If you have a dispute with someone, first do everything you can to achieve a peaceful resolution. As early as possible, suggest that you will both be better off if you can avoid hiring lawyers at all. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution as a preferred option. However, if the other party hires a lawyer, make it clear that whatever oral agreements may be reached it will not be binding until you too have a lawyer who can work out the details of the agreement with the other lawyer, and in writing.
Then, start by getting all the free information that you can. Some good sources are your local Law Centre lawyers, such as the Redfern Law Centre, and respected business people.
You can contact the Law Society Community Assistance programme in Sydney on (02) 9373 7300 for advice. They can identify solicitors in your area who specialise in matters like yours.
You can also contact the Federal Bureau of Consumer Affairs on (02) 6250 6804 to obtain a free brochure on "Guidelines for Legal Services Advertising". This will help you avoid questionable practitioners if you need to rely substantially on the Yellow Pages and other legal firm advertising for suggestions.
Part of your selection process with any potential solicitor is to obtain a proper communication commitment at your first meeting. The minimum requirement you should seek is a Yes to each of the following questions. If the solicitor answers with a Yes you may stay and continue discussing your situation (including the cost of engaging the solicitor). If not, politely say goodbye and leave. Don't risk changing your mind and hiring someone who won't commit to adequate communication.
The questions are:
- Will you commit to returning phone calls within one working day?
- Will you commit to responding to letters within three working days?
- Will you commit to transmitting new information within five working days?
The commitment should form part of the hiring contract and be in writing. You, of course, should reciprocate providing any information which may have bearing on the case, and again, in the same timeframe.
POOR COMMUNICATION BETWEEN SOLICITORS AND THEIR CLIENTS IS THE SINGLE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF COMPLAINTS THE LEGAL SERVICES OMBUDSMAN DEALS WITH EACH YEAR.