Where to start when facing a legal issue

By Xavier Gillot, on 18/10/2018 15:48 in Home > Toolbox > Multidisciplinary templates & tips > Where to start when facing a legal issue

It is never easy defining where to start when you are facing a legal issue. This guide will help you identify the legal question raised by your situation, make some research about the topic, and to define if and find, should you need it, a professional to help you.

It is never easy defining where to start when you are facing a legal issue. This guide will help you identify the legal question raised by your situation, make some research about the topic, and to define if and find, should you need it, a professional to help you. 

First step: identifying if the issue is a legal issue 

If you are not familiar with the legal environment, it will be opportune for you to clarify the basic questions regarding your case before being able to actively find your way. What area of law is concerned? Which implications does it have on other domains of law, is your issue addressed by federal or local legislations ? 

The first question to answer will be to clarify whether your question relates to a legal or a factual issue. You might not agree with a situation but if it does not infringe any regulation, you are facing a factual issue and not a legal one. 

A legal issue is an issue that can be solved by application of the law since the latter provides for a solution. In the other cases, law will not offer any remedy to your situation. 

Second step : practice area

Are you facing a civil or criminal issue ? Which area of law should you investigate to find answers ? 

Conceptually, two types of cases can be identified: civil cases and criminal cases. A civil law issue is mastered by a person, under his/her initiative. A criminal case is led by the public prosecutor who has full control on the lawsuit. 

If you was contacted by the police regarding an offence and you are looking for help, you should seek advice from a criminal lawyer. If, by contrast, your insurance company refuses to pay a due indemnity, you should search for a lawyer specialized in civil matters. 

But finding the right professional for your case and do some searches regarding your question will often require you to dig further. You may have noticed that lawyers generally refer to a specialization or practice area. These are the areas of law in which lawyers have accumulated experiences, achieved complementary studies and may pretend having specific added value.  

Law is vast and complex so that it is important to clearly identify the area(s) of law concerned by your query in order to find the right profile in this domain. Except few exceptions, you will not find any generalist anymore in the legal environment, competent in any areas of law. To help you find this key answer, uLaw has developed a simplified tool allowing you to search also on the basis of keywords that, once introduced in the system, will enable you to connect your question with the relevant area of law. If it can be advised not to ask your doctor to fix your car, it is not opportune to ask a criminal lawyer to take care of your rental issues.  

Complex issues therefore often require various inputs from different specialists, each of them being competent in his/her domain. For instance, real estate projects may require very specific advises relating to permits and environment, tax law, contracts, which are all different practice areas. This is why you will most probably not find lawyers able to manage all these aspects on their own.  

Should the various tools proposed by uLaw not allow you to clarify this question, do not hesitate to contact us and we will help you find your answers. 

Third step : circumscribe the facts 

Identifying the relevant facts is often one of the first missions your lawyer will have to undertake. Describing as much as possible the situation you are facing is necessary if you wish your lawyer being able to understand what drives you and meet your expectations. In the same way that you will get very different results if you choose to visit your generalist and tell him that you are sick rather than taking the time to investigate your ill and take an appointment with a specialist, time, money and efficiency benefits will most often be achieved if you take the time to duly analyse the question raised. 

Different methods are available to guide you through this exercise such as the TARP method used by some lawyers. In order to place yourself in the best situation, you should at least make sure to clearly identify :

  • the topic;
  • the reason why a question is raising;
  • the solutions or possible remedies; and 
  • the persons concerned. 

Now that you know which area of law is concerned by your query, the type of action and the precise circumstances of your case, all elements allowing you to clarify the situation and find solutions are in your hands. 

Fourth step : Searches

Everyday more information is available and easy to find with modern IT tools. Do not hesitate to consult uLaw’s legal database or other publicly available information since some cases will not require the intervention of a lawyer but would be solvable without costs thanks to freely available information.

Should it not be the case, this exercise will have allowed you to get familiar with the relevant legal aspects raised by your query, the applicable terminology and keywords. Many elements that will allow you to better manage your case. 

Bear in mind that lots of questions cover different areas of law and that different regulation levels can often be concerned. Many local provisions derive from international treaties, regulations or directives which can dramatically influence the outcome of your case. Domestic law could indeed infringe a hierarchically superior regulation that should have precedence and this could be decisive for your case. 

Bar associations also often provide for lots of useful information which can be of interest, as well as other publicly available sources of which the reliability should however always be verified. A publication made by a lawyer will often be more reliable than a discussion on a blog or a commercial paper, since lawyers are very concerned about the quality of their work and as a rule, make sure to publish correct and up to date information. Keep an eye on the release date of the information because law is changing and an amendment could have been adopted since the publication, resulting in the publication being not correct anymore and outdated. 

Legislation is generally publicly available on official dedicated websites (the Belgian Gazette, etc.). Finding the applicable text and getting familiar with the latter can also help you clarify your issue and better manage your case. 

And if you remain doubtful, answering these preliminary questions will already be a great achievement so that you would only need some confirmations from your lawyer. 

Fifth step : resolve your case

The right answer to your question can take different form. Your searches and analysis could lead you to the conclusion that you should not undertake any action or try to amicably settle your case. In other situations, additional advises could be required to come to a conclusion or the case could also have to be brought before Court. 

If access to justice is a fundamental right of any citizen, in practice, filing a lawsuit could appear a bad option, a loss of time or money, or both. It is always recommendable to verify with a lawyer the opportunity of starting such process and to discuss with him the possible alternative solutions to settle the dispute : conciliation, arbitrage. Your lawyer will always be the first to judge your case and will be able to help you evaluate the chances for your position to be followed by the Court. It is often difficult to take some distance when personal feelings are nuancing your reasoning, and even more because law may sometimes appear unfair; creating a rule is choosing, defining categories, introducing differences, depending on superior interests that do not always meet individual ones. Your lawyer will be able to help you understand these aspects in order to duly take them into consideration when assessing your case. 

Also, ask yourself what the quality of your file is : if you know your case by heart and live it from inside, the judge to whom you would ask to take position is totally unfamiliar with your issues and will have to build his/her own representation on the basis of the evidences that you will be able to produce, as well as the ones brought by your opponent. This perspective should be taken into consideration. Would the opposite party be able to pay or deliver what you are requesting? Once again, this is an important decision factor. 

Do not hesitate to discuss this with a lawyer before blindly starting a procedure because depending on the circumstances, these topics could lead you to the conclusion that you have better to do with your time and energy. 

Some procedures do not require the intervention of a lawyer in order to be admissible before Court (hearing before the Police Tribunal for minor offences, etc.) but, as a rule, the Judicial Code will impose you to be represented by a lawyer should you want justice to intervene.  

Reaching a settlement can be done without the assistance of a lawyer or justice, by you and the opposite party. In that case, it will be important to properly document your situation and arrange for a written document to describe your situation, the remedies agreed by the parties and to keep these documents for a reasonable period of time. 

Asking a lawyer to review your draft will ensure you an optimal result for a minimum amount and should in most case be a good initiative because as already underlined, law is complex, vast and changing. The cost of such review could be even more reduced since many lawyers propose reduced fees for their first intervention. Do not hesitate to ask them.  

Now that you are prepared, you are ready to take action !


Xavier Gillot

Business lawyer specialized in the entire range of Belgian and international tax matters, I provide solution-oriented advices to my clients and also represent them during fiscal and judicial proceedings, negotiations or ruling procedures.
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