Tips While Obtaining the Services of a Lawyer

  1. Lawyers work much faster if you agree a price beforehand. Keep in mind that any quotation you receive is likely to be a figure that they will use just to ensure they get the work. It is likely and probable that your final bill will be far in excess of this amount.
  2. Your lawyer charges the same amount of money for listening to you crying as he does for drafting papers. Try to sort out as much as you can before you go to see a lawyer. It’s cheaper and if you and the other person is mature enough, it will be more amicable. You can choose to try to ease the path for everyone by writing a letter. However, please remember that you are in a potential conflict. I have used the facillity that lawyers themselves use, that is a write “without prejudice” on the top of the letter, which prevents it from being presented to a judge in a hearing. That doesn’t mean, though that the other lawyer won’t use it, so be careful – choose your wording properly.
  3. Any legal costs in probate come from the estate. The Succession Act in Ireland states that the estate pays for the “administration of the estate”. This may not include all the professional fees which you will have to pay separately.
  4. It is not unusual for probate cases, because of this, to settle when there is little or no money left. It is in your lawyer’s interest and the interest of the other lawyer to prolong your agony as much as possible. Again, words are useful tools here. Be careful. Your lawyer may well be watching your fees being clocked up against the value of the estate. Like I said, regardless of how bitter and angry you feel, try not to go into a round of hair pulling. It’s expensive and achieves nothing.
  5. It’s the same with divorce, and especially if the State are paying the legal fees for the lawyers.  Government funds are an endless pit, as we have been told many times by the lawyers who act accused persons and get paid by the Free Legal Aid Board. If you are a person who falls into this category, make sure the lawyer sends you a copy of the bill they are issuing to the State for fees.
  6. Keep records of lengths of calls, letters, emails and meetings you attend with your lawyer. When you get the bill with the time breakdown, cross-reference what you have been charged (your time breakdown should include what was done for the amount charged and how long was spent doing it). Lots of stuff like internal meetings, legal research and telephone calls with other parties will be charged, and you won’t have a record of these. But look at the bill and see if there has been an unreasonable amount of time spent.
  7. Watch out for double billing. Students and apprentices also have targets to reach, and they rotate every few months. What this means is that if an apprentice is reviewing your file (reading the correspondence and documents, etc.), gathers the information needed and then changes to another department, the new apprentice will charge again for all the time he spends doing the same thing.
  8. The Law Society has a complaints department that you can refer all complaints to.  They also have a list of lawyers who will sue other lawyers. None of these cases have ever gone to court. The Code of Practice suggests that these cases are either settled or dropped.
  9. If you call your lawyer and he fails to return your call, email. Lawyers are aware of the damage that written records can create for a person (including you, so always be polite). They are more likely to respond to email then phone calls. Remember, phone calls aren’t recorded. When you call your lawyer and speak to him by phone, it is normal practice in law firms for the lawyer to dictate a recording of the phone call. You will be charged for the time it takes him to dictate this.
  10. Law firms and lawyers are about money. In all the years I was employed in law firms, I never once asked an apprentice or student why they were going into law, and got an answer that involved changing the world or justice. It was answered with the amount of money they were going to be earning for five years into the future, what age they wanted to make partner, and how much their Christmas bonus was likely to be.
  11. Promotions in law firms are given to high earning lawyers. It does include a level of work commitment, but more likely it will be based on which clients the lawyer is likely to introduce the firm.
  12. If you settle a case, ask your lawyer for a copy of all the bills he is issuing. Do this in writing and send the letter by email and ordinary post, or failing this, by registered post. Keep a copy for your own files. If you don’t get a response, send a reminder a few weeks later.
  13. The Law Society has no control over clients. There is nothing preventing you from contacting the other side in a dispute. Keep in mind though, that anything you do or say can be exaggerated or misunderstood by the other person, so be careful. The other person may not be as willing as you to prevent an expensive law suit.If you are purchasing property and there is a delay, it’s not a bad idea to contact the sellor directly. Property transactions can be delayed when each solicitor simply blames the other side for the delay. Remember, a property transaction can be completed in two weeks. If you feel the delay in unreasonable, speak to the sellor. They may be able to shed some light, and you might be surprised at what you learn.
  14. Before attending at a law firm, do not give any information on the reason for your visit. Ask them to carry out a “Conflict Check” against the other side. If the other side is a client, they can’t represent you. Many clients have been caught by this. They just attend, and give all the information that they are asked for when they do, to be informed that the lawyer or law firm can’t represent them because they are representing the other side. They will, of course, bill their actual client for the time they spent with you. And now they have all the information they need to design their defence.
  15. Be careful of the Retainer Trick. A “retainer” is money you will pay to a lawyer upfront, before he begins to represent you. You will usually be asked to pay this when  you have received the Engagement letter from the law firm you have attended, signed it and sent it back to them.  The funds will, under Law Society rules, have to be lodged to the CLIENT account by the firm (it’s a different set of rules, as there is no invoice).

