How to choose a Solicitor
You will be in a better position to make an educated choice of a solicitor if you do the work to research what you need and take the time to shop around. It is important to feel confident in your choice of a solicitor as this will help to ensure that the estate administration goes smoothly. You should compare the solicitors on your shortlist against your specific requirements in order to whittle down your options.
The area of law they specialise in
Most solicitors will have an area of law they specialise in, whether that be conveyancing, custody, criminal law etc. The importance of finding a solicitor that specialises in the area of law you require seems to be something that is often overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be. Just as within the building industry you have people who specialise in bricklaying, plastering and plumbing, in the legal industry you have solicitors that specialise in specific areas. It is possible to find someone that does a bit of everything, this is called a general practitioner, however, because they have a lot of knowledge over a vast area doesn’t guarantee they have a lot of knowledge in the specific area you require.
This is especially important if you find yourself in a situation where there are disputes between the beneficiaries, family members or executors as you will need to find a solicitor that specialises in Contentious probate. This is an area that is very unpredictable and extremely stressful, upsetting and time-consuming. Therefore you need to find someone who is experienced and comfortable in handling sensitive cases. There are solicitors that specialise exclusively in contentious cases and their knowledge and expertise should be highly valued.
You might assume that all estate practitioners are qualified solicitors but this is not always the case. There are Estate administration experts or estate management companies that will perform probate services but are not qualified or have the same experience and knowledge in law as a solicitor will have. Solicitors are thoroughly trained and are regularly tested to ensure they have an up to date knowledge of the law.
Solicitors should be regulated by an independent authority this is to ensure that they provide a level of service and professionalism. If they do not meet this standard you are protected and can lodge a complaint with their regulator who will launch an investigation.
The SRA is the solicitors regulation authority and is the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales and therefore is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of solicitors. The SRA was formed in 2007 to act as an independent regulator and is a board under the Law Society but acts independently and regulates solicitors in England and wales.
The Law Society is the professional association that represents and governs the lawyers‘ profession for the jurisdiction of England and Wales and was formed almost 200 years ago when London solicitors joined forces to improve the reputation of the profession by setting standards and ensuring good practice.
When choosing a solicitor you should check that they are regulated by the SRA and therefore the law society, they should be able to produce their SRA number upon request. The benefits of using a solicitor or a professional that is regulated by the SRA is that you have the security that they must abide by a professional code of conduct and that there is an independent body regulating them to ensure you receive a service in an ethical and professional manner.
Arguably the most important factor when choosing a solicitor is the price, and unfortunately, the only way to secure a competitive price is to by doing the leg work and getting comparison quotes. The price of probate can differ vastly depending on what charging structure is used.
There are 4 different ways in which a solicitor will charge, the first being an hourly rate. Depending on the complexity of the estate this can vary dramatically, it is also worth noting when working on an hourly rate that there is no incentive to finish the work quickly. The more meetings and telephone calls you have the more expensive it will get and you won’t know the final cost until the administration is finished and more often or not the final cost will be very expensive.
The second fee structure is a percentage of the estate, this can be beneficial if the value of the estate is low (meaning less than £100,000 depending on the percentage being charged at 2% or less) however in most cases this isn’t very cost-effective for the estate. The higher the value of the estate doesn’t always mean there will be more work involved in administering it and that’s when the beneficiaries could lose out. For example, an estate consisting of 1 property and 1 bank account with a total value of £500,000 charged at 1% would mean solicitors fees of £5000. Whereas an estate consisting of one property, 5 bank accounts, insurance policy and pension with a total value of £300,000 charged at 1% would be £3000. This means that the true amount of work involved isn’t reflected in the price.
The third charging structure and the most commonly used is an hourly rate plus a percentage. This also tends to be the most expensive pricing system as it is potentially uncapped and the hardest to predict. Although you may be able to work out the percentage amount being taken from the estate you won’t know the final total until the administration is complete, as is the case with an hourly rate. This often means the fees can get very quickly out of hand and there is little you can do to prevent this until you have been hit with the bill.
