Life doesn’t stop for expats – they still face the same problems as the rest of us and sometimes need the help of a good lawyer.
But finding legal representation abroad is complicated when you are not familiar with a country’s laws or legal system.
So how do expats find the best lawyer?
For British expats, the first place to look is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The government department has a huge list of English-speaking lawyers in dozens of countries.
The list is regularly updated.
List of English speaking lawyers
The information includes contact details, areas of expertise and links to web sites.
“Our lists are not recommendations and should not be treated as such,” says the FCO web site.
Expats need legal advice for a range of life events – ranging from divorce, personal injury claims and pursuing debts to mounting a defence in criminal courts.
Besides the Foreign Office, most countries have online databases of lawyers, but these may not indicate if they speak English.
Referrals from other expats who have experienced the same problems can also be useful.
Choosing a lawyer is just like selecting any other professional service.
Questions to ask
You need to ask the candidates on your list a few questions to establish if they are right for you:
- Availability – Do they have the time and other resources to handle your case? Check out their case load and diary commitments, such as holidays.
- Qualifications and experience – You want a lawyer who regularly takes on cases like yours, after all a property conveyancer is not likely to mount a good criminal defence.
- Legal costs – Expats are unlikely to qualify for legal aid or pro bono help, so ask lawyers about the likely costs from the start and work out how you will pay for them – plus all the extra court costs that are involved
- Language and law – It’s imperative the lawyer speaks the same language as the court conducts business in. For instance, cases in Dubai are conducted in Arabic. The lawyer should also understand the local legal system – including Sharia’h Law in Muslim countries.
It’s a good idea to meet your lawyer to discuss the case prior to instruction to put your mind at rest about these points.
The first consultation is generally free and lasts around 30 minutes.
You can get a feel of the lawyer and their firm from this meeting.