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Opinion: Dr Heinrich Winter: ‘Access to lawyers should be easier’

28 October 2009

Entrepreneurs and private individuals experience all kinds of impediments to accessing lawyers and the services provided by lawyers are not properly controllable either. This results in uncertainty about the quality of the service provision. ‘It’s up to the Netherlands Bar Association to take suitable measures to improve access to lawyers. When doing so, the Association would be well advised to take the differences in perception between private individuals and entrepreneurs into account’, is the opinion of Heinrich Winter of the University of Groningen. His views are based on the results of research conducted by a team of researchers from the Faculty of Law and research bureau Pro Facto and commissioned by the Bar Association.

The research into access to lawyers for paying private individuals and SMEs has resulted in a list of the impediments experienced. Although the study was not large scale or representative, it does provide a very clear picture of what the Association and individual lawyers need to learn.

Visibility and costs

Many small enterprises and paying private individuals indicate that it is not easy to find a suitable lawyer for a case. Private individuals often just walk into the first lawyer’s office they come across without having any good idea of its competence. There are also a lot of complaints about the costs – private individuals and smaller enterprises in particular find lawyers much too expensive. In their view, the price bears no relationship whatsoever to the costs of other academically trained professionals and leads to class justice. Private individuals also say that they have no clear idea what they are paying for. Entrepreneurs with experience with lawyers generally have fewer problems with the hourly rate.

Service Provision

The major problems experienced by paying private individuals and small entrepreneurs concern adequate communication, cooperation and service provision, the research has revealed. In short, clients feel that they have little control over what a lawyer actually does for them. Sometimes they even get the impression that the lawyers have lost sight of their interests. Both the private individuals and the entrepreneurs questioned think that it is important for lawyers to give an indication in advance of the chances of a case being successful and of the costs involved. However, adequate estimates of the chances or costs are only seldom provided.

Differences between private individuals and entrepreneurs

Private individuals are less good at finding a suitable lawyer, they are more critical about the costs, they are less satisfied with the service provision and more negative about the image of lawyers than entrepreneurs. Whereas enterprises are generally satisfied with the legal expertise, the invoicing behaviour, the cooperation and the communication with lawyers, private individuals and small enterprises indicate that lawyers are too interested in the old boy network and are blind to their client’s interests.

Repeat players and one-shotters

The picture that emerges from the research makes clear that entrepreneurs (mainly from larger enterprises) experience fewer impediments to accessing legal assistance than private individuals and that entrepreneurs also qualify these impediments generally speaking as less serious. This disparity may have something to do with the difference between repeat players and one-shotters. Private individuals and small enterprises only seldom come into contact with a lawyer. Lawyers who specialize in private individuals and small enterprises may be inclined to behave amicably towards the parties they see regularly – other lawyers and judges. This could create the impression among private individuals and small enterprises that lawyers are more interested in their professional environment and less in the problems of their client. Entrepreneurs with a large enterprise, the repeat players, make more use of the law and know more about the procedures. There is also usually less at stake for repeat players than for one-shotters. Because lawyers do a lot of work for repeat players, their loyalty often lies with these regular clients.

Client skills

Another reason why private individuals and entrepreneurs differ in their description of the access to lawyers is that entrepreneurs are better able to enter into a business relationship with a lawyer. Other than many private individuals, entrepreneurs deal regularly with many different business service providers. This experience means that entrepreneurs are well able to communicate with lawyers and they are better able to provide guidance.

Emotional involvement

Entrepreneurs are also often less emotionally involved in their case. In their eyes it is a business conflict that has little or nothing to do with them personally. They thus do not expect a lawyer to empathize. Private individuals, on the other hand, are usually very emotionally involved in their case.

Curriculum Vitae

Heinrich Winter (1962) studied Public Administration, Public Law and Sociology in Groningen and is a director of Pro Facto, a research and advice bureau linked to the RUG Holding Company.He is also a part-time University Reader for the Department of Administrative Law and Public Administration of the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen.

Note for the press

- More information: Dr Heinrich Winter, tel. 06 515109 74; e-mail h.b.winter rug.nl

- The research was conducted by an interdisciplinary research team. The members were M.J. Schol LLM, Prof. O. Couwenberg and Dr H.B. Winter.

Last modified:25 October 2019 2.43 p.m.
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