How do I find a good lawyer?
You can find a lawyer by:
- asking friends or family to recommend one to you;
- checking out the online Find a Lawyer database on the New Zealand Law Society. You can narrow your search to find lawyers in a particular town or city and / or who practise in a particular area of law, e.g. criminal, family, immigration. You can also search for lawyers according to the language(s) they speak;
- checking the Auckland District Law Society's nationwide database of lawyers;
- contacting your local branch of the New Zealand Law Society;
- looking in the Yellow Pages phone book under “Lawyers” or “Barristers and Solicitors”, or searching the online version.
You can also look for a lawyer who specialises in particular types of cases:
- To find a family lawyer, check out the website of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society.
- To find a property lawyer, check out the website of the Property Law Section of the NZ Law Society.
It can be hard to know how “good” a lawyer will be, so it can be helpful to get recommendations from people whose opinion you trust.
If you don’t have any recommendations to go on, you might need to do some research to help you decide whether a particular lawyer is right for you. You can check a law firm’s website to find out what they specialise in and how long they have been practising. Also, make sure you find out how they charge for their services.
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What should I expect from a lawyer?
Lawyers have to meet certain standards of professional behaviour. These are set out in the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers.
The rules include the requirement that your lawyer must act competently and according to what you have asked them to do, act in your interests, give you clear information and advice, and provide you with information about how they charge fees and when fees have to be paid. Your lawyer must also give you a copy of the client care and service information required under the rules .
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Can I get a lawyer if I am arrested?
If you are detained or arrested by the police you have the right to talk to and instruct a lawyer - without delay, and in private.
You can contact your own lawyer if you have one. If you don’t have a lawyer, you can access a lawyer for free through the Police Detention Legal Assistance (PDLA) service. The Police hold a list of the names and phone numbers of lawyers who are available through this service.
The PDLA lawyers are available 24 hours a day, every day. If you don't have a lawyer, ask the police for the list, pick a lawyer who is on duty at that time, and ask to use the police phone. Usually the lawyer will talk to you over the phone, though in some very complicated or serious cases, the lawyer may come to talk to you face-to-face.
You may also want to check if you are eligible for legal aid for on-going legal assistance in relation to your case.
There's more information on our website about your rights in relations to the Police.
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What if I’m charged with an offence and I don’t have a lawyer to help me in court?
Duty lawyers are available at the court and can help you for free. The duty lawyer will deal with the immediate issues in court and can help you apply for legal aid if you need on-going legal representation.
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Where can I get legal advice if I can’t afford a lawyer?
If you are on a low income, you may be able to get free legal help from your nearest community law centre (CLC). CLCs are independent community organisations that
that hold free legal advice clinics and legal education workshops and in some cases provide in-depth legal assistance or representation. You can visit the CLC website to find out more about what they can and can’t help with and whether you will be eligible,
The Citizens Advice Bureau can help you access free legal advice. Many CABs where members of the public can receive free legal advice from a lawyer during specified times - for more information contact your local CAB.
All CABs are also able to link you with other free legal services available in your area such as the local community law centre or lawyers in the community who offer some pro bono legal advice. If you need free legal advice, your local CAB can help you.
Legal aid is a government fund to pay for legal help for people in certain circumstances. It is usually only available to people who meet the eligibility criteria and it is also generally considered a loan so people who qualify for legal aid may have to pay some or all of it back. How much you will have to repay depends on your income and assets, and the cost of your case.
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When can I make a complaint about my lawyer and how do I go about it?
If you are not happy with your lawyer's behaviour or the service they have provided, then the first step would usually be to raise the matter with the lawyer or their firm. All lawyers must have procedures for dealing with complaints and they have to deal with complaints promptly and fairly.
However, if you are not satisfied with the outcome, or if you feel it is inappropriate to take your complaint to the lawyer or their firm, then you can approach the Complaints Service of the New Zealand Law Society for assistance.
You can complain to the Lawyers Complaints Service:
- a lawyer or a former lawyer,
- an incorporated law firm or a previously incorporated law firm, or
- an employee of a lawyer or an incorporated law firm (they don't have to be a lawyer).
Things you can complain about include:
- conduct: e.g. if you think your lawyer had a conflict of interest when they were dealing with your case,
- poor service: e.g. if your lawyer has not done what they said they would do or gave you wrong or incomplete information, or
- unfair and unreasonable fees (usually only if the bill totalled more than $2,000 + GST and is not more than 2 years old).
Visit the New Zealand Law Society website for information about the Lawyers Complaints Service. This includes a complaints form and information about the standards required of New Zealand lawyers.
You can contact the Lawyers Complaints Service on 0800 261 801or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). A Complaints and Standards Officer will discuss your complaint with you and may be able to help you solve the problem informally. Otherwise, they can help you lodge a formal complaint.
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What happens after I make a complaint about a lawyer ?
When the Lawyers Complaints Service gets your formal complaint, it will check the complaint to see if it is valid.
If it is, a copy will be sent to the lawyer and to the Standards Committee for consideration.
The Standards Committee might:
- decide to inquire into the complaint
- contact you and ask you and the lawyer to use mediation, conciliation or negotiation to find a solution
- decide that no action is needed
If the Committee finds that the lawyer's conduct was unsatisfactory it can make one or more orders, for example:
- formally confirm the terms of an agreed settlement resulting from negotiation, conciliation or mediation between you and the lawyer,
- express formal disapproval of the lawyer,
- require the lawyer to
- apologise to you,
- pay you some compensation,
- reduce, cancel or refund some of all of the fees they charged,
- pay a fine,
- fix any errors or omissions at their own expense,
- pay you for any expenses you incurred in making your complaint.
If the matter is very serious, the Standards Committee may refer your complaint to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal.