I remember when I was a child watching the old Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and hearing Varuka Salt’s dad say he will not sign anything without consulting his lawyer.  In hindsight, he made a good call.  Willy Wonka was probably trying to get an indemnity against injuries to Varuka.  She then fell from a great height through some kind of nut sorting device but I digress.

The concept of having a lawyer who would look over everything for you seemed intriguing to me as a child.  We had a doctor and a dentist I knew well but I did not know who our lawyer was.  When I asked my Mum who our lawyer was she gave the name of a solicitor in Beaudesert (who incidentally, is still practicing some 40 odd years later) because he had done the conveyance on our house.

Some people are like Mr Salt.  They have their lawyer on speed dial to deal with all manner of questions.  These people are usually involved in larger scale businesses or have complex personal financial structures.

One thing I love about my work as a personal injuries lawyer is that my clients rarely have this wealth of experience with the law.  It is such a privilege to earn the trust of clients who have not had much if any experience working with a lawyer.

If you are consulting a solicitor for the first time, it is important to remember that it is entirely reasonable to ask whether the solicitor can help you.  We regularly get inquiries from people who are not sure if their problem is even a legal one or if they need to be seeking damages.  We are always happy to address these questions and refer you on to someone else if need be.

Many clients ask me before asking any other question whether we are “no win no fee”.  This is also understandable.  They are concerned before telling me the story that they may be facing a bill for just asking if we can help.  While we do accept instructions on most personal injuries claims on a speculative or “no win no fee basis”, I do not know of any lawyers in any field of expertise who charge for fielding an inquiry.

If we do determine from the first phone call that you have a personal injuries claim warranting further investigation, we also do not charge for the first consultation to explain the process and our Client Agreement until the successful conclusion of any claim.  Some clients hear about what is involved and decide not to pursue the claim.  If that happens, we also do not render an account.

The first contact you make with a solicitor should be in any manner you find the most comfortable.  There is no problem with sending an email inquiry or making a phone call.

Many people are then overwhelmed by what paperwork they should provide to the first consultation.  I recommend you wait for your solicitor to ask for specific paperwork and information.  We have moved away from the standard hourly rate method of charging in preference for fixed fees.  However, as hourly rate charges remain common with other firms, it is important that you do not provide any documents that are not requested by your lawyer.  You may unnecessarily inflate your legal fees for the lawyer to go through irrelevant documents.

Whichever way your solicitor charges his or her fees, it is still worthwhile asking any questions that you have.  It is important that you understand what is happening for your own piece of mind and to make sure the process runs smoothly.  A good solicitor will explain the process to you clearly.  However, it is always difficult to follow an unfamiliar process.  It is not an intelligence test for you to remember everything or understand it the first time.

Much of the legal process takes place without a face to face consultation.  Your lawyer should keep you informed of developments in your case but it is also reasonable for you to request an update of where things are at.  Sometimes your lawyer may not update you as all they can say is that they are following up a government department or another party but if you want reassurance that everything is on track, you should certainly request that.

Sadly legal problems often go hand in hand with other life struggles.  We regularly deal with clients who are struggling with their mental health due to injury.  This is undoubtedly true for clients of other lawyers particularly in the realm of family law.  We understand and support our clients if they become emotional during any consultation with us.  However, we have a responsibility to ensure that they are getting the proper treatment for mental health problems.  While we are happy to lend an empathetic ear, we do not pretend to be a replacement for proper medical treatment or counselling.  If your lawyer gently explains that the meeting is moving away from the scope of legal work, it is important to understand that this is an important aspect of the lawyer’s job to manage your best interests overall.

Law is a service based profession.  Providing that service is a privilege we never take for granted.