There are many ways to resolve legal problems, the overwhelming majority of which do not involve going to court and some of which do not require the attention of a solicitor.
Having said that, it is usually an advisable precaution to consult a solicitor where you have a problem that involves the law. They will be able to advise you on your options, what the consequences of inaction are, and of any deadlines that must be met. You will be under no obligation to use their help further following your initial meeting. However, you will have the security of knowing that you took the precaution of seeking out legal advice in the best way possible.
Nevertheless, the prospect of consulting a lawyer can seem daunting—lawyers can be expensive and the legal system is confusing, complex and in a constant state of change. Before you take the plunge, it may well be worth taking a close look at your circumstances and doing some preliminary research.
In some circumstances—where you have been charged with a crime, for example—it may be absolutely necessary to hire a lawyer. If you appear in court as a defendant, you will have one automatically allocated to you (although defendants sometimes sack their lawyers and opt to defend themselves). Equally, if you are buying a house, you would be well advised to ask a lawyer (a solicitor or licensed conveyancer) to take care of the legal side of the transaction. Otherwise, you could be storing up expensive problems for a future date.
However, the question, ‘Do I need a lawyer?’ depends on a multitude of factors.
Always bear in mind that it can be more expensive not to hire a lawyer than the cost of actually doing so. For example, buying a DIY will writing kit could seem a cheap option but may not be suitable for you if you have remarried or have complicated financial circumstances.
Before consulting a lawyer or other legal adviser, it is a good idea to work out roughly which area of law is involved. This may be obvious in the case of a crime, a divorce, or a property transaction (you will need a criminal lawyer, a family lawyer or a property lawyer). If not, however, the first thing to do is to write down your problems, including what happened, when, where and how. Where we face a seemingly insurmountable problem, it is often easy to allow our emotions to cloud the issues. Try and gather as much information together as possible. If you have been the subject of malicious rumours, try and think where and when you heard word of these, and who told you. If a newly purchased second hand car is playing up and you have been forced to fork out for repairs, then keep the receipts.
Secondly, ask yourself if you can resolve your problem without consulting a lawyer. There are many advice services out there, most of which will help you free of charge. These include Citizens Advice, law centres, Shelter (if it is a housing problem), and mediation services for personal and business problems (you may have to pay for these). Your local library should store leaflets about these, or you could simply look them up in a telephone directory or do an internet search. Community Legal Service Direct offers help over the telephone and is free to use apart from the cost of the call. For employers, Acas offers fact sheets on common employment issues such as the correct way to hire staff or make them redundant.
These services will often advise you to consult a lawyer, but can be a useful starting point to steer you in the right direction.
Thirdly, you may have rights and duties that you are unaware of, and a solicitor may be able to help you with these. It will not always be obvious where a solicitor can help, and each set of circumstances is unique.
Remember that solicitors are strictly regulated by the Law Society of England and Wales, and have a professional duty to advise you of your options, including likely costs and avenues of funding. They can advise you of the risks involve with any course of action, and after that the decision on what to do is yours.
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