Kuldeep S. Clair, Consultant Solicitor, offers his views
It might seem rather self-serving for a solicitor to discuss:
(1) what makes a good lawyer, and (2) how can you be a good client?
But these are important questions and it is helpful for clients to bear them in mind in assessing whether there is something wrong in their relationship with their lawyer. Can something be remedied by a change of expectation on the client’s part? Or is their lawyer genuinely at fault, either in terms of his competence, professionalism, or the costs that he is charging?
Let’s discuss each separately.
A lawyer should act with absolute integrity and advise his client honestly. He should not be just telling the client what he wants to hear. He should advise the client about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, realistic remedies, and the cost-effectiveness of them. He should advise of all the options available, such as (if relevant), litigation and alternatives like ADR (alternative dispute resolution), mediation, or a settlement.
Excellent negotiation skills are essential to anyone purporting to be a good solicitor, and vital to so many areas of law. Much legal work is about not just the letter of the law, but what can be negotiated with your opponent in the circumstances, by presenting your case very well, and obtaining the best possible realistic result.
Keeping abreast of the latest developments in the law is important. Following contemporary current affairs/politics is very relevant to many legal fields. Some change at a fast pace, others less so. But this skill is actually probably a little overrated, in my opinion. Ultimately, solicitors are not legal academics, and few cases with which they deal turn upon highbrow academic points of law which are likely to require consideration by the Supreme Court! Saying this may make some practising lawyers rage, because they like to present themselves as so much cleverer and knowledgeable than ordinary people. But I believe that the reality is that close to 80% of legal work is an acquired ‘soft’ professional skill, developed over years of practice and experimentation, which cannot necessarily be put into words, or be developed by reading books.
A good solicitor should inspire trust and confidence from his client. Equally, a client should trust the advice of his lawyer, unless there is an obvious reason to question it. If that trust is lacking, the relationship is bad. The client may need to obtain a second opinion and/or terminate the retainer.
Costs can become a contentious point in a solicitor/client relationship. A good lawyer is open and upfront about the likely costs, and the basis on which costs are charged, and keeps the client informed, should there be a change of circumstances in a long-running case.
Conversely, a good client reads and ensures that he understands the agreement about costs at the outset of instructing the solicitor.
How can you be a good client for your solicitor?
- You should have a good idea of what you want, at least to start with. What are you seeking? Only then can your lawyer advise you on whether your expectations are realistic, or what is possible. He cannot read your mind! You might not want to accept the advice ultimately given, and you have the right not to do so, but at least there has been clear communication from both sides.
- You should get to the point. This is linked to the above. In discussions, it can sometimes be frustrating when many potential clients fail to get to the heart of the discussion, or the key issue, or what the situation is now, after starting from what happened long ago. Considerable time is often spent going round in circles or tracing a long history which is irrelevant. This can be avoided by listening to your lawyer’s questions, and actually answering what is being asked.
- Do prepare your questions, statements, and your idea of the issues in advance for consultations. This will save time, and benefit you as well, if you are being charged on a time basis.
- When preparing voluminous documents for your solicitor to consider, do get them in a proper order. The best way is usually chronologically (date order). If they are in order, it will be much easier to make sense of them. It may help to give your own comments on things. I personally always read clients’ comments, and they can provide a useful perspective.
- The worse thing that you can do is to send documents in a disordered mess, or send a lot of completely irrelevant material which will not make any difference to the case. This is a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy.
- Finally, a general comment applicable to both lawyers and clients. Both should listen to each other. Too many people in the world enjoy the sound of their own voice! A lawyer must listen to be able to understand his client’s needs. And after 25 years in practice, I am still surprised by how many clients do not want to stop talking to let me speak and actually give some advice to them. That is what they are paying me for!
I hope that the above is helpful to you, whether you are a client of another lawyer, or are looking for a lawyer.
To arrange an expert initial consultation for a fixed fee, please contact me on 07484 614090 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales