Business Law: James Skellorn on how to get the best out of your lawyer

James Skellorn, senior partner at Barker Gotelee

James Skellorn, senior partner at Barker Gotelee - Credit: Archant

MOST people only seek legal advice when they feel it is unavoidable or they face some crisis.

Here are some steps to get the best out of your legal adviser:

1. Give your lawyer all the information at the outset. Some find it difficult to trust the lawyer with full information. This can result in the wrong advice being given. Lawyers are bound by confidentiality and all lawyers take this duty extremely seriously.

2. Once the nature of the job is clear, have a full discussion with the lawyer about fees and your expectations on timing and service levels. Increasingly, lawyers are able to agree fixed fees or a price for each part of the job or a band within which the fees are likely to fall.

3. Do ask the lawyer what is the most cost-effective way for the job to be done. Some people assume that the most cost-effective way is for the client to do as much of the job as they can and have the lawyer do the rest. The easy availability of information and forms on the internet gives a lot of the clients confidence that they can do part of the job themselves. Sometimes this works, but often the result is that the lawyer spends more time explaining how to do the job and helping you when you get stuck than they would take if they simply did the job themselves. However, if you decide this at the outset, the lawyer can explain which bits it is cost effective for you to do and which bits they just need to be left to get on with.

4. Do not expect the same lawyer to advise about everything. The days of the lawyer who is a general practitioner are long-gone.

These days we all specialise and although you may have a lawyer who is your usual point of contact with the firm, expect to deal with a specialist in the area of law where you need help.

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5. Learn to recognise the situations where you need legal advice and have an initial conversation with a lawyer early on. Often people do not come to see us until there is a real crisis.

A brief conversation earlier on might have avoided the problem or avoided getting to a crisis. Situations where lawyers earn their keep include property transactions for businesses especially leases, major contracts either purchase or sale for goods or services which are significant in relation to the turnover of the business, signs that a major supplier or customer of the business is getting into financial difficulties and employment issues.

6. Finally, if your expectations are not being met, tell the lawyer straightaway. A problem discussed early can often be resolved quickly.

: : James Skellorn is senior partner and is head of the private client team at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

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