4 steps to take when a lawyer serves you a letter.

Question

“If you happen to be served a letter by the solicitor of someone who intends to file a suit against you, is it proper to want to visit that solicitor for a kind of discussion on the case at hand with a view to giving your own explanation?”

Answer

It is not an ideal thing to do. Firstly, you must note that the solicitor who served you with such a letter was paid by his client for the service. You remember the saying that “He who pays the piper dictates the tune”? That’s it. Although the solicitor has the professional competence to advise and drive the case, (s)he has a major mandate to protect and advance the interests of his or her client.

Below is what happened, most likely, before you were served with the solicitor’s letter:

  • The solicitor took instruction;
  • Listened to his client’s narrative;
  • Studied available documents;
  • Did some legal research and consultation;
  • Analysed the information garnered;
  • Reviewed the circumstances; and
  • Designed a strategy.

The letter served on you was the first step towards nailing you! Yes, you heard that right. If you visit the solicitor on your own volition, the solicitor has the advantage of his legal training to smartly guide you into making risky admissions and revelations that will assist in improving his client’s case and position the client on the lane of huge advantage over you.

More often than not, the highest stretch of your imagination and logic may never match the strength of the solicitor’s mental and knowledge capacity. This is largely due to his thorough legal training, experience and familiarity with established legal principles which do not basically thrive on common knowledge, assumptions and expectations available to laymen.

In all his or her professionalism, the solicitor does not owe you any duty and so is not required to balance interests objectively. His or her duty, focus and loyalty are to the client – to press for the actualisation of the client’s interests within the bounds of law. (S)he also owes a duty to the court (primarily) to advance the course of justice in all his or her dealings.

The solicitor to your adversary is not your friend at that very moment. Of course we have seen cases where your adversary’s solicitor may thereafter become your solicitor in another unrelated matter. This underscores the beauty of the legal profession where lawyers are trained not to take anything too personal. On each occasion, they are required to act professionally, strictly upholding the principle of confidentiality and client-solicitor privilege.

Perhaps it is important to mention that the only time a solicitor may act also in your interest is when there is some level of mutuality of purpose in that there is no concrete conflict between your interest and his or her client’s interest. Of course, the practice recognises that there are instances a single solicitor may act for two parties as mostly seen in some real property transactions.

Having said that, below is what you are required to do when served with a letter by a solicitor.

What you should do

The steps you should take when served with a letter from a solicitor are summarised below:

  1. Read the letter (or cause it to be read to you by a trusted person available – a family member or friend) to at least, understand on whose behalf the letter was written. This would usually be found in the first paragraph where the solicitor will clearly state the person (s)he is acting for. The heading and body of the letter will disclose the contents and subject matter.
  1. Having read the letter and digested the contents, articulate your own side of the story. Assemble available information and documents.
  1. Given that we are in information age, navigate the internet for possible legal information touching on the issue at hand. Sites like Stephen Legal; Lawyard; Learn Nigerian Laws, e.t.c., can be quite helpful. Steps 1-3 above will prepare you for the next most important step.
  1. The next and most important step is to consult a lawyer. Your own solicitor will act strictly for you, in your own interest. Your solicitor is in the best position to give a legal opinion and advise on the import of the letter and the approach to be adopted towards resolution of the dispute and legal issues. Your solicitor will accompany you to possible settlement meetings and draft the necessary responses and proposals. If the matter eventually heads to court, (s)he will be responsible for drafting court documents in your defence and ultimately pursue the defence of the case in court. Usually, those who do not like to incur legal fees attempt to stay away from legal consultations. However, when one considers the disadvantages of not engaging a solicitor, failing to engage one may become penny wise, pound foolish. Importantly, you need to engage a solicitor in good time. Failure to do so may be likened to visiting a doctor when a sickness moves from minor to acute to chronic/severe condition. It may pose a lot difficult, and the more the difficulty and challenges, the more the cost of professional fees. Negotiating legal fees may not totally be easy but there are many worthy legal professionals out there who charge affordable fees without compromising quality of service.

It is always better to act swiftly. Thus, the steps above must be timely executed. If what you were served with is a court summons, it is advised that a lawyer be consulted immediately so (s)he can determine if urgent steps are required. 



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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