Why You Should See a Lawyer
Are you buying or selling your house?
Do you need to draw up a Will?
Are you separating from your spouse?
Do you want to start a company?
Is someone suing you? Do you want to sue someone?
Have the police laid charges against you?
Were you injured in an accident?
Are you about to sign a contract?
These are examples of the types of common situations where you may need a lawyer’s
help. Laws affect almost every part of your life, and lawyers are trained to give
legal advice and services and to represent you in Court. Seeing your lawyer early
can save you a lot of time, trouble and money.
What a Lawyer Can Do for You
Lawyers can provide you with a range of important and useful services.
When you are charged with a criminal offence or sued by someone, your lawyer will
advise you on matters relating to your defence and represent you in Court.
When you wish to buy or sell a house, your lawyer will advise you of the procedures
involved, check all documents on your behalf and ensure that the title to the house
When a family member has passed away, your lawyer will apply to the Court so that
the assets of the deceased can be distributed.
When you have a problem with your spouse, your lawyer will advise you on the law
relating to divorce, separation, maintenance and custody of your children.
When you have been asked to sign a contract, your lawyer will advise you on your
rights and duties under the contract and suggest changes to the wording of the contract
to protect your interests.
The Lawyer-Client Relationship
Your lawyer is obliged to keep your information confidential. You can (and should)
tell your lawyer everything about your situation good or bad. Your lawyer cannot
advise you properly unless all the facts are made known to him or her. Ordinarily,
even the Court cannot force a lawyer to reveal conversations with you without your
permission. This protection is called 'solicitor-client privilege' and exists so
you can tell the whole story to your lawyer in privacy.
Your lawyer's firm
When you hire a lawyer, you are also hiring the law practice the lawyer works for.
If your lawyer is ill or away when something happens in your matter, another lawyer
from the law practice may help you. Your lawyer may review your matter with other
lawyers in the practice or ask them to help research your matter. Another lawyer
from the law practice may do part of the matter, especially if it involves more
than one area of the law. All members of the law practice and its staff have the
same duties of confidentiality toward you and your matter as does your own lawyer.
Conflict of interest
Your lawyer is acting for you alone, and cannot be involved personally or represent
someone who is against your interests in your matter. To do so would be a conflict
For instance, a lawyer will not usually represent both a husband and wife in a case
of marital separation, or handle a land transaction for both the buyer and seller.
If there is no real or potential conflict, a lawyer may sometimes advise both parties,
but only with the knowledge and agreement of both. If a conflict then develops,
the lawyer cannot act for either client, and they must both get new lawyers.
After discussing your problem with the lawyer and hearing your lawyer's advice,
your job is to tell your lawyer what you wish done. The lawyer then tries to obtain
what you hope to achieve within the framework of the law and the lawyer's professional
Your lawyer cannot follow instructions from you, which would break any law or breach
the lawyer's duties to the Court or to the legal profession.
Choosing a Lawyer
Choosing the right lawyer for you and your problem is more difficult today because
society and laws have become more complex.
One way to find a lawyer is to talk to people (perhaps your friends, family members
or colleagues) who had similar legal problems. Ask them which lawyer they dealt
with, and whether they were satisfied with the legal services they received.
The Law Society of Singapore (the 'Law Society') publishes an annual online directory
containing the names, addresses and other relevant information of all practising
lawyers in Singapore. This directory can be accessed on the Law Society’s
website at www.lawsociety.org.sg. The
Law Society is not permitted to recommend lawyers to you.
What If You Can't Afford a Lawyer?
The Legal Aid Bureau is part of the Ministry of Law and provides legal aid in civil
matters, such as matrimonial proceedings, civil lawsuits, and probate applications.
You will need to pass a “means test” - that is, your income and disposable
assets must not be above a certain threshold. You will also need to pass a “merits
test” - that is, there must be reasonable grounds for granting legal aid to
The contact details of the Legal Aid Bureau are as follows:
: 45 Maxwell Road, #08-12 The URA Centre East Wing, Singapore 069118
: (65) 1800 325 1424 (toll-free)
: (65) 6325 1402
The Criminal Legal Aid Scheme ('CLAS') is run by the Law Society and provides legal
assistance in non-capital criminal charges. CLAS covers offences under 15 statutes.
