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Dispute Resolution: the Benefit of Early Legal Advice

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Parties with a dispute often regard seeking advice from a solicitor as a last resort – an uncomfortable and expensive step that could complicate the dispute. But those who put off speaking to a solicitor could be affecting their chance of an early settlement – and might be in for a bigger costs bill in the long run.

As experienced dispute resolution solicitors, we've seen it time and time again... people try to sort out the dispute themselves and might spend months doing so. Eventually, they come to us at the eleventh hour, often expecting a miracle cure to turn the dispute around.

Unfortunately, delays in seeking advice can mean that valuable chances to resolve a dispute are lost. There are various reasons for this:

  • the relationship between the disputing parties may have worsened considerably. They might not even be on speaking terms. Trying to get the parties together or even consider a compromise then becomes very difficult;
  • if a debt is involved, the debtor's ability to pay the debt may have reduced. They may even have become insolvent; or
  • a deal might have been done to resolve the issue – but might turn out to be inadequate or even ignored. Unfortunately, such deals are often legally binding and can compromise your legal rights. If the deal is broken, you might not be able to rely on the original agreement.

Seeking Early Advice

Seeking early legal advice from a solicitor can avoid these issues. A solicitor will be able to advise you on the legal merits of your claim. They can tell you whether you are in a strong – or weak – position.

Knowing your negotiating strengths (or weaknesses) informs what action you should take. If you are in a weak position, you should be pushing for an early compromise. If you do not, you are at risk of paying the other party's costs.

If your claim is strong, early negotiations can help you to explain the position to the other party in an effort to get them to compromise – and save costs. If Court proceedings are needed, a solicitor can help you prepare properly in order to maximise your chances of recovery.

The key to resolving a dispute is to address the issues as early as possible.

Why are People Unwilling to Talk to a Solicitor?

Unwillingness to talk to a solicitor is a natural enough response and one we see often. A common reason is that solicitors' services are perceived to be expensive. This is probably the number one reason for not seeking advice. However, the cost should be viewed as relative to the commercial and personal needs.

Legal advice is a service and yes it can be expensive depending on your perspective – as is the case with most professional services. But ask yourself: "What will happen if this dispute is not resolved quickly?" 

Let's look at a few examples.

Example 1: A Dispute With a Key Client or Customer

What will happen if this dispute is not resolved quickly?

  • If it's a dispute with a key client, your answers might include:
    • - the dispute will get worse;
    • - my good relationship with the managing director is likely to deteriorate;
    • - I might not get any more orders from them;
    • - their business makes up a significant percentage of my turnover ...
  • You see where this is going. Saving the commercial relationship here is essential. An early approach to the managing director to discuss the issues followed by a negotiated settlement could lead to a compromise. The issue might, for example, boil down to one faulty batch of goods – which could be easily rectified by a refund or replacement batch.
  • Unless you talk – maybe in a structured negotiation run by solicitors – the dispute might rumble on and end up in Court. This would be both expensive and may end the commercial relationship and those future orders.

Example 2: A Dispute About a Debt

What will happen if this dispute is not resolved quickly?

  • If the dispute involves a debt, your answers might be:
    • - the debtor hasn't paid the last invoice;
    • - they're normally a good payer;
    • - I've heard on the grapevine that they haven't been paid on a big job;
    • - it's a shame - they've been a good customer ...
  • Here, an early discussion might lead to a compromise on payment. The debtor might be able to pay in three instalments. This would help their cash flow until their big job is paid and might just keep them in business. If you were to start court proceedings to recover the whole debt, you might push them into insolvency – after which you would be unlikely to recover anything.

Example 3: A Boundary Dispute

What will happen if this dispute is not resolved quickly?

  • If the dispute is over a boundary, the relationship with your neighbour can be the key to resolving the issue. Allow bad feeling to fester and arguments to arise every time you encounter each other over the hedge or wall – and you could be in for a long-haul dispute.
  • A solicitor could help take the heat out of the situation and help you explore possible compromises.
  • The longer you leave it, the more entrenched you will each become, the worse the relationship is likely to get and the less likely each party is to want to discuss compromise. Court proceedings could become inevitable.

Don't Leave it Until Court Proceedings Start to Instruct a Solicitor

Complying with the Court rules is far from easy. Those who try to handle a Court claim themselves, without legal assistance, often end up in a mess or making mistakes. These mistakes can lead to Court sanctions and can be expensive.

So, don't delay. Pick up the 'phone and talk through the issues with a solicitor. That one telephone call might be enough to clarify your position. You will also get a rough idea of what's needed and how much it will cost.


For more information or to discuss your situation, contact Chris Burke on 0161 684 6941 or make an enquiry.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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