How to make the most of your advice call

We have a huge amount of help and advice on Landlord Law, but sometimes you need a bit of extra help.

You need someone who understands the law to look at your situation and tell you where you stand and what you need to do.

This is why we have our ‘one to one’ telephone services. But they are not cheap, particularly if you are just an ‘ordinary person’ and cannot claim back the VAT or offset the cost against your tax.

It’s just a fact of life that lawyers are expensive – it’s not because they are particularly greedy.  But it is expensive to run a law firm and inevitably those costs get passed down to you, the client.

Lawyers charge for their time, and with the telephone advice service, you only get 1/2 hour.  So you need to make that 1/2 hour count.

You want the lawyer to spend the whole time considering your case and advising you, rather than asking you questions and trying to get a grip on what your problem actually is.

So here are a few tips to help you get the most our of your advice call.

Before you start

Sort out your paperwork

When I practised as a solicitor and received a file of papers from a new client, the very first thing I did was to sort out the paperwork and put it in chronological order.

I found it impossible to get a grip on things until I did this.  But once you have done it, you can see the story, and it is also easier to find specific documents.

You may even find, by doing this, that you are able to work out the answer for yourself without needing to pay for advice!

Work out what your problem is

This is not always easy and often working out the legal problem is something that the lawyer does!

But be clear in your own mind what the issue is that you want answered.

Don’t just chuck everything at the adviser and expect them to be able to answer everything in half an hour.

It may be helpful to follow one or more of our step by step trails first.

If you have several problems decide which is the most important

What often happens is that the client asks about something relatively trivial (but which annoys them) at the start of the call, and only get around to asking about the real issue about 20 minutes in.

Which does not leave a lot of time to discuss your real problem!

Don’t waste your precious advice call time on trivialities.  And don’t expect your adviser to extend the call beyond the 1/2 hour.   That’s not fair on them.  You have only paid for 1/2 hour.

Completing the advice form

Most of the form is self-explanatory.  However probably the most important part is the text box where you tell the adviser about your problem.

This needs to be really clear.

You want your advisor to come to the call with a clear idea of what the problem is and what you want them to advise on.  Remember that they know nothing about you or your problem.  You have to tell them.

So maybe start off with a bit of general background such as

I inherited a property in Manchester in 2010 which I rent out to tenants.  It is my only property.  It was rented to Mr and Mrs Y in 2014.

Then introduce the problem:

Mr and Mrs Y were found by letting agents XYZ Lettings.  I employed them to manage the property for me as I live in London.  However, I am unhappy about their service which has caused problems both for me and for my tenants.

Then give some detail:

For example:

  • They do not appear to have carried out any inspection visits despite the fact that this is something they are supposed to do under the terms of the agency agreement
  • The tenants reported [problem] six months ago but they did nothing about it and did not tell me about it
  • etc

If you can put things in bullet points this makes it much easier for your adviser to read.

Make sure all your bullet points are relevant.  If you are not sure whether something is relevant or not – mention it but do not go into a huge amount of detail.

Confine yourself to facts and do not go into a lot of  detail about how you felt about it.

Tell your adviser what the problem is you want answered

For example in our imaginary case it could be

I want to end the agency agreement and deal with my tenants direct but the agents tell me that I must pay them a cancellation fee of six months worth of rent.  Are they correct and what are my rights?

Tips on presentation

Solicitors and barristers are human beings (yes really!) and will respond better if you make it easy for them.  So make sure your narrative is clear and easy to read:

  • Don’t put everything in one big block of text – this is hard for anyone to read, particuarly on screen.
  • Use short paragraphs – one paragraph per point – and make sure there is white space between them.
  • Wherever possible use bullet points
  • NEVER TYPE IN CAPITALS – this looks dreadful and is harder to read. In ‘netiquette’ using capitals in this way is considered to be like shouting.  So make sure your ‘caps lock’ is turned off.  (Its OK to occasionally capitalise one or two words though to emphasise something.)

Your documents

You can submit up to three documents with your advice form.  These need to be relevant to your case – sometimes there may be no relevant documents.

However

  • if your question is about a landlord and tenant situation, the adviser will want to see your tenancy agreement
  • If your question is about an agency situation (as in our example) the adviser will want to see your agency agreement
  • If you are asking about eviction, the adviser will also want to see your eviction notice(s) if you have served them

And so on.

If you are sending correspondence, only send the most relevant items and put them in chronological order.  Try not to send a jumble of emails – I know this is difficult due to the way emails work.

Maybe prepare a composite document with just the email text e.g.

Email sent by agents to me on 1 June 2018

[email text]

Reply sent to me by [agent’s name] on 15 June 2018

[email text]

Summing up

The Form

Its best to spend some time on your instruction form.  Write your narrative up in advance, maybe in your word processing software.

I would also recommend that you do not send it off immediately – wait a while (preferably overnight) and then read it again.  You will usually find things you want to change.

For example you may spot ambiguities – things that mean one thing to you but which could mean another to the adviser!

If writing is not your ‘thing’ get someone else to help you.  Even if you are a good writer there is no harm in getting someone else to read it over before you send it off.

Just to make sure that they understand it in the way you will want the adviser to.

The advice call itself

If you have completed the instruction form properly your advisor will already know what the issues are.  Don’t waste time explaining it all to them again. 

Let the adviser lead the conversation.  There may be some things they need to ask you which you should answer clearly and succinctly (make sure you have your file of documents with you during the call).

But you will want the major part of your 30-minute call to be about the ADVICE that is being given to you and making sure you understand it properly.

You also want to make sure you remember it all – so during the advice call you should TAKE NOTES!

You should write your notes either at the time or immediately afterwards.  Write as detailed a note as you can of the all adviser’s advice.

Don’t expect to remember – you may remember some of it but inevitably you will forget other things – things which may be important.

To get the best value from your call you need to have a proper written record of it. You may want to refer to it in several years time.

And finally

Provided you have followed the advice in this guidance document:

  • Given clear instructions (and don’t expect your adviser to be a mind reader),
  • Focused on just one or two important issues so your adviser can advise fully on them, and
  • Taken detailed notes of the call

You should get good value from your advice call.

Good luck!

Tessa Shepperson

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