For most people, hiring a lawyer is one of those things they wish they never have to go through, it’s a big commitment…employing another individual to represent your interests adequately and ensure that whatever reason you employed them for, is resolved quickly and smoothly.
Do you need a Lawyer?
- Learn about your problem
The first and often most underrated thing is that you need to attempt to understand what your issue is, and know whether you do actually need the services of a lawyer, before attempting to hire one. Most times people face an issue and automatically believe that they need a lawyer to solve it.
While having the mindset of engaging a lawyer for issues is a good thing, you should try to find out a bit more about the issue first. Do some minor research to understand your rights, use the Internet, ask friends, and use services like ours! LawPàdí provides free initial legal information to individuals and businesses that are unsure about their legal rights and need some quick assistance and/or information (you can use our legal query platform here). So do yourself a favour please– bookmark our website!
- Can you solve it on your own?
In many cases, you may be able to solve your problem without a lawyer’s help. If a company has wronged you, it might be that the best way to attempt to resolve it is to see if it has a customer service department. Often, a complaint can be settled to your satisfaction without having to find a lawyer.
For example, you book a domestic flight from Lagos to Abuja, your flight gets delayed for 5 hours, you eventually get to your destination and you are so upset that you decide you want to sue the airline. Now while you have a right to sue them, you should be aware that there are other ways you can attempt to raise a grievance and obtain compensation.
You can make a formal complaint to the airline, and if you do not get a satisfactory response, you can ask the Consumer Protection Council to assist you. We actually have an article on steps to follow to claim compensation when your flight is delayed.
As you can see, you still get what you want – a resolution of your complaint, but this way it hasn’t cost you the time, money and effort which would have occasioned you using a lawyer. So before you think about hiring a lawyer, you should ask yourself- do I need a lawyer?
Beginning your Lawyer search
There are tens of thousands of lawyers in Nigeria; the issue for you then is how to find one that best suits your needs? Lawyers improve their clients’ quality of life by protecting them from situations that might later bring emotional and financial hardship. A good lawyer is there to help those in trouble now and those who want to avoid trouble in the future.
If your problem is one that needs special skills or specialized knowledge of a certain sector, you want to be sure that the lawyer you will be dealing with has experience in that area of law.
In beginning your lawyer search you can follow the steps below:
- Build a shortlist
The first step in your search for a lawyer is building a shortlist. You can do this in Nigeria, primarily by 2 means (offline and online) by –
Asking for recommendations from people who have had similar needs/issues in the past, ask from friends, family members, business partners etc. People you trust, and who have been through similar issues and can recommend a lawyer with the appropriate skills. For example if you are having marital issues and you are considering a divorce, the most logical recommendation is to ask someone who has recently been divorced or is in the middle of a divorce.
- Contact your shortlist
The next step is to contact the lawyers who have made it on to your shortlist, and then ask them some questions in order to narrow down the list.
Before you contact them however, you should be clear on your expectations, build a profile in your mind of what you want your ideal lawyer to be, and then match the responses you get from the individuals on your shortlist to decide whether they make the cut.
Things that should be covered include:
Personality and Communication skills– there’s an unfortunate myth circling around that the more aggressive and argumentative the lawyer is, the better he/she is as a lawyer. With respect that is an utter fallacy (fancy way of saying ‘that is incorrect’). You are looking to hire a lawyer not a street urchin (fancy way of saying ‘agbero’), pay more attention to things like poise, professionalism, and respect. Remember you will be dealing with this person closely so it needs to be someone who is pleasant to work with and has great communication skills.
Experience, Expertise and References – if your issue is one which requires special knowledge, make sure that the lawyer is one who has the requisite expertise, ask for past cases they have worked on which are similar to yours, and satisfy yourself than they have the experience and expertise to handle your case. If possible you should ask your lawyer if they can provide any references or contact details of past clients they have worked with. If your lawyer is really good at their job they should not have a problem providing contact details for a couple of previous clients. (References aren’t necessary if the person got on your shortlist based on a recommendation).
Consider the Size of the Firm – if you are looking to engage a mid-size to large firm of lawyers, you need to be clear on who will be handling your case. Most times you might have initial meetings with a senior partner or lawyer in the firm, but once you sign up you realize that your work has been passed off entirely to a more junior lawyer, be clear on who will be doing the work; while there’s nothing wrong in junior lawyers handling cases, you don’t want to be charged the full rate of a senior lawyer when in actual fact the work is being done by a junior with little or no supervision from the more senior lawyer.
Fees – you need to be clear on how the lawyer will bill you – hourly rate, fixed rate, contingency etc., and if not a fixed rate you need to have the lawyer give you an approximation of what the case will cost you in legal fees.
Hiring a Lawyer
Make sure you understand what you’re paying for. Always ask your lawyer for a Fee Quote. The fee quote should be in writing and in clear, direct language that you are comfortable with.
It should have a breakdown of the fees and should include what other expenses you will be liable for, things like: filing costs (fees for filing a lawsuit), postage, telephone, courier, photocopying, out of town air or car transportation, and hotel and meal expenses etc.
Once you are comfortable with your choice for a lawyer and are happy with the fee quote, you should insist that your lawyer provides a contract – Terms of Engagement. It shouldn’t be a long contract, just one or two pages that sets out how the relationship will be managed.
It will contain things like how communication should be managed and how frequent, scope of engagement, agreed fees, confidentiality, when payments should be made, and procedure for terminating the agreement.
Working with a Lawyer
Once you have engaged the services of a lawyer, you need to communicate your expectations before you begin discussing strategies. Your lawyer needs to know what your “best case/expected outcome” for the case is, and your lawyer needs to explain all other possible outcomes that could happen.
Your lawyer should be able to give you an analysis of your case and what your rights and potential liabilities will be based on the prevailing facts.
He/she should be able to predict the likelihood of different outcomes based on the position of the law, and should most importantly outline multiple options and the merits and drawbacks of each option so you are making an informed decision.
If your case involves a dispute, you should know that lawyers don’t just jump to sue people. In fact, suing is probably one of the more expensive and time-consuming ways for you to resolve a dispute. Make sure your lawyer has an open mind about alternative means to dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration.
If during the course of the engagement with your lawyer you become dissatisfied with the service you are being given, then you have the right to fire your lawyer (based on the terms set out in the terms of engagement). If your unhappiness stems from what might constitute professional misconduct then you have the option open to you to report the lawyer to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, this is the body that deals with complaints against lawyers by clients which have to do with professional misconduct. Hopefully that doesn’t happen in your situation.