How do I choose a solicitor?
For personal injury matters, there are thousands of solicitors to choose from. So how do you find the right one to handle your injury claim?
Here are some points to consider in deciding which solicitor you want to retain:
Although cost is an important factor, you should not let it become the only factor you take into account. As in so many areas of life, the cheapest course of action is not always the best one. Think in terms of getting value for money, so that if you're paying more than the absolute minimum, you're getting something extra for it.
Solicitors' fee rates and the way that they charge can vary. It is important to understand up-front how a solicitor will charge you for their services. Solicitors are often prepared to handle personal injury matters on a "no-win-no-fee" basis. This means that you pay the solicitor nothing unless you win, but that if you win you pay them more than their standard fee. To agree to this type of fee arrangement with your solicitor, you will enter into a Conditional Fee Agreement with them, which sets out the details of what you are obliged to pay and when.
Solicitors are required to give you an estimate of their fee for a particular matter, and unless your solicitor later updates or changes their estimate, their fees must be consistent with the initial estimate. Even solicitors at the biggest, most prestigious law firms are accustomed to discussing costs, and you should be confident about doing so, before you agree to use the solicitor's services. You can find more information about solicitors' fees on the Law Society website.
Experience and track record
Not all solicitors handle personal injury cases, and even among personal injury solicitors there are those who specialise in cases involving particular types of injuries or diseases. You will want to get an understanding of your prospective solicitor's familiarity with the type of injury that you have, and there are a number of other questions you might want to ask them. For example:
- How long have they been practicing as a personal injury solicitor?
- How many cases similar to yours have they handled?
- What is their success rate?
- How frequently do they take cases all the way through trial, and do they have any reservations about taking cases to trial? (Some solicitors are known to insurers for avoiding trial, and therefore may get less attractive settlements than those who are prepared to go to trial if necessary.)
- Are they on the Law Society's panel of accredited personal injury solicitors? (You can also check this yourself on the Law Society website.)
- What back-up arrangements do they have within their practice, if for some reason they are absent, unavailable or just overwhelmed with other work for a period of time?
- If they work as part of a team, how much of the work on your case will be done by other members of the team? If it is to be a significant amount, who are the other team members who will be doing the work and what is their level of experience?
Availability (and affability)
One of the main complaints clients have about solicitors is that they can sometimes be slow in responding to clients. You will want a solicitor who can respond and meet your needs promptly. So the one-man band who is overwhelmed with clients might not be the best choice.
Often, good quality professionals will have a team, including more junior professionals and well-trained staff members. Not only can a team provide quicker response than the over-stretched practitioner, but it might also be more cost-effective, since junior staff can handle the simpler, lower-value tasks that you may need as part of the overall package.
If you're instructing a solicitor on a substantial personal injury matter, bear in mind that it can take months (and in some cases many months) for the case to settle or go through trial. So you may be working with your solicitor for some time, and a good inter-personal relationship will be important. If, in your initial meeting, you feel that your prospective solicitor is unhelpful or dismissive, then consider carefully whether you really want to work with that person. Once a personal injury case gets started (particularly where you are instructing the solicitor on a "no-win-no-fee" basis) it can be very difficult to change solicitors.
Individual solicitors and law firms
Most solicitors practice as part of a law firm, and law firms can vary enormously in their approach. If your prospective solicitor practices in a firm, you should evaluate the firm as well as the individual. How does the firm approach individual partners' cases? Is there back-up if, for instance, the particular solicitor is unable to attend to a case for some reason?
Sometimes a law firm will have an especially good reputation for personal injury work, so that you will actually start by initiating contact with the firm rather than any particular lawyer within the firm. There is nothing wrong with that. If you've identified a law firm that seems to have the expertise you are looking for, you can simply give them a call, explain that you are a prospective client with a personal injury claim, and take it from there. A good quality law firm will handle your query efficiently, and get you on track for an initial consultation with a solicitor who can help you.
Finding the right solicitor
There is a lot of information about personal injury solicitors available online and in various publications that collect client feedback on solicitors. Although such information can certainly be a good starting point, an individual who only rarely deals with solicitors might find it somewhat challenging to sort through the mass of data and make a selection. There are organisations, such as Contact Law, who do this regularly and can introduce you to a solicitor in your area who specialises in personal injury cases like yours for free.