How to find legal help

Amanda Hamilton, CEO of National Association of Licensed Paralegals
Amanda Hamilton

The most problematic element, when things go terribly wrong, is finding the appropriate help and assistance. When we have incidents in the home, such as a leaky pipe or electrical issues, we call either a plumber or electrician. It seems to be relatively simple to find such skilled tradespeople because it is a common requirement of owning a property, and we can get referrals from friends, relatives, or neighbours. However, when it comes to legal matters, most of us are not knowledgeable about who to turn to, as it is not an everyday occurrence.

Of course, when we buy a property, we engage a solicitor or licensed conveyancer and we may also utilise the services of a Will writer or Solicitor to draft a Will. But what of other kinds of legal requirements?

Consumers generally think of turning to a solicitor for help, but where do you find the appropriate person and can you afford the fees?

The answer to the former is that you can locate a solicitor by going on the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) website and checking the solicitors register. The answer to the latter question is something only you can decide. Solicitors charge anywhere between £250 -£500 per hour.

However, if the answer to the latter is that you are unable to afford the fees of a solicitor, then you should look elsewhere for assistance. For example, there could be free legal assistance included with your house insurance or your car insurance and it will be a question of whether or not the legal assistance insurance element covers what you need. In addition, you may also find that any professional or business membership may well also include free legal advice, so it’s definitely worth checking.

Another less costly avenue to finding help and assistance is to search for a licensed paralegal. While paralegals are not solicitors and the paralegal sector is not regulated in the same way as solicitors, they are nevertheless trained and educated in law, legal practice, and procedures. Some may even be retired solicitors or non-practising barristers. The National Paralegal Register is a place to search for such individuals, and generally, they will charge an acceptable hourly rate (£30-£80 per hour depending on what work is required). Please make sure that you check the credentials of any potential paralegal that you may instruct to ensure that they are affiliated with an appropriate membership organisation such as NALP.

Paralegals cannot undertake ‘reserved activities’ such as conducting litigation and having an automatic right of audience. This means that they cannot receive or send correspondence (as an agent) to or from either the court or the other party on their clients’ behalf nor can they represent you in court and advocate on your behalf without special permission from the court. Nevertheless, they can draft letters and assist in completion of forms for their clients as long as the clients themselves sign and submit them. They can also guide you through the court process and give advice if you decide to represent yourself as a litigant in person (LIP).

In addition to this there are ‘pro-bono’ units. These can be found all around the country and are made up of legal professionals (solicitors, barristers, paralegals) who offer their services for free. Citizens Advice Bureau and legal centres are also included amongst these.

Another way to reduce costs if the necessity of going to court is imminent, is to instruct a barrister directly. Barristers are the specialist advocates. In other words, they will not only be able to give you a really good assessment of the merit or otherwise of your case, but they can appear in court if necessary to represent you.

Traditionally, barristers could only be instructed by solicitors if the client’s case warranted a specialised overview and/or if they were a requirement to appear in court. The client would therefore have to pay two sets of fees. Now, consumers can go directly to a barrister as long as they are registered as public access or direct access barristers. It is just a question of searching online and finding pages of barristers to suit the circumstances. Barristers generally charge from £150 – £300 per hour for a junior and £350 – £600 per hour for a senior.

If you are having trouble locating a barrister, you could check their ‘chambers’ status. Every barrister has to work from a set of chambers and each chambers has a reputation in a certain area of law. As with most solicitors’ law firms, barristers’ chambers also have a ranking system.

Before any dispute gets too far and you cannot reach a settlement with your opponent on your own, you may like to consider mediation. Professional mediators assist and guide parties to reach a resolution. A mediator may charge a fee which on the face of it could sound costly, but it is far less costly (and far less stressful) than going to court, so avoiding the latter is a definite benefit.

Finally, there is a website online called Legal Choices which clearly sets out the type of lawyers both regulated and unregulated, what work they can assist you with and how to make an informed choice.

Amanda Hamilton, CEO of National Association of Licensed Paralegals
Amanda Hamilton

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