If you find yourself involved in a dispute – over a will, with a neighbour over boundaries, or with tradespeople over poor work – you may wish to consult a solicitor but be put off by the costs involved or by the demands that taking action will place on your time and energy. How can you get the advice you need without it breaking the bank and taking over your life? Here we set out a few basic steps you can take to manage the process and get the best results.

Begin at the beginning

Most firms of solicitors offer a fixed-fee initial consultation before opening a case, so you can have a discussion about your dispute with a lawyer without the worry that costs will get out of hand. To get value for money from such a meeting it is best to do some preparation beforehand. Write down a timeline of the events that led to the dispute. Go through any correspondence or other documents and bring the most relevant to the meeting. If you are unsure as to what is important and what isn’t, then bring it along anyway – an experienced solicitor will be able to tell very quickly whether some piece of evidence is relevant. Having thought beforehand about the order of events and what evidence is relevant will clarify your own thinking, and it will allow your solicitor to get to the heart of the matter in the shortest time.

Be an open book

Tell your solicitor everything that may be relevant, even if it may be harmful to your case or doesn’t show you in the best light. Your solicitor is not there to judge you but to advise you in your best interests. They need to know the unhelpful facts in order to be able to advise you properly. If a case goes to court then both parties are legally obliged to disclose everything that is material to the case, helpful or not, or they risk their case collapsing and being stuck with the other party’s costs. Best to get in the habit from the off.

Eyes on the prize

What is your desired outcome? You may be able to achieve this through negotiation or formal mediation, without the need to take immediate court action. A reputable firm will set out all the options – and how much they are likely to cost you – in writing and seek your approval before they open a file. There are cost-effective ways to resolve a dispute while leaving court action as a last resort. In fact courts will expect you to have tried everything before you submit your claim. Having a clear idea of your goal when you set out will make it easier to measure progress, and to recognise an acceptable compromise position should one present itself. Going in with the attitude that you want to simply beat your opponent can leave you continuing the argument for its own sake. A reputable firm will not encourage you in this approach. Aggressive but ultimately unsuccessful court action is a good way to lose a lot of money.

Be advised

You are paying for your solicitor’s advice so take it seriously. By all means air your thoughts on the process, but be aware that your solicitor has been through it before and knows more than you about the ins and outs. As soon as the prospect of court action is raised there are rules that firms of solicitors must follow in allowing time for opponents to take instructions and assess their case before responding. Rushing ahead of these rules will leave you open to the risk of having to pay your opponents costs. Your solicitor acts on your instructions but has a responsibility to advise you on the course of action that is in your best interests, based on the strength of your case, the outcome you want to achieve, and the parameters of the rules of civil procedure. If there is anything you do not understand in your solicitor’s advice then ask them to clarify it – they have a duty to advise you and to ensure you understand their advice and the consequences of following it. For your part, being patient and considering that advice carefully will let your solicitor focus their efforts on achieving the best outcome for you in the shortest time at the least expense.

Considering these points and applying them to your particular legal problem will allow you to get the advice and support you need while managing the costs and the time you have to spend in reaching a satisfactory resolution.