5 February, 2019
In a world where everything is so easily accessible, and ideas, products and influencers' opinions are just a click away – we can be forgiven for wanting to find the simplest solution to our issues and problems.
With the introduction and growth of the Internet – and the advancement of Google, we can ask any question and receive a multitude of answers from several sources.
But are they the correct answers? When seeking a legal solution, can you trust the advice of friends, forums or Google? Peter Rolph, Managing Partner at Steele Raymond explains exactly who you should trust…
Why do you think that individuals hesitate when getting legal advice?
There are a number of reasons why they hesitate. The concerns that some might have would be, first and foremost, the cost. They feel if they go to a solicitor, the stopwatch of cost is turned on immediately as the solicitor starts speaking. Many believe that solicitors are very expensive, so if there were a cheaper, easier way that they can go to Google and find a suitable answer to their query, why would they want to instruct a solicitor and have an unnecessary cost? People tend to think (incorrectly in some cases) that their query or problem isn’t complex, that there is a simple answer. They think that Google is the fountain of knowledge – and if not Google, YouTube or some other medium. They believe that these provide a better answer to their problem, because of course; they feel it’s not a complex situation.
Most people also think they already know the answer really and are looking for confirmation that they are already right.
People don’t really want to engage with solicitors if they don’t have to – I’m not offended! For them, there is no stress if they can spend a couple of hours on Google trying to find the answer. We live in a society where we want instant gratification – and Google gives instant answers. I want to find the price of a flight, I want tickets to a show, I want answers to my legal problem…
What advice would you give to those people who are looking for free legal advice?
In general, if you’re looking for some legal advice, I assume the issue is important to you. People look up many subjects: how to make a will, how to get divorced, what do I do after a road traffic accident – these are very important issues and shouldn’t be trivialized. We all understand how important they are to people’s lives. If you were making decisions about important parts of your life, wouldn’t it be better to have the right answer, rather than an answer? The answers you get from Google are generic, based on general facts. Inevitably with the law, fact-specific issues need careful consideration, as all facts and therefore all outcomes are different. And because the law is so complex, a slight difference in the facts can make a fundamental difference to the outcome, and with that – the advice that we would give.
You have to be very clear about the facts of any legal enquiry, and of course the advice needs to be specific for those facts. Otherwise you may receive the wrong answer, and with that wrong answer you run the risk of losing important legal rights (which you think you may not have). You may also go down the more expensive and stressful route than you need to go down, merely because you have misunderstood the advice that you have been given (on Google, etc.).
“There are also many different legal remedies – and these could have strict time limits. If you don’t have the knowledge of what your legal rights are (and have the correct advice), you also may not be aware of the timelines involved – and you could lose some very important legal rights forever”.
So you could completely miss an important deadline?
Yes, and you could lose those rights forever if you don’t issue proceedings or give the right notice by a certain date – and then you’ve lost the right to do that. If you have an employment claim and don’t issue the claim in time for the employment tribunal – you’ve lost the right to do that. If you look at generic facts that may (or may not) apply to your case, and you misunderstand (as you are not a lawyer) and you get the wrong answer, it can have a fundamentally detrimental effect on your case. You could lose your legal rights.
So legal issues require specific answers?
Exactly. What you need in all circumstances is certainty – the answer that you are receiving for your problem is the definite answer, and not a generic answer from someone you know that had a ‘similar case’. ALL cases and ALL answers are different. Unless you get specific advice to your case, then you’re likely to misunderstand or get the wrong answer and solution.
Are there any other risks of NOT getting professional advice?
Yes. You may ‘put off’ some elements of your case, which if delayed too much will put you in a very detrimental position. Timelines are also extremely important. Particularly in employment law, there are quite a few things that you need to put in place in advance of any claim (with your employer or employee) that would adversely affect the steps if you didn’t do them.
Have you ever been instructed by a client who has tried to take matters into their own hands, and has come to you to sort?
Is it always one particular area of law?
No not really. It’s usually because of the reluctance to take legal help sooner rather than later. This could be those who want to avoid costs and think that Google will solve their issue, but it can also be those wealthier or more sophisticated who think that they know the correct solution.
Do you have an example?
I had a client who had an accident on board a ferry sailing across the Channel and thought that the normal three year limitation period for bringing a personal injury claim applied as that is what they had been told. Special rules apply to personal injuries while travelling on a vessel used in navigation, which reduces the time limit to two years from the date of disembarkation – and in this case she was out of time to bring a claim.
So getting the correct legal help is really important…
Yes. Every area of the law is complex. Although people think that they have some sort of ‘superficial knowledge’ of how it works, there are so many detailed regulations in all areas of law that you can very easily miss one or not be aware of them. I can’t emphasise enough the point that some of these regulations are so complex and prescriptive that it’s very black and white. You can’t assume that you will get the correct answer from a very general question on Google.
Is choosing a specialist lawyer important?
Yes. Lawyers have changed in the past 40 years. Before there were ‘high street general solicitors’ who wrote wills, completed all conveyancing while sorting divorces. That doesn’t happen any more. The law has developed in a way that is so complex that you have to have specialists in each of those areas. No one person can keep up with all the changes in the law. Legal advice – and specialist legal advice – is so important.
You can search Google and you may receive a general answer, but that is no substitute for a specialist looking at the individual facts of your case and working out what’s best for you – from someone who specialises in that precise area of law.