Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director Jeff Garrett discusses with Steve Stuttle on Radio 4CRB, how to find a lawyer that will help you make the right decisions about your legal matter.
No two lawyers are the same
There are many ways people can find a lawyer in their area when they need some legal advice. Some people Google it, others may go to the lawyer they have used for a previous matter who they are already familiar with, while some people may rely on friends and family to recommend someone they trust. No matter how you choose to find a lawyer, it is important to understand that not all lawyers can provide you with the same level of service or the right legal advice.
There is a general presumption that if someone has the title “lawyer” that they know all areas of the law. And to a degree, that is true, however each area of law is extremely different and complex in its own right, as is each State and Territory’s legislation. Something that often people do not think about is seeking legal advice from a “specialist” who knows the area of law inside and out that they need assistance with.
In the same way that you would seek the advice from a specialist medical practitioner if you had an issue that required surgery or that next level of care, a lawyer (or a law firm) who specialises in their field will have a deeper understanding of that area of law and can apply different strategies and techniques to find you the best possible solution. This usually results in a quicker resolution of the problem you have for less cost. Many people treat legal services like any household trade and look around for the cheapest quote. This may be fine for getting a plumber to fix your faulty tap – it can cost you dearly if you choose the wrong lawyer!
Factors to consider when choosing a lawyer
With a steady increase in the number of lawyers practicing in the Australian legal profession, it can be difficult to know how to find the right one for you.
Between 2011-2018 there was a 33% increase in the number of lawyers practicing in Australia. As of 2018, there was estimated to be 76,303 members of the legal profession. The largest proportion of lawyers were registered in New South Wales (43%), followed by Victoria (26%), and Queensland (15%).
It is important to do your homework when deciding on a lawyer or law firm to suit your needs. Simply relying on who pops up first in Google isn’t always the best strategy and it is always worth digging deeper and finding out more about a lawyer and their firm.
Some of the top-ranking law firms on Google may have fantastic SEO (search engine optimisation) and be investing heavily in Google Ads and other digital marketing to ensure they appear first in your Google search, however, they may not have the right legal skills and expertise to suit your needs.
There are three main factors you should consider when selecting a lawyer. These include:
- Choosing a lawyer that works for an established, reputable legal practice or law firm that has an office near you that is accessible;
- Choosing a lawyer who has specialist knowledge and skills in the area of law you need help with;
- Choosing a lawyer you can connect with and can communicate with effectively.
An established practice with an office that is accessible
It is important to find a lawyer that has an established practice that has been around for many years. You can usually tell how established a lawyer, or law firm, is by checking if they have a physical office where you can visit them. Most law firms will also indicate on their website or in their marketing collateral how long they have been around for.
An established practice that has stood the test of time should give you some confidence that your lawyer will be there when you need them, not just now, but in the future.
There are many occasions that require a lawyer to hold on to security documents, such as Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney. This is helpful when the time comes to update these documents, or if you need to locate these documents you have peace of mind that they are held in a secure and safe environment.
However, there have been many cases where people who have completed these important documents and left them in the hands of their lawyer, have reached out many years later when the time has come to update these documents only to discover that their lawyer has shut up shop and their legal documents are not where they thought they would be. It can then be difficult to locate your own legal documents which creates a real dilemma.
Try to avoid new or ‘fly by nighter’ firms that don’t have an office or move around a lot. They may sound good and are cheap, but you get what you pay for. Knowing that you can visit a nearby physical office is convenient and comforting when you are going through a stressful legal matter or when you need to do a Will or when you are buying and selling property.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have a strong foundation, with well-established offices on the Gold Coast and Northern New South Wales. We know that our clients like to come visit us face to face, even in the digital world we live in. We have been in our Coolangatta office building since 1989, and prior to that we were in another location in Coolangatta since 1946. We enjoy creating lifelong relationships with our clients who know we are here for them when they need us most.
Specialist knowledge and skill set
When trying to find a lawyer who can help you with a specific matter, a good place to start is by looking at a law firm’s website. You should be able to get a good idea about what a law firm specialises in as well as any specialist accreditations their lawyers hold.
You can also search Accredited Specialists through the Law Society’s website to find lawyers who hold a current practicing certificate and specialist accreditation in specific areas of law in your State or Territory.
When it comes to solving legal matters, it should not always be about finding the “cheapest” option but finding the right lawyer to solve your legal problem and obtain the best possible outcome for you.
An example we frequently see the consequences of is when people try to find a cheap conveyancer instead of engaging an experienced property lawyer when they are selling or buying property (or both). Many people look at price alone when trying to find a conveyancer to assist them with their purchase or sale of a property and often accept recommendations from the real estate agent. However, there is a significant difference in the level of service you receive from a ‘cheap conveyancer’ compared to an experienced property lawyer or law firm. Given that purchasing a property is one of the biggest and most significant investments you will ever make, it seems only reasonable that you would want to protect your investment from the outset. However, many people do not have this view and want to save money on costs when making these significant purchases.
Many people think conveyancing is just paperwork. It is much more than that. By completing the conveyancing process properly and thoroughly by doing proper searches with the right advice, you can protect your investment and mitigate the risk of something going wrong down the track that could be extremely costly to rectify.
