There are plenty of employment lawyers out there keen to provide their services but, finding the right one for you and your situation is the key to getting the best possible result. Using a lawyer for the first time can feel daunting as you may feel that you don’t really know what to look for. We’ve put together ten questions you should ask before you hire an employment lawyer.
1.What services do you offer?
Not all law firms have specialists in all areas – although they may work in partnership with others to provide a full-service offering. It’s important to get access to the particular advice you need, so make sure that the law firm you go to has the expertise to provide that to you. For example, does your case involve issues around your pension? If so, you may need a pension specialist. Will you need advice about share options or other equity rights? If so, you will need to input from a company law specialist.
2. How long have you been in business?
It is not necessarily the case that a law firm which has been in business for many years will always work better for you than one which hasn’t but, it can be re-assuring to know that a firm has been trading for a substantial period of time so is likely to be efficient and respected. Younger law firms may be more informal and innovative in their approach and have a more down-to-earth style however – it’s really a matter of personal preference and where you feel comfortable.
3.Will I be advised by a qualified solicitor?
This is important; the word lawyer has no special meaning but, you can’t call yourself a solicitor before you have completed the necessary training – currently, a degree, law school, a two year training contract gaining experience “on the job” and have been admitted to the Roll of solicitors. You must then keep up your training and expertise through continuous professional development. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is the independent body which regulates solicitors and law firms in England and Wales. In the event that a solicitor makes a mistake which causes loss, a client will be protected because all law firms must have adequate professional indemnity insurance. Anyone proving legal services who is not a qualified solicitor (even if they call themselves a “lawyer” or “legal adviser”) will not be subject to the same standards, supervision and regulation.
A law firm will still charge for a trainee solicitor’s time (as well as the necessary supervision) so you need to be clear exactly who will be advising you.
Read our article: Why does anyone need to use an solicitor for more details.
4.Will I have one dedicated adviser who I will always deal with?
For most clients, being able to establish a relationship of trust with their solicitor and having continuity of service is preferable to not being assigned a dedicated adviser. It is also generally a more efficient way to work so should result in lower costs.
5. If so, how experienced will the person advising me be?
It may be appealing to go to a firm who can offer you a very junior member of the team (who will have the lowest hourly rate) to work on your case. This can be a false economy however as you will have to factor in the additional time it will take them to do things, the additional research they will need to do, and the fact that they will need to be supervised by someone more senior.
And in terms of getting a good result, you may have more confidence in the experienced solicitor who will instinctively be able to advise you, having seen similar cases in the past.
If your matter involves a general issue such a disciplinary hearing, redundancy process or bringing a grievance it may be preferable to ask for someone who has recent experience advising in your particular sector e.g. education, local government, IT etc.; this will not necessarily be the most senior person as more junior solicitors quickly build up knowledge if they consistently work on the same sorts of jobs.
6. What hourly rate do you charge?
Different firms will have widely differing hourly rates depending on their specialisms, location, size and reputation. Prestigious City firms will obviously be charging more for corporate advice than a small firm in Devon will charge for conveyancing. This is linked to a firm’s overheads, who their clients are and market forces.
Some firms will have different hourly rates for different staff who have different levels of experience. They may use unqualified staff, for instance trainees or paralegals, who will have lower rates. Newly qualified and more junior solicitors will charge slightly more with rates increasing all the way up to partner (the most senior and experienced solicitors in a firm). A lawyer’s personal hourly rate is sometimes described as their “charge out rate”.
Where you are getting quotes for the same piece of work from solicitors in a similar area, it may be tempting to automatically go for the firm with the lowest hourly rate. However, this is only part of the story and you should be cautious in deciding who to use based solely on hourly rates as this may not ultimately provide you with the best value.
At Springhouse we apply the same hourly rate to all our lawyers working at the same location. This is sometimes referred to as a “blended” or standard rate.
For more information read our article: The solicitor’s hourly rate explained
7. Do you offer fixed and capped fees?
A fixed fee means you know in advance what a piece of work will cost and this price will not change (regardless of how long it actually takes the solicitor to do it). A capped fee means you will not pay more than a given maximum price but, may pay less if the work takes less time. It is not always possible to offer these arrangements -it will depend on the nature of the work – but, it is always worth asking as these can give clients significant peace of mind.
Read our article: How to keep your legal fees as low as possible for more details.
8. How often will you communicate with me about fees?
The answer to this should be “as often as you want”! At Springhouse, we believe being transparent with clients about their fees is crucial so that there are no nasty surprises. Solicitors should be communicating regularly with their clients about where they are on fees and, they should certainly do this before sending out a bill. You should be able to ask your solicitor to give you an update on fees whenever you want as this is clearly something which will be of the utmost concern for most clients.
For more information, read our article: Decoding your legal bill.
9. How will you communicate with me and how accessible will my adviser be if I need to contact them?
Generally this is likely to be mainly by email. New technology is making it less necessary for people to travel to meet face-to-face. However, some clients have particular needs or preferences for letters/telephone calls etc. You should make it clear at the start what your particular requirements are (if any) to ensure these can be met.
Within reason, your solicitor should be accessible to you at anytime within working hours (and may be beyond in certain circumstances). If your solicitor works part-time then you should be made aware of when they will or will not be in the office. Ask within what time you can expect a response to an email as many firms have service levels they abide by.
10.Why should I hire you? What is special about this law firm and the people who work in it?
Any employment solicitor should be passionate about the place they work so, asking this classic interview question should give you some idea about what makes this law firm unique and why you should use them. Any solicitor/client relationship is a personal relationship so ask yourself, do I feel comfortable with this person, do I feel like I can trust them to do the best for me, do they seem sympathetic and respectful to me and do they speak to me in a way I can understand?
If you are thinking of choosing us for your employment law needs, we are of course very happy to answer any questions you might have! Have a look at our website to get a flavour of who we are and how we work.