The value of using a solicitor for legal advice

There is certainly no shortage of legal advice in the world - most of it completely free and much of it, no doubt, technically correct. A Google search for ‘legal advice’, for example, produces over two billion results.

Most professionals, such as accountants, bankers, and financial advisers, are wise enough to recognise when a request for legal advice will take them outside their professional competence, as they are only too aware of the regulatory risks and insurance consequences of giving such advice. But well-meaning friends, family, peers, consultants, and unregulated advisers are often more than happy to offer an opinion on legal matters, either free of charge or at a cost. Add to that, the mass of information available by way of Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms and search engines, one might wonder why anyone would go to the trouble and expense of taking legal advice from a solicitor.

What then are the benefits of instructing a solicitor?

Solicitors in England and Wales are subject to strict standards and regulations imposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as well as the following overarching principles which require every solicitor to act:

  1. in a way that upholds the rule of law and the proper administration of justice;
  2. in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors' profession and in the legal services provided by them;
  3. with independence;
  4. with honesty;
  5. with integrity;
  6. in a way that encourages equality, diversity, and inclusion; and
  7. in the best interests of each client.

Instructing a solicitor provides an assurance that the person providing your legal advice is subject to these strict standards, regulations, and principles, and this brings the following important features and benefits:

Expert knowledge - As every solicitor must train to practice as a solicitor and pass stringent examinations to prove their competence, they are very likely to know how best to deliver effective legal solutions that meet your needs.

Competence training - The law changes fast, with new legislation being enacted and new legal precedents being set by court judgements almost daily. For this reason, every solicitor is required to make an annual declaration to the Solicitors Regulation Authority that they have identified their learning and development needs and undertaken all appropriate training to ensure they remain competent to conduct their work for you. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority conducts spot checks to verify these declarations.

Confidentiality - Solicitors are professionally bound to keep the affairs of current and former clients confidential, unless disclosure of it is required or permitted by law, or the client consents to its disclosure. Information exchanged between solicitor and client whilst obtaining legal advice should also attract legal advice privilege, preventing third parties from forcing its disclosure in court proceedings. These protections are extremely valuable and are rarely available from non-solicitor legal advisers.

Personal accountability - A solicitor’s failure to meet the profession’s standards, regulations and principles can result in regulatory action being brought against the solicitor personally by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. A serious breach or pattern of breaches can lead to the solicitor being ‘struck off’, leaving the solicitor unable to practice as a solicitor. This sanction drives exceptional standards of behaviour and does not apply to non-solicitor legal advisers.

Insurance protection - Solicitors’ professional indemnity insurance policies are unique in terms of the breadth of the risks covered and the minimum level of indemnity that must be provided. No other professional indemnity policy offers those seeking legal advice the same protection against professional negligence.

Access to regulatory protections - Clients who are unhappy with the service provided by a solicitor have a right to make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman to address service issues which do not necessarily amount to professional negligence. For those complaints which are upheld, any compensation payable to clients may be covered by either the SRA Compensation Fund or the Solicitors’ Indemnity Fund, ensuring that the compensation can always be paid.

Solicitors’ undertakings - Many legal transactions are reliant upon the giving and receiving of solicitors’ undertakings (contractual promises by one solicitor to another), for example, to hold completion monies in a specified account pending the delivery of deeds and documents. Only a solicitor can give such undertakings.

Complementary financial services - Some solicitors’ firms are able to provide regulated financial services alongside their legal services, as long as the firm is listed on the relevant Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register and the financial services are ancillary to the legal work being provided. On occasions, these financial services can be extremely valuable in facilitating projects or transactions or adding value to a legal solution being delivered.

How can you ensure you get good value for money from a solicitor?

The fees of a solicitor can sometimes be higher than those of a non-solicitor legal adviser - in the same way that the cost of an ATOL-protected package holiday can sometimes be higher than those of a holiday you have arranged and booked direct yourself.

So, here are some tips on getting good value for money from a solicitor.

Choose a specialist - A solicitor who specialises in the field of law you need is more likely know the technical answers to your questions without having to do hours and hours of costly research. A specialist will also be more likely to offer practical short-cuts to get things done quickly and efficiently. It may be a truism, but a low price is only good value if you get the outcome you need.

Scope the work you require clearly - Spend time explaining to the solicitor exactly what your objective is in relation to your project or transaction and work up a detailed scope of work that you both consider is necessary to enable you to achieve this objective. Only when the scope of work has been finalised, should you ask for a fee quote. This should avoid future misunderstandings and manage both parties’ expectations. If there is some uncertainty around the scope of work, perhaps suggest a fixed contingency element to the fee that can be drawn upon my mutual agreement.

Request regular progress and cost updates - A quick call to ask for an update on progress and costs should be welcomed by a solicitor and will help you stay in control of events. If the scope of work needs to change, make sure you ask for clarity on any proposed change to the fee quote provided.

Respond to requests for information - Legal costs can sometimes increase because clients have provided inaccurate or incomplete information to their solicitor as this can delay or even change the course of a project or transaction. You can reduce this risk by supplying information and instructions requested by your solicitor as comprehensively and quickly as you can.

Finally, choose your solicitor based on a trusted recommendation – There are thousands of solicitors in the market and choosing the right one for a project or transaction can be a challenge. You can manage the risk by asking trusted personal or business friends, colleagues, or your other professional advisers for recommendations. You can then do your own research on each recommended individual based on their credentials and testimonials.

By taking these steps, you should give yourself the best chance of securing the right legal adviser for your needs, secure the right legal advice and achieve good value for money from your legal spend.

For further information, please contact Michael McKenna.