Having spent 14 years in Legal Services Marketing and after working for a number of law firms, I know only too well that many hesitate at the thought of consulting a solicitor for advice.
Primarily, people worry about cost and about starting a course of action they cannot control.
The irony is that, with many problems, for example matrimonial difficulties, you are much better placed to make sensible decisions, particularly if there are children involved, if you know where you stand legally.
Christmas and the New Year are very busy times for lawyers.
There is usually an increase in instructions for divorce in particular as the strain of the festivities push spouses too far.
Then there are accident and personal injury cases and also conveyancing matters as everyone clambers to be in their new home for Christmas.
You may be faced with parking fines or employment rights matters as it seems many businesses these days struggle over the Christmas trading period with resulting redundancies.
Whatever your problem, I am sure that the thought of driving into town to consult a lawyer may just be too stressful to contemplate on top of everything else.
With Legal Aid being squeezed and many Citizens' Advice Bureaux closing, it can be difficult to know where to turn.
So I was interested to read about www.expertanswers.co.uk - a new online legal advice service comprised of a panel of barristers, lawyers, solicitors and legal executives, which aims to knock down these hurdles by offering accurate, affordable and reliable answers to legal questions from the privacy of your own home, 24 hours a day.
How does it work? There is a simple four step procedure. (Apologies for the slightly blurry screen shots but I wanted to give you an impression of how simple the process is).
1. Ask a question, providing as much information as possible. Type your legal question in the box, selecting the category of law your question falls into.
2. Put a value on the answer by moving a slider to indicate how much you are willing to pay, the minimum being £10 and the maximum £150. You will be asked to create an account and once you have done this you will be asked to pay your agreed deposit via Paypal, a debit or a credit card. You will be asked "What else have you tried? How important is your question? How much do you want to pay?".
3. Receive a summary answer to your question which, if no further advice is needed entitles you to a 100% refund.
4. If you need more information, you may access your full answer which means you will be charged the price you have agreed. You will, however, be entitled to free unlimited advice on your question once you have accepted your full answer.
www.expertanswers.co.uk promises no hidden charges and you may have a free one-to-one with a legal expert once you have accepted your answer.
They says that their service is confidential, anonymous and secure and offer 100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.
I have to admit I am somewhat baffled by the charging structure which seems almost too good to be true, but I thought I'd seek advice on behalf of a friend who is considering divorce (not me , I hasten to add!).
I chose £30 as my deposit being aware that matrimonial advice is often not straightforward.
Within a matter of hours I received a response from my legal expert Karl Edwards requesting further information.
Shortly after this I received an email notifying me that the answer to my question had been posted.
The summary gave a general appraisal of the key points but confirmed my suspicion that the question would require a more complex answer and would thus incur my agreed deposit of £30 for the full response from Mr Edwards.
In this, Karl neatly summarised the key issues, highlighted points my friend needs to consider and also included helpful links to online documents (for example a guide to current CSA payments).
He recommended that my friend consider mediation as a first step in order to avoid wrangling over finances in court and advised that now was definitely the time to start taking legal advice.
I felt that the response highlighted the next steps to take and was a useful starting point for making difficult decisions that bit easier.
Using www.expertanswers.co.uk is, in my view, a useful alternative to making an appointment to see a solicitor face-to-face until you have committed yourself to a course of action.
It is low cost, risk free and I found the service I received to be helpful and friendly.
With in-house solicitors charging upwards of £50 + VAT for an initial consultation (although some do still offer a free first appointment) and many no longer offering Legal Aid, I would certainly recommend Expert Answers as a first port of call.
* I was allowed to ask one question free of charge for the purposes of this review.