A phrase I have heard many times which I am sure many other professions also experience – tradies I know you know what I am talking about! Some areas of the legal system are designed for people to be able to deal with matters on their own such as small claims, simple divorces by consent, contesting fines, victim compensation claims and the like, but there are also times when early advice from a solicitor could avoid costly mistakes.
Although our court system allows for self-represented parties; navigating the online court document filing processes, compulsory timetables, evidentiary requirements and actually presenting a case before a Judge at a hearing is not easy. There are many options to get legal assistance such as pro bono advice at community legal centres, legal aid grants, IRO funding, and no win/no fee agreements if you are eligible. Accessing legal advice at an early stage in contentious matters could help clarify the legal issues in dispute, explore avenues for resolution, and avoid a potential order to pay the other parties legal costs later if you are unsuccessful.
It is common for solicitors to charge for litigation work on an hourly basis as it’s difficult to predict the time needed to prepare and resolve a case. There are some simple things that you can do to minimise the potential costs in these situations:
- Give clear instructions – provide factual details of the problem, what your position is, and the outcome you hope to achieve at the initial appointment so that your solicitor can understand the issues in dispute and give relevant advice from the outset.
- Gather any evidence in support – photographs, medical reports, bank statements, witness details, claim forms, and any correspondence with the other party. The more information that you can give to your solicitor, the less time they will need to spend (and charge) to gather this sort of evidence for you.
- Write down any questions you have as the matter progresses and discuss them at your next appointment, rather than contacting your solicitor, unless the question is time sensitive.
- Respond to requests for further information promptly to avoid follow up phone calls and unnecessary additional time spent by your solicitor chasing material.
- Be prepared to compromise. Even if you have every chance of winning your case, litigation is time consuming and costly. A reasonable outcome for both parties can often be negotiated at an early stage if both parties are willing.
Sometimes legal costs are necessary, making a mistake in litigation can be far more costly than the legal fees that might have been involved in instructing an experienced solicitor from the start. But also be aware that your own actions can affect the costs involved. KC Hilton, WNB Legal.