If you have been charged in Court for an offence under one of the 15 statutes covered
by CLAS, you can apply to CLAS for legal aid, so long as you do not admit to the
charge and cannot afford to engage a lawyer. You will need to pass a 'means test'
- that is, your income and disposable assets must not be above a certain threshold.
The contact details of CLAS are as follows:
: Subordinate Courts, Level 5 (Beside Subordinate Court No. 5), 1 Havelock Road,
: (65) 6534 1564
: (65) 6534 5237
Preparing for Your Visit to Your Lawyer
Before you see your lawyer:
Call ahead and make an appointment.
Think about all the information the lawyer will need and gather it in advance.
Take all important papers and documents with you and put them in order.
Write out the events as they happened.
Make a list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of everyone involved
in your matter.
Make a list of the questions or issues you wish to discuss with your lawyer during
The more organised you are, the less time you will spend during your meeting thus
reducing the time-costs chargeable to you by your lawyer.
Meeting With Your Lawyer
When you meet with your lawyer, tell the lawyer everything important. Answer your
lawyer’s questions fully, even though you may not understand the purpose of
the question at the time. Ask questions to clarify all your doubts.
A first meeting with your lawyer may go like this: - You tell your lawyer the facts
of your matter and answer his/her questions. Your lawyer tells you the legal issues
arising out of those facts. Your lawyer explains the options available to you, and
may give you recommendations about possible solutions to your legal problem. Your
lawyer may give advice on how to protect your interests and how to avoid further
problems. The lawyer usually will explain the risks and costs involved.
If something is not clear or hasn't been covered by the lawyer, ask to have it explained.
In general, you should ask the following questions:
How bad is my problem?
What are the odds of getting it fixed?
What are my options?
How much will it cost?
How long will it take?
What do I need to do, and how soon do I have to do it?
Have you done this before?
Who is going to do the work?
When can you get started?
How will I be kept informed of developments in my matter?
Your lawyer may not be able to give you advice at the first meeting. Your lawyer
may need to do legal research first. The law changes often and your lawyer may need
to check relevant statutes or Court decisions first.
Working With Your Lawyer
Be sure that you speak with your lawyer about the best ways to keep each other updated.
Many lawyers are frequently out of the office. Court appearances, meetings outside
the office, and attending continuing education programmes are common. Your lawyer
may not be available to take an unscheduled telephone call. Regular face-to-face
meetings and scheduled telephone conferences are generally more effective.
Arrange to have follow-up meetings with your lawyer at agreed-upon times. Ask for
copies of correspondence and documents filed in Court or filed with regulatory authorities.
If you do not understand what the documents mean, ask your questions at your next
Your lawyer is required to provide you with full information about how he will charge
you for his services and an estimate of the total fees and disbursements. Your lawyer
is also required to keep you regularly updated about the costs that have been incurred
for your matter.
Lawyers have different ways of calculating fees, depending on the types of services
required and the lawyer's billing practices. The usual methods are:
This is the usual way of billing, especially for a Court case. Your lawyer doesn't
know at an early stage how long the trial may take or whether it may be settled
out of Court, and therefore usually cannot predict the amount of time required at
This is often the method used when the matter is a standard transaction e.g. drafting
of an uncomplicated Will, an uncontested divorce, or the incorporation of a new
company. The fee is a fixed amount regardless of the amount of time actually spent
by the lawyer working on the matter.
No matter what type of fee arrangement is in place for your matter, you will need
to pay for 'disbursements' or out-of-pocket expenses. These may be the costs for
filing and serving documents, or for long distance calls, photocopying, subpoena
fees, medical or other reports.
Your lawyer may ask you to pay a 'retainer' (basically a deposit) before starting
work on your matter. This money is meant to meet the lawyer’s anticipated
costs and disbursements. As the matter proceeds, the lawyer will bill you and deduct
the amount from the retainer. If the retainer is not completely used, the lawyer
will refund you the remaining amount.