Every law firm runs at least two accounts. They may have many, but they are obliged to have two. The first is the OFFICE account. This is the account where all monies paying fees are lodged and where the office overheads are paid from.  The second is the         CLIENT account. The purpose of the CLIENT account is to hold funds which don’t belong to the law firm in trust for the client who has lodged them there.

The interesting thing about the CLIENT account is that under Law Society rules, no lawyer can transfer money to anybody from this account WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE CLIENT. Unfortunately, the Law Society has not regulated as to what fashion permission needs to be obtained, a point not missed by lawyers.

What usually happens is this. You attend a law firm to ask them to represent you. They assess you can’t afford them but agree to act for you anyway. They sent you an Engagement letter along with a request that you pay a retainer. You sign the Engagement letter and lodge the funds to the CLIENT account.

As they have previously assessed you can’t afford to pay them, they don’t want you as a client. They can’t get rid of you themselves (that’s unethical), but they can get you to leave voluntarily. And the method they take is very simple. After you have paid the retainer to the CLIENT account, they totally ignore you.

A few months later, when you have lost all sense of reason and have found that you can have your file transferred to another lawyer (under the Undertaking rule), you transfer the file to the second lawyer. The file will go from your lawyer to the other lawyer.

What you probably don’t know is that the second lawyer has to sign a letter of Undertaking he receives from the first lawyer, advising that all fees will be paid to him at the completion of the matter.  The signing of this letter of Undertaking is done by your new lawyer, and he does not require your consent before signing it. In fact, he will probably never mention it to you.

Meanwhile, a letter goes from the lawyer you just sacked directly to you enclosing a bill for the full amount held in the CLIENT account and which represents the amount of the retainer fees you paid him when you signed the letter of Engagement.

Two things will be evident. The first, is that the amount of the bill will be for the amount held in the CLIENT account and then some. The second, that the “some” will be deducted by the lawyer so that he can later argue to the Law Society that he did so in the interests of maintaining good PR.

Avoiding this is easy. When your lawyer writes to you with quotation, asking you to sign it and return the signed copy to him with the retainer fees, enclose a letter advising that under no circumstances are any monies to be transferred from the CLIENT account at any time without your WRITTEN PERMISSION. Keep a copy of the correspondence. You can always email them if they need to transfer funds and although this hasn’t been tested, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. That way, if they transfer funds from their CLIENT account without your written permission, you can simply report them to the Law Society.

And messing around with client funds, as we all know, is something the Law Society purports to take seriously.

About CarolynALambert

I have authored a book called The Judiciary - An Ordinary Person's Perspective, which is now available on Amazon US. The UK version will be available to purchase on the 1 December, 2012. It is a memoir and one that is long overdue. It is the story of an ordinary person as they self-represent against a law firm in the Irish courts, the system of the courts that appears to ensure that people don't self-represent and the reputation of the judiciary confirmed.

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