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Usually Police hear this one from people who’ve just been charged. I usually hear it from people in the early stages of a legal dispute regarding accusations their employer’s just made about them – or people who are being pursued by someone who says they owe them money.

But because many of the “I don’t need a lawyer” people don’t appreciate that the law is about the legal test rather than “fairness”, they give themselves a mountain to climb.

Here are some reasons why it pays to get competent and dispassionate advice – sooner rather than later:

How do you know your accuser is applying the law correctly?

Chances are, you don’t. Most people know a bit about the law – just enough to get themselves in trouble. Unless you are an Employment, Criminal, Debt or Civil Litigation etc solicitor or barrister, it is unlikely you will know half of what your opponent needs to do to prove their case.

Your opponent isn’t going to tell you if you have defence, is he?

Even Barristers and Solicitors need independent advice

You’ve heard the saying, “the man who represents himself has a fool for a client”, haven’t you?

The reason is even if you’re an expert in the field, if someone’s accused you of something – or you think they’ve ripped you off – it is likely you will see only what you want to see.

I have seen lawyers deal with their own personal legal battles – sometimes against other litigant in person lawyers. There is a lot of “I am right” – and it’s never pretty. Sometimes, these battles esclate into a full-on war that never quite ends.

Why do this?

Why expose yourself to legal costs – or to the day-to-day drama of unresolved litigation if you can deal with it more efficiently by showing your papers to an expert in the field and getting an unemotional opinion of your prospects of success?

Kill the game off in the first half

Most people leave seeing a lawyer a few days (or even minutes) before their court hearing. They don’t realise that had they taken advice when the dispute first kicked off, there might not even be a hearing.  Your lawyer might have written the other side a letter setting out the law, calling their bluff and making them drop their case. Maybe you would have been advised to concede a point and settle – and could be having a quiet life rather than risking it all in court.

Don’t waste your chances of getting the best result possible by waiting to the last minute to get proper advice.

Your Solicitor / Barrister works for you

You can ask for a Rolls Royce service – or you can ask for a simple steer in the right direction.

People think instructing a solicitor or direct access barrister means starting a metre that never stops – and it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve seen people agree a fixed-fee appointment and letter of advice and that is enough to give the client confidence in their next steps – regardless of whether those next steps are damage limitation or to fight the case.

Like your dentist, qualified lawyers would rather see you early on and at minimal cost, rather than trying to pull out something rotten, risky and unaffordable.

No DIY Criminal law, please. Ever.

Is your liberty at stake? Are you at risk of getting a criminal record?

And you think you can think your way out of this?

I say it with love – but your best thinking may have gotten you in this situation in the first place.

As long as there is Criminal Legal Aid in this country, I would never, ever, ever go it alone. Never.

The Duty Solicitor is there for a reason.

Cutting corners: Penny wise and pound foolish

I once talked to a guy who snorted at my suggestion that he speak to a qualified lawyer. He said he could “read a book”.

There are some great books out there written for lay-people. I like the LAG books – particularly the one on Employment law.

But along with their legal knowledge, lawyers are selling you their judgment and experience.

Knowing the law is only the first step. The real trick is applying the law to the specific facts of your case.

That’s the difference between a tailored approach and someone selling you an orange from a grocer’s cart.