As in all professions, there are varying standards to legal services. Competency of a lawyer does not only rest on the years of experience but could also depend on the exposure that a practitioner has in the specific area or industry.
Like definitions of “reasonable” efforts, what constitutes “diligent” legal service to a client?
Who conducts checks in the competency levels of a lawyer and affirms that the lawyer has performed a reasonable level of client care standards?
As in all relationships, the professional relationship that a lawyer with his client is dependent on the expectations of both parties.
In choosing a lawyer, it is best if you first establish the following:
Do you need a lawyer?
Preventative measures are not always appreciated until something unexpected happens. Similarly, you do not need to have a big problem at hand before you consult a lawyer as good legal advice can save you trouble, time and money when life throws you a curveball (refer to our Curveball Series).
Are your personal or corporate affairs in proper order? Have you set up a company and need advice on the agreements you are signing with co-founders, suppliers and clients? In the case of sudden illness or accident that causes mental incapacity, who will make your personal welfare (including health care decisions) and/or property and financial decisions for you?
What kind of legal work do you require of your lawyer?
Only Singapore-qualified lawyers can be used in Singapore courts so, if you are being sued or are considering the options of suing someone in Singapore, you should ensure that your lawyer is an “advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore.” Such a lawyer would have a documentation known as a “Practising Certificate”.
How much time and money are you willing to spend on the matter?
In evaluating your legal situation, are you also able to work out how much time you require of your lawyer or what would be considered a solution to your problem? This affects the costs associated as lawyers charge clients on work that is either time-based and project-based.
You should also have an Engagement Letter in place as the Engagement Letter will tell you the lawyer’s and the lawyer’s team’s hourly rates. If you have engaged the lawyer for project-based work, the Letter should set an estimate of how much you should expect to pay at the end of the job.
If this is the first time you deal with the lawyer, use a fee cap. This is a limit on how much the lawyer can charge you and you may wish to dispense with that if you have experience working with a lawyer you trust.
As Adrian Tan, of Stamford Law, said in his humorous guide on how to use a lawyer (see here), “Some users feel that choosing a lawyer is as important as choosing a spouse. Of course, that is ridiculous. It is far more important to choose the right lawyer. After all, your spouse will not save you from bankruptcy or a death sentence.” – Choose wisely!
This article is written by Adrian Mah from Asia Law Network.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.