Do I need a Solicitor?

Helen Smith, Wills and Probate solicitor for Lovedays Solicitors, examines the role of the solicitor in the context of the availability of access for legal information and advice online.

Helen Smith Wills Probate Solicitor

Helen Smith Wills & Probate Solicitor

The English legal system has developed over centuries to become a model that has influenced the legal systems in many other jurisdictions. But the legal profession itself has undergone significant change in the last decade or so. Traditionally, advice and assistance on legal issues has been provided by solicitors or legal executives in office-based settings. This traditional role has, however, been challenged in the last decade or so by the deregulation of legal services which means that corporations as diverse as the Co-Op and the RAC can provide legal services to the public and exploit a previously-untapped area of the market.

 

Furthermore, an increasingly-digitalised world has led to the provision of on-line legal services ever more present as a result of the increase in alternative legal service providers. The internet is now also an incredibly powerful source of information that, in principle, enables individuals to research and conduct their own legal work.

Most legal disciplines (with perhaps the exception of very complex areas of law such as commercial, contract, intellectual property etc.) have elements that can be carried out without the need to consult a solicitor. An individual can make their own will, make their own powers of attorney, deal with the legal process required to sell or buy property, deal with their own divorce and represent themselves in Court. With this in mind, what place is there now for a ‘traditional’ solicitor’s offices?

The role of a solicitor or legal executive is, at its simplest, to provide legal advice on a range of issues that stretch across everyday life. But the job of providing that service is much more complex. Not only does it require the ‘hard skills’ necessary to fulfil the role, such as academic qualifications, training and experience, but also the ‘soft skills’ that need to be employed. These skills involve listening, communication, empathy and the ability to forge relationships with clients to provide the best possible service.

In many areas of law, the experience of a solicitor or legal executive can immediately target the myriad of complications lying in wait. There are many occasions when the oft-repeated phrase “I hadn’t thought of that!” is told to a solicitor advising on the “what if” scenario. It is unlikely that a claims handler will be trained or even told to deal with any of these matters. Furthermore, the issues that arise in dealing with even the seemingly-most straight forward of legal problems can be wide-spread and have far-reaching consequences.

A local solicitor will have local knowledge that may be extremely relevant and, potentially crucial, in, for example, a conveyancing transaction. The Derbyshire Dales and the Peak District has quirks that someone sitting behind a desk in London or Birmingham may not pick up, such as rights of way issues that a local lawyer will be aware of.

There is a misconception that, on divorce, a final decree provides a clean break as far as financial claims are concerned. This is not the case. Having face-to-face access to a legally-qualified practitioner enables people to better communicate their problem, to allow the solicitor to more deeply understand the real issues and to ultimately help the client to carry the burden of that problem in reaching resolution. This represents a more satisfactory way of addressing their concerns rather than trying to convey these over a telephone with no hope of ever meeting their advisor in person.

It would be incorrect to say that there is no place for alternative provision of legal services, or that individuals shouldn’t be able to conduct their own legal affairs. But there is an argument that, in today’s increasingly-complex and litigious world, perhaps the value of the role of the solicitor shouldn’t be overlooked.

04/03/19

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