How do you know if your lawyer is any good? Are you just supposed to take their word for it? Attorneys and legal aid companies all compete to convince you they’re the best, but which one is the best for your budget? While you might think quality in legal aid is relative, there are some concrete ways to figure out if your lawyer is worth their salt and your time and money.
What Are A Lawyer’s Obligations Toward You?
A higher fee does not necessarily equate to a higher quality of legal representation. No matter what a lawyer charges you, there are high standards of professional conduct that any decent attorney should follow. This means your lawyer should be capable of serving you in the following ways:
- represent you ethically and within the bounds of the law.
- be knowledgeable in the law applicable to your case and is obliged to effectively update you on the progress of your case.
- cannot represent both you and another client, whose legal interest conflict with yours.
- provide legal advice, while also obliged to follow your directions (provided these are not against the law).
- maintain strict confidentiality on all communications between yourself and your attorney. No information shared between you may be disclosed to a third party without your consent.
- keep any money or properties held on your behalf separate from his or her own assets, and return said money/properties to you when you ask for it.
How To Find A Lawyer
- Word of mouth
A word of mouth referral from friends, relatives, neighbours, and business associates is an excellent starting point in finding the right legal representative for you. That said, while you can take advice on legal aid from friends and family, do not hire a friend or relative to represent you. Things can get messy when there is a personal relationship involved.
- Local legal associations
A terrific resource for finding legal representation is a local legal association. In South Africa, there are a number of associations, but a good place to start is the General Council of the Bar of South Africa or the Law Society of South Africa. If you’re looking for legal representation for your business, consider looking into the Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa.
- Speak to other lawyers
No one knows lawyers better than other lawyers. Ask a lawyer whether another lawyer will be able to assist your particular needs. An attorney can attest to another’s ethics, competence, practice habits, and reputation.
- Internet resources
Check out some of the websites for your local legal associations. These sites offer a number of directories to assist in your search for legal aid.
- Legal insurance
If you need a lawyer, but don’t have space in your budget for the often outlandish fees that go hand-in-hand with quality legal aid, consider taking advantage of legal cover. Plenty of people swear by a good legal insurance policy, since a monthly premium is a better deal than paying your lawyer by the hour.
Some Questions You Can Ask Your Potential Attorney
The final step in your research before making a decision on your legal aid, is to speak to a potential candidate yourself. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What experience do you have in the field of law that I require you for?
- What was the outcome in previous cases you handled, which were similar in nature to mine?
- What are the possible scenarios in the outcome of my case?
- Are there any alternative actions I could take in resolving my case?
- How long do you think it would take to resolve my case?
- Is mediation or arbitration a possible alternative and would you recommend it?
- What are your rates and how will I be billed?
- How often will I be billed, and do you offer a means to pay the bill off?
- What do you see the total bill coming to including all fees and expenses? Is this a ballpark figure or will this be the total?
- Would you be inclined to go for a reasonable settlement, or do you see an aggressive and unyielding approach as being the way to go?
- Will there be other people beside you working on my case?
- Would it be possible for junior attorneys or paralegals in your office to handle the administrative tasks at a lower rate?
- Would you be willing to take the case on a contingent fee basis i.e. if you are suing for a cash settlement - the attorney gets a percentage of the settlement?
- How often you will meet with each other?
- Who you will be dealing with (the attorney personally or an assistant)?
- What sort of ongoing legal charges should you be budgeting on?
Visit Your Lawyer’s Office
A final option in verifying the professionalism of your potential legal aid would be to visit the attorney’s office yourself. There are a number of clues you can be on the lookout for:
- Where is the office located? Is it local and easy to access?
- I the office itself organised, efficient and well-run?
- Are there large parts of the office that are unoccupied?
Be on the look out for red flags like unhappy staff, empty offices, and mass disarray in the office.
With these tips, you should be able to find a good lawyer, who can offer you quality legal assistance. Don’t think that quality legal aid means you lose out in the financial long-run. Legal aid is a must for any business or individual, who needs a reliable lawyer in their corner for a manageable monthly premium