Where to find a solicitor
Stonewall has a list of solicitors on our What’s in my area database. These are not intended to be recommendations but each firm included has completed Stonewall's checklist for gay friendly law firms. Each one will have their own arrangements for fees and criteria for cases that they accept.
You could also use the Law Society’s register- all solicitors able to practice law (in England and Wales) are listed on this register. It is located at www.lawsociety.org.uk, (under Find a Solicitor).
Using a solicitor
A solicitor should:
• Put your interests first as their client
• Find out what you hope to achieve from any legal action and make sure that your expectations are realistic
• Explain all relevant legal aspects of the case clearly to you
• Tell you in writing who will be handling your case
• Explain in writing what the costs will be or are likely to be
• Keep you informed of costs, developments and progress made
• Respond to your correspondence
• Give you a bill that shows clearly what work has been done and what has been charged
• Treat all clients fairly and not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, race, age, religion or belief or disability
• Keep your information confidential
Rule 6 of the Solicitor’s Code of Conduct sets out rules for solicitors in terms of equality and diversity. Solicitors have a duty not to discriminate, victimise or harass their clients on various equalities grounds, including sexual orientation. Any solicitor you work with should not discriminate against you or treat you unfairly because you are lesbian, gay or bisexual. A solicitor can refuse to take on a case, but not on discriminatory grounds.
How to complain about a solicitor
Solicitors are required by the Solicitor’s Code of Conduct 2007 to have a complaints procedure. Disputes can often be resolved by using the firm’s procedure straight away. However, if you can’t agree on a resolution, you can contact the Legal Complaints Service for further help with the dispute. See www.legalcomplaints.org.uk or call their helpline on 0845 608 6565. (From late 2010 onwards this function will be carried out by a new organisation called the Office for Legal Complaints).
The Legal Complaints Service can investigate complaints received from clients. They have the power to reduce the solicitor’s bill and charges, award compensation for distress and inconvenience, and award compensation for financial effects. They may refer issues of misconduct to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Your solicitor can instruct a barrister to carry out legal work. The Bar Council holds an online register of all barristers in England, at www.barcouncil.org.uk. Some barristers will take on work direct from a member of the public under the public access scheme.
Legal Expenses Insurance
You should check to see if you might have legal expenses insurance. This might be an additional benefit (even if you are not aware of it) of some other insurance which you hold (e.g. contents or car insurance) or of your mortgage or credit card or AA membership. If you have insurance and wish to take legal action (as opposed to looking for advice only) you are entitled to choose your lawyer. In some cases it is an offence for the insurer not to allow you to choose your lawyer. The Regulations which confirm an individual’s right to choose their own lawyer are the Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations S.I. 1990/1159.
If you are a member of a Trade Union, you should ask your union to support you in bringing your case. It may be that your union will offer you representation by a Trade Union official, or by one of the Union’s own lawyers. You can ask the Union to pay the costs of representation by your own lawyers.
Free advice from a voluntary organisation
Alternatively, you can get free advice from a Law Centre, a Citizens' Advice Bureau or other advice agency. Both the Law Centres Federation (www.lawcentres.org.uk) and Citizens Advice (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) have websites where you can see whether there is a Law Centre or CAB near you.