If you have never engaged a lawyer in Singapore, you will be faced with a myriad of choices and you may face great difficulty in making a decision.
This is especially if you are based overseas or have never met a Singapore lawyer before.
Should you go to the large law firms, or should you go to the nearest or cheapest law firm?
What about lawyers who are famous or experienced, would they necessarily do a better job?
In Singapore, lawyers are regulated by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) and the Law Society of Singapore.
It is customary for clients to seek lawyers either through their recommendations of their friends and business associates.
Another way is to visit the various websites of Singapore law firms and check out the profiles of lawyers and the type of work which they do.
Clients rely on lawyers because some matters involve many rules and statutes, and it is difficult for a lay person to navigate through these laws to arrive at a successful outcome or to make an informed decision.
However, there is an issue which commonly arises, which is some lawyers are incredibly expensive.
This causes problems for the client because they are unable to estimate how much they will need to spend on the lawyer. This results in the lawyer issuing large bills to the client, and if the unfortunate client does not pay these bills, then the law firm would sue the client.
In the recent Singapore case of Ho Seow Wan v Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC (formerly known as Stamford Law Corporation)  SGHC 31, Mr Ho had engaged a law firm which issued him bills in excess of S$1.4m (US$1.06m).
Mr Ho refused to pay some of these bills, and the parties had to resolve the dispute in the Singapore High Court to compel him to pay the law firm’s bills.
On 6 February 2018, the High Court (per Justice Chan Seng Onn) ruled that Mr Ho had to pay the law firm’s bills as the engagement letters which he signed were valid and binding on him (so he could not renege from the contract he had entered into with the Singapore law firm). The Court judgment is available on the Internet if you are interested to read it.
Singapore Lawyer Fees and Charges
While one swallow does not a summer make, it serves to drive home the point that you need to know what you are paying for, how much you have to pay and when you have to pay it.
It would be tantamount to issuing a blank cheque to your lawyers if you sign an engagement letter without some sort of fee estimates.
How often do you issue blank cheques?
Right from the outset, you should ask the Singapore lawyer how he or she charges, and whether they can agree to a fixed fee or a fee cap. For some matters which are fairly straightforward, that is usually not a problem. You should also ask for their typical bill size and their billing frequency, and what they would do if you are unable to afford or pay their bills in a timely manner. Some law firms like Farallon Law Corporation can accept instalment payment plans if the client has run into financial difficulties.
Lawyers usually charge by hourly rates, and the more work there is which needs to be done, they higher the bill. If the matter is difficult, complex or the lawyers on the other side generate a lot of paperwork and Court action, then it is usual for the bill to go up. Regardless of whether it goes up or not, you should get a clear fee estimate of the range of fees which the dispute or matter would case you to incur, and get it down in writing or by email.
Engaging a Singapore Lawyer for Criminal Law Matters
Let us assume that you have been called up by the police to assist with investigations, or you have been arrested and charged with a crime.
The first thing you must do is engage a Singapore qualified criminal lawyer to represent you and advise you of your rights. It would be ideal if you could ask the criminal lawyer to accompany you to the police station and/or to the court session.
This is because during the initial stages of the criminal proceedings, one must be careful about what one says, does or admits to the Investigation Officer (the “IO”), the Deputy Public Prosecutor (the (“DPP”) or the Judge.
For many of us, it is our first brush with the law and we have no knowledge of how to find and engage a good criminal lawyer. For sure, it will not be an enjoyable experience and we will be nervous.
That is why it is important to have the phone number of a criminal lawyer in Singapore on standby, so that if you get arrested or stopped by the police, you can call him to come and advise and assist you with the questioning and investigations.
But how do you decide which lawyer to engage? You could rely on the age and experience of the lawyer, or could you make a decision based on price? How about asking your friends for recommendations? But then again, how many of your friends have engaged a criminal lawyer before? And do you want your friends to know that you are currently involved or suspected to be involved in a crime?
What we would suggest is that you make an appointment and ask to meet up with the criminal lawyer. During the meeting, you should ask the lawyer as many questions as you want. Some may charge a small advisory fee for the initial consultation and ask you to sign an engagement letter, especially if you are seeking legal advice during the meeting.
During the meeting, you should evaluate the way and manner in which the criminal lawyer answers your questions. This will give you an indication of his competency and dedication towards your case.
You should be cautious if the criminal lawyer asks you to immediately claim trial or plead guilty, when he or she has not known or the facts or evaluated the pros and cons of your case. You should also be cautious if the criminal lawyer is not paying attention to you when you are explaining the case to him, appears distracted or impatient with listening to your story. Last but not least, you should be cautious if the criminal lawyer tells you that if you do not engage him, you will be in deeper trouble.
While the initial meeting is not the best way to evaluate the criminal lawyer which you will hire, it is much better than relying on internet websites and forums, or from calling them up and speaking to them on the phone.
Another way is to attend events, seminars and functions which are organised from time to time by The Law Society, various law firms or organisations.
By meeting criminal lawyers face-to-face, you will be able to make a better decision.
Contact us now for a no-obligation discussion.