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Things to consider before using a lawyer

Things to consider before using a lawyer

Do I need a lawyer?

There are some legal problems you can handle yourself. The trick is knowing what you can do yourself and when you should use a lawyer. This might depend on:

  • the time you have available
  • the cost of legal assistance
  • your knowledge of the law
  • how comfortable you feel doing your own legal work
  • the risk of not getting legal advice or representation.

You should also keep in mind that there are clear advantages of using a lawyer:

  • they may be aware of a law or procedure that you would never have known about  
  • they may be able to negotiate on a more even footing with another lawyer
  • if they make a mistake, you may be able to claim against an insurance fund if something goes wrong
  • they operate under strict rules of professional conduct.

In the end, ask yourself "are there advantages to having a lawyer and is it worth the cost?"

Sometimes you may only need to see a lawyer once to get some advice about your matter. Once you have seen the lawyer you may be able to solve your problem. They can give you information to help you decide if you can handle the matter on your own.

You can discuss with the lawyer how much work you wish them to do.

If your matter is complicated or needs more work you may arrange to have a lawyer act for you.

Solicitors and barristers - what's the difference?

"Lawyer" is a word that is often used to describe both solicitors and barristers.

Solicitors do a range of work including legal advice, court appearances, conveyancing, and preparing documents such as wills and contracts.

Barristers are specialists in court work.

The first legal professional that you will usually see is a solicitor. If you need to go to court for something more complex or an expert legal opinion is needed, the solicitor can "brief" a barrister to do this work - this is like your GP referring you to a specialist.

Tips on using a lawyer

  • Lawyers act on your "instructions". They give advice but the final decision is yours. Explain your concerns if a lawyer wants to take a course of action that is against your principles but listen to any proposal your lawyer recommends. 

  • A lawyer's discussions with you are confidential - even to police and the courts.

  • Don't be afraid to ask something for fear of looking stupid. If you're not sure, ask! It's a good idea to have a written list of questions before the first interview.

  • Shop around. Be aware that cost and quality of service may vary. However, don't expect a lawyer to give you free advice over the telephone or in person.

  • Don't judge a lawyer by their office. A fancy office may just mean high fees.

  • Don't be fooled by the size of the firm - bigger is not necessarily better!

  • Don't assume an older lawyer is better than a younger lawyer or vice versa. What's probably more important is how long the lawyer has practised in the type of law you are interested in.

  • If you are asked to wait for a long time and the lawyer doesn't explain why or seem bothered, it might be best to look elsewhere. Remember that you are hiring the lawyer, not the other way around!

  • Be certain the potential benefit of the claim is worth the financial and emotional investment you will make.

What are the key questions I should ask my lawyer?

Is my first appointment free?

Some lawyers provide the first appointment free. Ask about this when you make an appointment. This is a chance to see if the lawyer can meet your needs. You can leave after this without further obligation.
Do not waste a first interview. Prepare a written list of questions and a short summary of your problem. You may like to bring some of the more important documents as well. However, the lawyer may not be able to advise you without more time to read them.

What are my options?

After you have explained your problem, ask your lawyer:
  • to outline your options and how your problem can be solved. If you don't understand something ask the lawyer to explain
  • about ways to solve your problem without going to court
  • if you need a lawyer to handle this problem or if you could do it yourself.

Is your lawyer experienced in this area of work?

Many lawyers specialise in particular areas of law. Ask your lawyer:
  • What experience they have had with your type of problem.
  • Who will actually be doing the work.
  • To tell you if your case is referred to another lawyer either inside or outside of the firm.

What are my chances?

Ask about your chances of success. Discuss what you consider to be a successful result.

What work will your lawyer be doing?

Make sure your lawyer understands what you want to achieve. Ask your lawyer:
  • how the work will be done
  • to explain the steps involved
  • how you will be informed of the progress of your case.

How long will it take?

Ask if anything can be done to speed things up. Ask if there might be delays and how they can be avoided. The longer it takes, the more expensive it is likely to be.

Is legal aid available?

Your lawyer may be able to get legal aid for you if you are on a low income. Contact Legal Aid WA's InfoLine on 1300 650 579 or see Legal representation for more information.

How much will it cost?

Shop around and remember you can negotiate. In most cases your lawyer should be able to tell you how costs will be calculated. Ask if:
  • They will take the case on a 'no win, no fee basis'.
  • What else you might have to pay.
  • If you have to pay anyone else's legal costs if you lose the case.
  • Are there any tasks you can complete yourself to reduce costs.
Remember that cost is not the only factor in choosing a lawyer.
Don't sign any agreement about fees unless you understand it and are happy with it. You may need independent legal advice on the agreement. Tell your lawyer you want to be kept informed about costs as the case goes on.

When do I have to pay?

In most cases your lawyer must advise you in advance and in writing how and when you will have to pay. You are entitled to receive a detailed bill before you pay. Some lawyers will agree to wait until the matter ends before you pay them. Remember, how and when you pay can always be negotiated.
For more information see Costs and fees.

Where can I get more information?

A fact sheet "A guide to better communication with your legal practitioner" published by the Legal Profession Complaints Committee can be downloaded from the Legal Practice Board of WA website.


Last reviewed: 05/11/2015

Last modified:


The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.