Self-help Law

This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to find a New Zealand lawyer & discuss costs

Do I need a lawyer?

You should first establish whether you in fact need a lawyer. You may be able to deal with the problem yourself. It may be that the issue could be dealt with by the Disputes Tribunal, where the parties involved represent themselves (see How to make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal).

What type of lawyer do I need?

Next work out what area of law your problem falls into. Lawyers specialise in different areas, so you should find someone who specialises in the area of your particular problem.

Another important consideration is whether your case might go to Court; if so, you could need the services of a barrister. The difference between a barrister and a solicitor is that a barrister is a lawyer who appears in court, whereas a solicitor deals with transactions, such as business and family matters.

In New Zealand, lawyers may choose to practise as either a solicitor or barrister, or to practise as both. In smaller law firms, lawyers tend to practise as both barrister and solicitor, whereas in larger firms lawyers can specialise in court work.

Who can help me find a lawyer?

After identifying the type of specialist lawyer you need, there are a number of resources available to help you to find a lawyer:

  • One of the best means available is to get recommendations from family, friends and colleagues, based on positive experiences they have had.
     
  • You could also approach the NZ District Law Society, who can provide you with names of lawyers specialising in particular areas.
     
  • Your local NZ Community Law Centre may be able to suggest a lawyer for your type of problem.
     
  • Lawyer websites.

Factors to consider in deciding on a lawyer

When choosing your lawyer you should consider how much you can afford to pay, and the experience and reputation of the lawyer.

While older lawyers may be more experienced, they will not necessarily be better than a younger one: for example, they might not have much experience in the particular area of law you are concerned with. On the other hand, while an older lawyer might charge more per hour, it is possible a younger lawyer may take longer in research and preparation time.

Reputation should not necessarily determine your choice. It is very important that the person you choose as your lawyer is someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to be able have open and frank discussions: you will need to be able to confide in this person. You must also feel confident about their competence in dealing with your personal affairs.

If your case is urgent you should also consider how busy your lawyer is, and whether or not he or she would be able to start promptly.

How to discuss costs with a Lawyer

Do not be embarrassed by this subject - it is far better to discuss this at the start than after a dispute over costs has arisen.

Always discuss the costs (including disbursements) and billing options.

Lawyers tend to specialise in a number of legal categories. Additionally the partners, associate & solicitor lawyers within a practice may have different charge out rates.

Billing options are either upon task completion, interim billing or through an advance payment.

  • A fixed price for the completion of a task (such as buying a house) is probably the best option, but it is not always available.
     
  • Work completed to a set cost level is the best option where it is not reasonable to estimate a final cost. Once the set cost limit is reached, the obligation is with the lawyer to contact you and seek your instructions.
     
  • A quoted hourly rate is the more difficult for you, the client. The lawyer will have their own hourly rates, as will their staff. These rates may vary.

If you're unhappy with how much your lawyer has charged you, you can complain to the District Law Society: see How to complain about a lawyer.

Cautionary notes
  • Check the credibility of your potential lawyer with your local District Law Society.
  • The most important consideration when making a decision about a lawyer is that you feel comfortable with them and have confidence in them.
  • Before instructing a lawyer to act for you, it is important to ask what the costs of handling your case are likely to be. You should do this at the first meeting or telephone call. If you do not understand the lawyer's explanation, you should ask him or her to go over it again.
  • When considering the financial costs that may be incurred with your chosen lawyer, remember that you may be entitled to legal aid, either for criminal or civil matters. However, you will have to satisfy certain criteria in order to be eligible for legal aid. See How to obtain criminal legal aid and How to obtain civil legal aid.

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