The fourth Pricing structure is the Fixed fee method, this often works out at the cheapest option and also means you have an accurate idea of the fees and how they are worked out before making any commitment. Each business will have a different way in which they work out their quote but in most cases, they generally work out to be the most competitive and will not change, so you won’t be surprised at the end of the process.
When choosing a solicitor it is important that you are comparing the costs correctly against each other and understand the potential differences in the cost of solicitors that are working on different pricing structures. Make sure you ask which charging structure they use and what fees you should expect at the end of the process, the best outcome is a commitment to a price that you are happy with.
You can find a more in-depth explanation including examples of solicitors pricing structures here.
Nowadays with the immediateness of email and telephone, being in the same geographical location as your solicitor is not as important as it used to be. There are a lot more options available now and it is now no longer necessary for you to attend a meeting at an office or endure a home visit. The majority of the work can be done over the phone or email and paperwork can be sent and received quickly using recorded delivery or couriers. This is especially helpful if you are not living in the same country as the deceased assets.
However, some people still like the personal touch of a face to face consultation and it is in this case that location would be a factor in choosing your solicitor. Take into account that you may end up having to compromise on the quality of service or qualifications if there is not a solicitor in the local area that specialises in the area of law you require.
Meeting your basic requirements
Before committing to a solicitor you should ensure that they can meet your needs, write a list of your basic requirements and discuss how they can meet them. For example, if you have a busy work schedule or have children’s school drop-offs and pickups discuss what options are available to work around this. In this case, you will need a solicitor that is capable of getting the information they need using telephone calls and emails in order to make sure progression isn’t slowed. If this is what you require also check how they would charge you for this, whether it is charged by the hour which could get very expensive or if you have agreed a fixed fee that all phone calls and emails are included.
If you live in another time zone ask questions about arranging telephone calls to suit your needs and what they can do to make sure this doesn’t affect the work. You may want to ask about what documents they will need original copies of and how they will be sent and what documents can be scanned and emailed to save time.
If the executor or beneficiaries speak limited or no English it may also be necessary to look for a solicitor that can speak their language. This obviously does add an extra level of complication but it is possible to find. If this is not a possibility you should ask about ways to work around this and discuss what translation options are available.
If you have a disability or special needs let them know and discuss what procedures they have in place to accommodate them or what adjustments they can make in order to ensure the process goes smoothly.
In order to get the best out of your relationship with your solicitor, it’s important to feel comfortable with them. This is something that can be easily overlooked but it often becomes a bigger problem as the work goes on. It’s not always easy to find someone you immediately click with but if you have any reservations you should address them early on and if you don’t get the answers you need then they might not be the right solicitor for you. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends but if you don’t feel comfortable with your solicitor it can strain both sides of the relationship and the estate administration may suffer.
One way to mitigate any apprehension is to check their qualifications or what they specialise in, knowing you have an experienced and qualified professional on the case for a lot of people can relieve some of the uneasiness.
The deceased has chosen a solicitor as an executor
There are some cases where you will not have the ability to choose your solicitor because there is already a solicitor written into the will as an executor. You should bear in mind just because a solicitor is written in as an executor does not necessarily mean that they were chosen specifically by the deceased. Banks, solicitors, will writers and charities will offer to act as executors when providing a will, it is not always clearly explained what implications that will have on the family or on the estate when probate is needed.
There are many reasons as to why a solicitor will be named as an executor but that does not mean that you have to resign yourself to using someone you don’t feel comfortable with, doesn’t specialise in probate or is charging you way over the odds. As a joint executor or a beneficiary, you can ask the solicitor who is executor to renounce their position in order for someone else to take over. However, there is no legal requirement that an executor has to renounce if asked and they can refuse if they so choose. You will have a greater chance of success if all the executors and beneficiaries agree that they do not want that solicitor to administer the estate and if that solicitor is approached by another solicitor (your chosen solicitor) and asked to renounce. If your chosen solicitor is successful in getting a renunciation they will take on the estate administration on your behalf.