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How to choose the right solicitor?

Big v small, local v national, traditional v cutting edge?

Relevant across multiple law types

Once upon a time the solicitor’s profession consisted of middle aged men practicing from oak panelled rooms with a discreet brass plaque outside. They functioned in a way that readers of Agatha Christie novels would recognise. They were stalwarts of the local golf club and the Rotary club. They got work by being well known in their communities and acting for generations of families.

There are still a number of firms like that around and the service they provide could well suit you. They specialise in knowing their clients and community and delivering a very personalised service. If you want that very close personal attention, a small local firm may be the ideal choice for you. You may be able to pop in to their High Street office when you are doing your shopping and it is likely that they acted for your mum and dad and most of your friend’s mums and dads.

The potential downside of that type of firm is that they may be generalists rather than specialists (not always, as there are some small firms that specialise in very niche areas of law – but most small High Street firms will try to cover most of the High Street disciplines of law like Conveyancing, Wills and Probate, Family etc..)

There is a wider choice of law firm now than perhaps Agatha Christie had and many of the new firms look a lot different from traditional firms. More women than men are now being admitted to the profession and there are people from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds with attendant language skills. So you may need to give thought to whether it is important to you to have a male or female lawyer or someone with specific language skills. Again the Law Society or the law firm’s website may help you with that if you are searching for specific individual solicitors.

Some firms now have big open plan offices with modern meeting rooms instead of the traditional oak panelled office. The look and feel of the place and location may be important to you. Strangely these things don’t always affect the price. The prices charged by small firms are not necessarily less (or more) than those charged by bigger firms.

Bigger firms may be able to employ more solicitors so may have specialists in more areas, or people who genuinely specialise in some quite niche areas.

It may be that you want a firm that is close to where you work rather than in the High Street where you live, so that you can see them at lunchtime from work. You then need to check what hours firms are open. Generally bigger ones open for longer than smaller ones or are contactable by telephone or email outside office hours, but that is not always the case.

Law firms used to have very traditional names like Bloggs, Bloggs and Co. Now you can see names like Top Lawyers, or LawyersRUs. Firms with names like that tend to prides themselves on offering something which is more innovative, like client portals to communicate with you or 24/7 contact centres. You have to decide whether those things are important to you.

Also watch that firms with strange looking names are properly regulated solicitors and check on the SRA website. Is someone with a funky name and website offering legal services, really a solicitor? No reason why not but there are some non-solicitor marketing firms that look like this.

Local v national is another issue and similar to the big v small. A local firm may know you and your community better than a firm that covers the whole country. But it may not be big enough to employ genuine specialists in the area of law that you need.