You should always ask for a receipt for moneys you have paid, and you must obtain
such a receipt from the law practice. The receipt should indicate if the money is
paid into the law practice’s client account for your benefit (e.g. moneys
held on trust for you for the purchase of a house) or is paid into the law practice’s
office account (e.g. the moneys were paid to settle a bill from the law practice).
If You Have Problems With Your Lawyer
Occasionally, you may have a disagreement with your lawyer. The disagreement may
be about the fees charged by your lawyer or what you believe is improper conduct
by your lawyer. You have several options to resolve such disagreements.
A discussion with your lawyer
You may wish to resolve the problem by having a frank and open discussion with your
lawyer. The disagreement may be the result of a breakdown in communications between
you and your lawyer. A discussion gives you chance to explain why you are unhappy
and gives your lawyer a chance to address your grievances.
You may hire a lawyer in another law practice or ask to have your matter transferred
to another lawyer in the same law practice. If you change law practices, you will
likely have to pay your previous lawyer first for the services already provided
Make a complaint
You can make two different types of written complaints against your lawyer to the
Council of the Law Society (the 'Council'). The Council is the governing body of
the Law Society.
Making a Complaint Against Your Lawyer: Complaint of Professional Misconduct
Complaint of professional misconduct
You can make a written complaint against your lawyer if you think that your lawyer's
conduct which you feel is not of a standard which you expect of a lawyer as a member
of an honourable profession or as an officer of the Supreme Court.
Please note that if any material particular of your complaint is found to be false,
you may be charged with a criminal offence and you may have to pay a fine of up
Complaint of inadequate professional service
You can make a written complaint against your lawyer if you think that your lawyer
has failed to provide inadequate professional service to you e.g. if your lawyer:
fails to provide diligent legal service to you;
fails to ensure that he/she was competent to conduct your matter;
fails to complete your work within a reasonable time;
fails to keep you informed on the progress of your matter;
fails to acknowledge receipt of your money or securities;
fails to provide a statement of accounts to you;
without reasonable grounds, fails to respond to your calls or letters or fails to
fails to explain to you important developments in your matter;
explain to you the manner in which you would be charged;
describe payments you would be required to make;
provide an estimate of fees to you;
deliver bills of costs to you at regular intervals; or
fails to discuss with you the possible risks or expense of proceeding with your
Procedure for making a complaint
You must state your complaint in writing to the Council. Your letter of complaint
should be marked for the attention of the Director (Conduct) of the Law Society.
You will need to provide the following particulars:
your full name and address;
the name of your lawyer (and not just the name of the law practice); and
all documents which are relevant to the complaint.
The Council and the Law Society will not accept oral complaints or complaints via
email, and they will not advise you on the merits or success of your complaint.
Your letter of complaint will be acknowledged and you will be informed of the date
when the Council will consider your complaint.
Points to note
The Law Society will not recover on your behalf any financial loss or damages suffered
by you because of your lawyer's negligence. If the Council thinks that your appropriate
remedy is to sue your lawyer for negligence, the Council will inform you of its
decision and will not further inquire into your complaint.
If you make a complaint against your lawyer while your lawyer is handling an ongoing
matter for you, the Law Society will not take over the conduct of your matter from
your lawyer, provide a second opinion on your matter, or recommend lawyers who can
take over your matter.
The Law Society of Singapore
The purpose of the Law Society
The Law Society is the governing body for lawyers practising in Singapore. It seeks
to maintain and improve the standards of conduct and learning of Singapore lawyers,
and to protect and assist the public in Singapore in matters relating to the law.
The contact details of the Law Society are as follows:
If you have suffered a financial loss as the result of the dishonesty of a lawyer
or the lawyer's staff, you may apply to the Law Society’s Compensation Fund
to seek compensation for your loss. Application forms for such a grant are available
at the Law Society’s reception counter.
In making the application, you must satisfy the Council that you have exhausted
all of your civil remedies against the lawyer or the lawyer’s staff. The Council
may require you to make a police report against the lawyer or his staff for the
alleged act of dishonesty.