornly to defending his case and won emphatically, with costs in his favour. This means had he hired a solicitor, he would have recovered his own legal costs.
This case worked because the facts were reasonably straightforward, but in more technical, or financial disputes, other factors can prevent a consumer from making much headway in a case, without proper help.
So this is where you need to be very pragmatic, unemotional and grown up frankly. The key questions are about risk, affordability, the outcome and what you are trying to achieve?
Anything relating to apologies, distress, inconvenience and points of principle, always fire off concerns in my mind when I see people taking risky litigation to put right hurt feelings, seek an apology or acknowledgment of blame. Put bluntly, it is often better to walk away and seek karmic revenge in other ways. I believe HMRC receives a vast number of its anonymous tip offs from those denied their day in court!
But in some cases, NOT litigating will lead to a far worse outcome. I recall a case where a couple were disputing an agreement made when they purchased a home together.
It was clear that he was being obstructive and that a court case would inevitably go in her favour, but she could not find a solicitor prepared to act without £5000 on account. Her total legal bill, after the case was concluded in her favour, was over £10,000 which she borrowed from various friends and family and was able to repay them all after the successful result.
Had this woman not defended her position, she would have lost over £90,000 in equity from their shared property as he tried to establish a 50/50 equity share from an agreement that stated an 85-15 split.
So it is important to objectively qualify what the dispute is trying to rectify. For amounts under £10,000, it is not practical to involve lawyers, as these cases fall into the small claims track of the court system where legal costs cannot be recovered.
Family law cases are also notoriously expensive and is one area of law where the numbers of unrepresented cases outweighs represented cases. Many litigants in person navigate the stressful family court system because legal aid is unavailable and legal support beyond their pockets.
However, a level-headed professional can bring calm and order to a frightening dispute. A vindictive spouse will seek an aggressive lawyer, but a spouse seeking common sense will look for a ‘Resolution’ accredited family lawyer who is trained NOT to wind up your ex and create further toxic tension. Family law is one of the most commonly offered fixed fee practice areas, so if you and your ex-spouse to be can try and agree the basic principles of the divorce, the whole process could go forward at an affordable fixed cost, protecting both parties from excessive legal costs.
I have seen many people use their lawyers for the wrong goals and end up with hollow victories, but I have also witnessed people take a very firm grip of their lives and face down a legal threat using self-taught knowledge and tenacity. It’s not for everyone however, so make sure you ‘risk assess’ your motivations for taking legal action in the first place. Once through that, you need to identify your likely legal options, i.e. whether you can tackle the matter yourself or whether you need professional advice.
A law firm first appointment is often free or relatively cheap. Use the JustBeagle platform (www.justbeagle.com) to find which law firms cover the area of law near you, as well as national and regional providers. See who offers a free or reduced fee first appointment and go in and make the most of it…. they rarely have a stopwatch ticking!
If they agree that you risk losing a lot of money, your property rights, or even custody of your children, give serious consideration to finding some help to pay your legal costs. Family are often the best source but don’t forget to check your household insurance policy, which often provides for a decent level of cover for many disputes, sadly excluding family cases though.
Talk openly with your law firm about the different funding options, not all law firms are the same. A firm may be able to offer a no win no fee service, or a fixed predictable fee in certain circumstances, so it is important to have that conversation.
The other and perhaps more important consideration is your risk of losing and being liable for your opponent's costs. This is why I expressed such sharp words earlier in this article about why you are undertaking this battle, can you afford to lose is often a bigger question than whether you can win.
Law firms are evolving, if the first one you speak to won’t see you without a large payment, move on to another one until you find someone prepared to work to your budgets. It’s a highly competitive industry and law firms achieve good customer retention for future work like wills and house sales, so be brave, be bold and make sure you get the complete picture before you plunge into any legal matter.
Former consumer litigator Kate Briscoe is CEO and co-founder of LegalBeagles.info and also the fastest growing legal comparison site JustBeagle.com.
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