This page explains how you can find help from a solicitor. It tells you about when you might get help to pay for this.
- You may need a solicitor if you have a mental illness and need help for a mental health tribunal, at the police station or at court.
- Solicitors are experts in certain areas of law. For example, some deal only with criminal cases and others deal with helping people to buy houses.
- When you ask a solicitor to help you with a problem, they call this ‘instructing’ them. If they agree to help you, the agreement between you and the solicitor is called a ‘retainer.’
- You might be able to get free legal help under ‘legal aid’. But not all legal problems are covered by legal aid.
- You are entitled to free legal advice if you are under arrest at a police station, or if you appeal against detention under the Mental Health Act 1983.
- If you are unhappy with your solicitor’s work, you can complain to them directly. If you are still not happy, the Legal Ombudsman might be able to look into the problem.
- You can use the Law Society website to help you find a solicitor.
Do I need a solicitor?
You may have a problem at work, with the NHS or social services or in a family matter. You can often resolve problems without getting legal advice. For example by talking about the problem or making a complaint. But sometimes you might need to speak to a solicitor because:
• the problem is very important to you,
• the problem is difficult to solve by yourself,
• you couldn’t reach an agreement, or
• you want something that the other person isn’t willing to give you, like compensation.
A solicitor can:
• give you advice,
• send letters for you,
• talk to someone you are having a dispute with,
• write formal documents for you, or
• help you take the issue to court.
The steps a solicitor will take depend on what they are helping you with.
This will also depend on the sort of help you need to sort out the problem.
How do I find a solicitor?
Solicitors usually specialise in one or two areas of law. A solicitor who can help you to buy a house is unlikely to be able to help you with a mental health or social care problem. You will need to find a solicitor who can help with the type of problem you are having.
The Law Society website has a list of practising solicitors. You can find this at solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk. You can search by the area of law or location. If you do not have access to the internet then you can contact the Law Society on 02073 205 650 for help with finding a local solicitor.
Finding the right solicitor
There may be several solicitors in your area that could help with your problem. It can be difficult to know which one to choose.
Even if someone you know has recommended a solicitor or if they have a good reputation, you cannot know for certain how good their service will be. You can think about the following when making a decision about which solicitor to choose:
- the area of law they specialise in,
- the firm’s reputation,
- how much they charge,
- what impression you get at your first meeting (‘consultation’), and
- whether they have dealt with similar problems before.
The Law Society runs an ‘accreditation’ scheme which shows that a solicitor has expertise in a particular area, such as representing you at a tribunal when you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. You can find out more at www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/accreditation/
Rethink Mental Illness cannot recommend a solicitor for you because we are not familiar with all the firms in the country and whether they offer a good service.
Will I have to pay?
Solicitors can be paid in different ways. These are the different ways you can pay for a solicitor.
a) Paying for it yourself
Paying a solicitor can be expensive. Some solicitors may offer a fixed fee for some types of legal work. They must tell you how much the work should cost from the start. This is more common if a solicitor is helping you to move house or write a will.
For other work, solicitors may charge by the hour. They will not be able to tell you exactly how much you will have to pay because this will depend on how long the work will take. But they must give you the best information they can about how much they think it will cost and keep you updated if anything changes.
b) Legal aid
Am I entitled to legal aid?
You may be entitled to free legal help under legal aid. Legal aid means that the government pays for your legal advice if you can’t afford to pay it yourself.
Getting legal aid will depend on:
• the type of problem you have,
• your income and,
• the strength of your case.
You may have to pay your legal bills if you win money or get a property in your case.
You can check whether you are entitled at www.gov.uk/legal-aid-eligibilitycalculator.
What is covered?
Legal aid is available for certain areas of law, such as:
• social care,
• detention under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Since 2013, you can no longer get help with most issues about:
• benefits and
• employment issues.
You might be able to get legal aid if your case is an exception, like if you are facing homelessness because of a debt or housing problem.
Finding a solicitor
Not all solicitors can do legal aid work. You will need to find out which solicitors or organisations do this work in your area. In some areas, Citizens Advice Bureaux or Law Centres do work under legal aid.
If you are entitled to legal aid, Civil Legal Advice might be able to give you advice by telephone. They can also point you in the direction of local solicitors who do work under legal aid. Their details are at the end of this page.
c) Insurance policies
Some insurance policies cover legal advice. Check your home and car insurance policies to see whether your insurance company may to pay for legal advice. You can take your insurance policy to a solicitor to see if you don’t have to pay.
Your insurance policy might help you get legal advice for other things. For example, your car insurance policy might cover the cost of legal advice if you have a problem at work.
d) ‘No win, no fee’
In some cases solicitors will agree not to charge you if you don’t win the case. The official name for this is a ‘Conditional Fee Agreement.’ But they are often called ‘no win, no fee’ agreements. They are common if you
make a claim against someone for an injury. This could be because of a road traffic accident, a medical procedure, or an accident at work.
Even if you have a no win, no fee agreement, you might still have to pay costs if you lose. Your solicitor should explain this before they start working for you.
If you win your case, you will have to pay a larger fee than someone who does not have a no win, no fee agreement. Again, your solicitor should explain this from the start.
e) Free help
When a solicitor gives you legal help for free, this is called ‘pro bono’ advice. You can find out whether there is a local solicitor who offers free advice at www.lawworks.org.uk and www.barprobono.org.uk.
What if I'm arrested?
You have a right to free legal advice if you are arrested. You should try to contact a solicitor if you’ve used one before. Or you can use the ‘duty solicitor’ scheme. The police will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) if you want to speak to a solicitor.
They will pass on your details and a solicitor will give you telephone advice. You may see the solicitor in person if you are accused of a more serious offence and:
• the police want to interview you,
• you cannot talk on the telephone, or
• you are vulnerable.
You should tell the police and your solicitor if you feel unwell or vulnerable because of your mental illness. You should do this as soon as possible. They will make sure you get the care and support you need.
What if I am sectioned?
You can appeal to the Mental Health Tribunal if you are in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 (often called ‘being sectioned’). You can get free legal help from a solicitor if you make an appeal.
You can get more information about ‘Discharge from the Mental Health Act' at this page.
How can I complain about my solicitor?
You should tell your solicitor that you are unhappy first of all. If this does not help then you should follow the firm’s complaints procedure. Your solicitor should give you information about the complaints procedure at the start of your case.
You can take the issue to the Legal Ombudsman if you are not happy with the firm’s response to your complaint. The Ombudsman is independent and can look at complaints about solicitors if you have already tried to resolve it with the firm. The Ombudsman’s details are at the end of this section.
Civil Legal Advice
Civil Legal Advice can help you to find a solicitor who works under legal aid.
Telephone: 0345 345 4 345 (9am to 8pm Mon- Fri, 9am to 12.30pm Sat)
Text: ‘legalaid’ and your name to 80010
The Law Society maintains a list of practising solicitors in England and Wales. You can use their website to find a local solicitor.
Telephone: 020 7320 5650 (Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 17:30)
Email: via contact form on website - www.lawsociety.org.uk/get-in-touch/
The Legal Ombudsman can investigate your complaint about a solicitor if you have already complained to the solicitor directly and if you are unhappy with their response.
Telephone: 0300 555 0333 (8.30am – 5.30pm Mon – Fri)
Address: PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