Finding a lawyer
You can access a register of all Victorian lawyers and law practices that provide legal services on the VLSB+C’s website (www.lsbc.vic.gov.au).
It can be difficult to identify the best A legal practitioner (lawyer) who sees clients and opens files to deal with their legal matters but usually does not appear in court. See also barrister. to help you. However, any legal aid organisation (see Chapter 2.2: How legal aid can help, and Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help) or the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) can refer you to general and specialist lawyers. Particularly useful is LIV’s Find a Lawyer Legal Referral Formal delivery of legal documents to a person to tell them there are court proceedings against them which they must defend, or to make sure a witness in a case knows when they have to go to court to give evidence. (for more information, see www.liv.asn.au/find-a-lawyer).
While many solicitors operate general practices, many others practise in specialist areas of law. Solicitors can also work within firms that The first step in agreeing to make a legally binding agreement. An offer must be accepted before there can be a legally enforceable contract. For example, a person can offer to sell their car for $5000 and a buyer can accept the offer and pay that purchase price. clients a range of legal and non-legal services.
LIV accredits specialist solicitors in a number of areas – including criminal, family, environmental and planning, tax, commercial The agreement between a landlord and a tenant for the rental of a property., business, property, wills and estates, A form of alternative dispute resolution where an independent person (a mediator) is appointed to help the parties come to agreement. Mediators do not decide the outcome of the dispute. They help the parties consider the issues and best possible outcome. Parties may choose to use mediation instead of going to court, or the court may order the parties to go to mediation as a way of avoiding a court hearing. See also arbitration; conciliation; negotiation., commercial Court proceedings about a civil dispute (not a criminal case)., personal injury, workplace relations, immigration, The amount charged by a lawyer for legal work. Lawyers can only charge the amount agreed with the client in a costs agreement or the amount stated by a court in its rules. The party who loses a case usually has to pay all their own costs plus most of the costs reasonably incurred by the other side. See also indemnity costs., administrative and children’s law. To become accredited as a specialist, a solicitor must have at least five years’ experience in the relevant area and pass specified examinations. You can find a lawyer with specialist accreditation at www.liv.asn.au/specialists.
Solicitors may advertise their services in any media, but many do not advertise their fees. You should obtain an estimate of the total costs before instructing a lawyer to A written law made by parliament. Also called an ‘Act of parliament’, ‘statute’ or legislation. for you.
Before you arrange a meeting
Before you arrange a meeting with a lawyer:
- check the cost of the initial meeting and how long it A document that sets out what a person wants to happen to their money and other property after they die. take (not all lawyers offer the first meeting for free); and
- check that the lawyer has experience or specialises in the area of your legal matter.
Preparing for your first meeting with your lawyer
There are a number of things you can do to prepare for your first meeting with your lawyer:
- write down the details of your legal problem (e.g. what happened, when it happened, and who was there);
- make copies of any documents that may be relevant to your legal matter;
- write down the questions you want to ask your lawyer;
- write down the outcome you hope to achieve in your legal matter;
- if it helps, arrange for a friend, relative or support person to go with you to your first meeting; and
- if you need one, arrange for an interpreter to attend the meeting.
At your first meeting with your lawyer
Your first meeting with your lawyer is your opportunity to establish the kind of relationship that you want to have with your lawyer, and to clarify the expectations on both sides. It helps if you:
- ask about costs (or legal aid if you need financial assistance, see Chapter 2.2: How legal aid can help);
- write down what is said;
- give the lawyer a copy of the notes you have prepared and the documents you have copied;
- respond clearly to questions your lawyer asks you;
- ask your lawyer questions if you don’t understand something or want to know what you need to do;
- ask your lawyer to explain any legal terms you don’t understand;
- ask your lawyer what options exist to deal with your legal matter and what they recommend;
- tell your lawyer of any concerns you have about your personal safety;
- ask your lawyer what happens next and how long it may take to deal with your legal matter; and
- tell your lawyer if you want to be informed about progress and be involved in decision-making at all stages.
