You might think that instructing a solicitor is almost a given when encountering a legal problem. In the same way that you go to your GP if you feel ill, if you run into legal difficulty, you go to see your solicitor. But does this traditional view reflect reality?

Not in most cases, according to research commissioned by the Legal Services Board and the Law Society. Based on a survey of 8,192 people, the researchers made several predictions on the likely course of action taken by those faced with a legal problem. They predicted:

  • 14% of people would do nothing about it
  • 57% of people would handle it alone or with informal help
  • Only around 28% of people would actually seek some kind of formal legal advice

On the basis of these predictions, it is clear instructing a solicitor is far from a foregone conclusion. So it follows that the question of why you should instruct a solicitor is an important one to address.

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Why should I instruct a solicitor?

When you engage a solicitor you are really paying (though the work could be done on a No Win, No Fee basis) for the benefit of their skills and experience. The time spent conducting your case is part of it, but the value comes from their knowledge.

You are under no obligation to instruct a solicitor. You are entitled to represent yourself in court, provided you are over 18. Furthermore, the law is ‘out there’ – all legislation is freely accessible online, numerous resources on the internet aim to inform people of their rights, and previous influential cases – though sometimes more difficult to access – can be sifted out of law libraries and text books. With sufficient time and research, many people could put together their own legal case. That said, how confident would you be in its strength?

Engaging a qualified professional can give you confidence that your case is in safe hands but there are numerous other benefits too. Some of these include:

  • Knowledge of procedural rules and other technicalities – Complying with court processes and pre-action procedures is another aspect of pursuing a claim. It is separate from the legal basis of your claim and, even if you are satisfied as to the strength of your case, adherence to procedural requirements can have just as great an effect upon your chances of success. Furthermore, these rules are often highly complex.
  • An impartial appraisal of your case – Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a claim is a vital skill for anyone conducting one. When you are personally involved, it is difficult to view the different arguments with the necessary detachment.
  • You will be a step removed from the emotive issues involved – Connected with the point above, legal problems can concern many sensitive matters. In particular, a sense of injustice can be one of the most emotionally charged feelings to experience. If you are conducting your own case, these emotions could impair your judgment, perhaps leading you to make decisions you later come to regret.
  • You will be taken more seriously by the opposing side and the court – as unfortunate as it is, a Defendant and their legal representatives are likely to see you as a soft target if you are conducting the case yourself. Regardless of the amount of work and research you have put into your claim, they may look to exploit your inexperience.

Why a solicitor?

A solicitor is just one source of legal advice, so why should you instruct a solicitor, or a firm of solicitors, in particular?

The central reason is regulation and this confers a number of benefits to would-be clients. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which imposes a strict code of conduct upon them. Whilst this code is also applied to non-solicitors working in SRA-regulated firms, it is possible for non-solicitors to be unregulated. By contrast, it is legally impossible for a solicitor to be unregulated by the SRA.

The SRA keeps a roll of all solicitors entitled to practice in England and Wales. If you are not on this roll it is an offence to call yourself a solicitor. The title itself therefore certifies that a solicitor has completed the extensive training needed in order to qualify and be admitted to the roll.

Regulation also provides clients with certain protections should things go wrong. SRA regulations mean that:

  • solicitors must have professional negligence insurance
  • solicitors’ firms must have an internal complaints procedure
  • the Legal Ombudsman can be contacted to investigate a complaint if you are not satisfied with the outcome of an internal complaint

Additionally, the SRA operates a compensation fund so that if a firm of solicitors owes you money, you can seek to reclaim it from this fund.

Common misgivings about instructing a solicitor

The research mentioned above identified a number of reasons why people were reluctant to instruct a solicitor. These included:

  • The cost – This was the most frequently stated objection: the impression that engaging a solicitor would be too expensive. The perception isn’t helped by the fact that solicitors encounter a range of situations – even in relation to broadly the same legal problem. This makes it difficult to provide quotes for legal work without an appreciation of a case’s circumstances first. Frequently, however, instructing a solicitor might not be as expensive as you think. There are a number of funding arrangements which can be offered in certain situations, such as conditional fee agreements (No Win, No Fee agreements), whereby (in the vast majority of circumstances) you will only pay legal fees if your solicitor successfully recovers compensation for you.
  • Uncertainty – You may be uncertain as to whether you are facing a legal problem or not. A connected concern is believing nothing can be done about an issue. These have always been barriers to people seeking legal redress – sometimes it’s not clear whether any of your rights have been infringed or if the situation can be resolved. Whatever the case may be, discussing the issue with a solicitor is a good first step.
  • The hassle – It would be untruthful to say that pursuing a claim or other legal work did not require your input. However, if you would like a legal problem resolved then instructing a solicitor is the best way to go about it – even if this is just to obtain some initial advice. And engaging a solicitor is undoubtedly less work than conducting a case by yourself!

How Truth Legal can help

Whatever your concerns might be about engaging a solicitor, you can take action to determine whether they are justified. Truth Legal offers a free consultation to potential clients. This allows us to sit with you and ‘diagnose’ a legal problem. We can discuss your available options so you know where you stand. You will be under no obligation to us to take matters any further; it is entirely your choice where to go from there.

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Catherine Reynolds
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