An example of what could go wrong:
You are purchasing a house with a pool. The pool is encroaching on the neighbours boundary fence, however you chose to only complete the minimum searches required for your conveyance to save on costs. By not completing more thorough searches and looking at the plan correctly, these details were missed. Due to the fact these details were not picked up, there was no mention of this in the Contract to protect you from this issue, so you have the duty to correct the pool issue which involves digging up the pool and replacing it. As you can imagine, this could have significant financial consequences, which could have been avoided if you had all the information you needed to make an informed decision about the property from the start.
Cheap conveyancers are all about churning and burning through the work, not necessarily taking the time and going the extra step to ensure everything has been considered.
Read more: Lawyer vs Cheaper Conveyancer
Another area of law that many people do not realise they need assistance from a specialist lawyer is estate planning. Many people go to a lawyer they have used for a previous legal matter, such as the conveyance on a property, to have their Will updated. Even worse, some people try to go it alone and draft do-it-yourself Wills. Many lawyers will offer their services to get the job done, however, that lawyer may not have the level of understanding of Succession Law that an experienced estate planning lawyer who practices exclusively in that area of law has. As you can imagine, property law and succession law are two completely different fields and require different legal skills and techniques to resolve matters related to these areas. It is not simply about filling out paperwork.
Read more: Do It Yourself Will Disasters
Read more: Estate Planning 101
Read more: Contesting a Will can be a taboo topic – 10 common misconceptions explained
A lawyer who does not have experience in an certain area of law does not understand the best strategies to use to ensure that who you want to benefit from your estate will ultimately inherit your assets after you are gone. They may not be aware of the best and current legal advice in that area of law. There are also strategies you can use to reduce the risk of someone contesting your Will. This is a very complex area and if you want your Will to be upheld after you are gone, it is important to ensure it is drafted correctly and everything is taken into consideration that is unique to your personal and family circumstances. Some lawyers are happy to simply take your instructions, draft your document, and let that be the end of it. An experienced estate planning lawyer will be able to analyze your situation and determine the best possible way to structure your estate and document your wishes to help you plan for the future.
To seek the advice from a specialist lawyer may not always be the cheapest option, however it can save you significantly, both financially and emotionally, in the long run when your legal affairs are handled properly from the outset.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers we have accredited specialists who complete rigorous additional training, education, and practical assessments to obtain accreditations to ensure they are delivering the best advice in the industry. We have specialist departments in each area of law that are headed up by experienced and respected lawyers in their fields and a rigorous ongoing internal training and education program for all our staff.
We are proud to offer the services of Queensland Law Society Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury Law, Accredited Aged Care Professionals, New South Wales Law Society Accredited Specialists in Dispute Resolution, and members of the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP). We ensure our clients have peace of mind that they are getting the right advice to protect their interests and solve their legal problems. Our firm also holds an accreditation in quality assurance and management systems under ISO 9001, one of the few legal firms to do so.
Communication is key
Another important consideration is to find a lawyer that you are comfortable with and that you can easily speak to and understand. You need to be able to have confidence in your lawyer and be able to build a rapport with them.
When you are seeking the services of a lawyer, it usually comes at a difficult and stressful time in your life. For this reason, you need to feel comfortable with who you choose to represent you and be able to effectively communicate with each other.
If you get advice from a lawyer who seems like they are speaking another language and simply throwing legal jargon at you, or who does not answer your calls, it is going to make it very difficult for you to understand what is going on with your case and what options are available to you. We value our clients and understand the importance of connecting with them to ensure we can find out what matters most to them in order to help them solve their legal issues and achieve the most positive outcome.
The best way to determine if you are going to have a good working relationship with your chosen lawyer is to go and meet them in person and have an initial consultation. First impressions are usually accurate!
It is for this reason that we offer free initial consultations on most matters so that people can come in, meet their lawyer, gain an understanding of the options available to them, and see if we are a good fit to meet their needs. In many cases, you only get one chance at taking legal action, so you want to get it right from the start and make sure you are comfortable with your chosen lawyer.
General Practitioners vs Boutique Firms
The days of the general practitioner in legal practice are coming to an end, which is unfortunate because in some cases you do need that overall legal experience to help you through matters that span multiple areas of law. With more and more boutique firms popping up that “specialise” in niche areas, it is making it difficult for “general” practitioners to keep up.
However, appointing a lawyer from a boutique law firm who only specialises in one particular area of law can also have its issues as many legal matters often have overarching issues that span several areas of law, such as if you are seeking the advice of a family lawyer during your divorce, you will likely need to review your estate planning documents, which should ultimately be handled by someone who is a specialist in estate planning. In many cases, your lawyer will need to refer you to another law firm for any overarching legal issues.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have specialist teams covering all areas of law under the one roof, so we are able to cater to all your needs without having to send you to another firm.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers are here to help you
Attwood Marshall Lawyers have been one of Australia’s most trusted and experienced law firms since 1946, when Eric Attwood commenced legal practice after the end of World War 2. We understand the importance of giving specialist advice, and each of our departments is headed up by either a Partner or Senior Associate who practices exclusively in their field. We are immensely proud of our longstanding reputation for obtaining excellent results and staying at the forefront of the legal industry.
It is our intent to help people and change their lives for the better. Our lawyers genuinely care about helping our clients and are trained to listen and connect so that they can find out exactly what you want to achieve and work with you to formulate the best plan to resolve your matter and help you move on with your life.
If you need legal advice, we are here to help. Contact our team 24/7 by phoning 1800 621 071.
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