- If you are not sure you want to employ the lawyer after your first meeting, it is important to tell them not to do any more work until you specifically instruct them to go ahead. If you decide not to employ the lawyer, you should advise them of your decision as soon as possible, preferably in writing. Even if you decide after the first meeting that you do not wish to employ the lawyer, they can still (1) A statement giving the details of a crime an accused person is claimed to have committed. (2) A personal property security. (3) A judge’s directions to a jury at the end of a case. you for that meeting and for the time taken to read any documents you gave them.
After you engage a lawyer to do work for you, your lawyer must give you a costs Providing information to another person or institution as required by a contract or other legal process. document. This is a document that outlines all the costs involved in your case. A costs disclosure document must be provided unless the lawyer believes the total costs will be less than $750 (excluding GST and disbursements; see ‘How a solicitor charges’, below).
The success of your relationship with your lawyer depends on good communication and maintaining A type of property ownership or arrangement where one party, known as the trustee, holds property or money for the benefit of another party, referred to as the beneficiary. and confidence in each other. It helps if you:
- take notes of what your lawyer tells you;
- keep those notes and all letters and documents sent to you by your lawyer together in a file or folder;
- tell your lawyer if any of your contact or other details change;
- ask your lawyer questions if you don’t understand what has happened or what will happen next;
- don’t wait for your lawyer to contact you. Phone them if you have a question, and don’t be put off until you receive an answer. Keep in mind that your lawyer can charge you for time spent talking to you, so it is important to be clear about what information you need;
- if your legal matter involves the prospect of going to An independent body that hears legal claims brought by parties and decides between them. Serious cases are heard by a judge and jury, or just a judge. Less-serious cases are heard by a magistrate., ask your lawyer what it means if you agree to ‘settle’ your legal matter instead of going to court (and what this means for your legal costs); and
- ask your lawyer if your costs are likely to increase from the original estimate they gave you – note that your lawyer must inform you about any significant changes to the legal costs that you will need to pay.
Your lawyer’s obligations and rights
Lawyers, like any other service providers, have obligations to the people who use their services. Lawyers’ obligations are set out in Statutory rules made by parliament or by bodies the parliament delegates power to, for example a local council or a registration authority. See delegated legislation; statute. and in professional conduct rules. For example, solicitors are obliged to:
- act in your best interests when representing you;
- follow your lawful instructions;
- complete legal work on your behalf competently, diligently and as promptly as reasonably possible;
- provide a detailed (or itemised) bill within 21 days of you asking for one (provided you asked for an itemised bill within 30 days of receiving the lump sum bill);
- not borrow money from you;
- in certain circumstances, decline to work for you where a A situation where someone’s personal interests or their duties to another person could affect the way they carry out their duties. If there is a conflict of interest in performing up a role, the person generally should not accept that role. For example, a lawyer should not agree to represent the buyer as well as the seller in a sale of land. might arise;
- give you clear and timely advice to assist you to understand relevant legal issues and to make informed choices about those issues and the costs involved; and
- provide, in writing, the basis on which your legal costs will be calculated and an estimate of your total legal costs (unless those costs, excluding GST and disbursements, are unlikely to exceed $750).
Solicitors also have obligations imposed on them in relation to their practising certificate, the financial aspects of their practice and, on the handling of trust money (i.e. money held on behalf of clients). There are stringent requirements in relation to the receiving, banking, record-keeping and auditing of trust accounts. Solicitors are prohibited from receiving money on behalf of clients who use false names, and from drawing cash from clients’ trust accounts.
If you are unhappy with your lawyer, you can choose to take your business elsewhere. However, be aware that your former lawyer can hold onto your file and documents (this is also called holding a The right to hold a person’s property as security until an obligation is performed. For example, a car repairer can hold onto a car that has been repaired until the repair bill has been paid.) until you pay any outstanding costs, or until an appropriate arrangement has been made for payment by your new lawyer.