Securing a Good Lawyer

Securing a good lawyer can prove challenging if not frustrating. However the basic guidelines are the same in most countries. It is recommended to get a lawyer who can be your ‘legal coach’ and agent all at once. From the start, a good lawyer connects with his client. Determine if there is a fit, albeit the personality fit is very important, as you, the client must get sense of security from the initial contact. Jamaican Attorney-at-law Charles Williams, with over 25 years experience advises the client to ask many questions, and pay attention to vital testers such as chemistry and accessibility, right from the start.

He says lawyers should be able to give an idea of the time frame involved and necessary stages for resolving the problem to be achieved. Clients need to ‘know’ that they have the last word, although the lawyer advises on all possible outcomes says another attorney Jacqueline Samuels. The client should therefore recognize the critical value of outlining his or her desired course of action. In any country, clients must research whether the lawyer is fully certified, and qualified to represent you, especially in court, by the relevant body. In Jamaica, lawyers conduct minimal advertising such as telephone directory listings. However, directory listings are not sufficient guidelines to locate a good lawyer.

The old-fashioned way – through friends, families and acquaintances can never wear thin. Additionally, choosing, based on reputation or observation, can be highly beneficial. Observations can be done by attending court and seeing lawyers in action or, at times, through knowledge of a successful transaction already in progress, where allowed. The General Legal Council of Jamaica, the body responsible for discipline and rules governing lawyers cannot recommend lawyers. The crux of hiring a lawyer is often times based on the lawyer, experience, nature of case, nature of issues and complexities, the type and amount of work required. Initial consultation is, in many instances, free. Within Jamaica’s free market, both parties must get together to decide on a rate to be paid or fees to be charged outside of statutory required fees.

This, as lawyers are free to charge whatever fees, they believe, their services are worth. Some lawyers charge a total fee from the get-go, while others charge an initial retainer, plus additions over time for extra elements such as court appearances. (NB: In Jamaica, cases can drag through the courts for two to three years, or up to 20 years in extreme circumstances.) Still, there are lawyers, who charge an hourly fee after the initial retainer. In the case of commercial transactions such as land matters, fees are calculated as a percentage of the value of the property involved. Critically, clients should, at all times, have a clear idea on the basis of the fee structure and, hence, the fee to be charged to avoid misunderstandings and budgetary problems. Further, clients should, at all times, be mindful of available legal aid (called pro bono in the US) as supplemented by the government.

Through a partnership between government and attorneys, legal aid is made available, as private attorneys agree to accept significantly reduced fees from persons, who have financial problems. In the case of criminal matters, with a few exceptions such as drug cases, legal aid is made available. Three legal aid clinics exist in Jamaica, namely Kingston Legal Aid Clinic, Legal Aid Clinic, Norman Manley Law School, Mona, St Andrew, and the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic Ltd in St James. The cost may begin at JA$20,000 (1US$=apprx JA$89). Lawyers also volunteer, on call, as duty counsel at police stations, where they give advice or represent persons detained or arrested.

Tips to bear in mind: When choosing a lawyer, research level of experience and expertise. Choosing between barrister and solicitor is no longer an issue as Jamaican lawyers are now able to operate as both. Lawyers who may not have adequate time to devote to your case, as a result of heavy workload, should inform you. Information on statutory duties and costs can be obtained from public agencies and offices such as the Registrar of Titles. Finally, never assume that a ‘friendly’ lawyer has your best interest at heart. Make sure that even these ‘friendly’ lawyers speak directly, especially in telling you when to make contact, in the event you are not contacted first.

This article gives general guidance on securing a lawyer for any reason, whether civil or criminal. It makes limited reference to Jamaica, but the points remain general.