If you have to go to court, you obviously need the services of a lawyer. You can’t usually bring any legal action or even defend yourself in court without a lawyer. However, the services of a lawyer are not limited solely to when you’re summoned to go to court. Indeed, in our experience, the main reason clients have to go to court is because they didn’t seek advice from a lawyer beforehand.
If many such clients had sought legal advice before entering into legal transactions, they probably would have avoided the courts altogether. Very worthwhile because a court case is always an unpleasant experience — even when you win!
Many people think they don’t need a lawyer. Perhaps they think they don’t require a doctor, a painter or a mechanic either. But when you’re seriously ill, you go to a doctor. Why, then, don’t you go to a lawyer when entering into an important transaction? How many times in life will you buy a house? How often will you receive an inheritance or make a will? Are such transactions not important enough to consider seeking advice from a lawyer?
Because the most important function of a lawyer in society is not to initiate legal proceedings. To the contrary, our job is to avoid court cases through providing help and legal advice. (In fact the Latin term for lawyer, ‘advocatus’ or ‘advocate’, refers to a person you go to for advice or turn to for assistance when entering into a contract or legal transaction.)
For example, during the sale of a house, both the buyer and the seller come into contact with a number of experts. At the very least when you buy, you come into contact with a real estate agent, perhaps even a developer and an architect if you’re building your own home. You will also need a notary.
Each of these professionals have their own function. The real estate agent finds a buyer for the property, the developer and the architect build the house, and the notary formalises the contract so you can prove ownership of the property and register it with the land registry.
None of these people, though, has an exclusive obligation to give you independent advice. Each has their own interests but none has a duty to look solely after your interests (as the buyer or seller). If the house is not sold, the estate agent receives no commission. If the contract is not notarised, the notary receives no fee.
However, you pay the lawyer to do nothing more than protect your interests. They are, therefore, the only person you can really trust in the whole process. They are the only person who can freely say to you — without it having any effect on his bank account, ‘you shouldn’t sign this contract!’
Many clients come to us after they’ve signed contracts and problems have arisen. At this late stage, all we can do is try to salvage the situation through an agreement or legal proceedings. Often in such circumstances, the client shouldn’t have signed the contract in the first place. But you can only know this — when to sign and when not to — if you have a lawyer, your advocatus, by your side when you sign.
Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer