India has a significant share of NRI population. Most of them still have ties with their homelands. They have properties, some have invested in business ventures, many still hold Indian citizenship. We also have a lot of cross-country marriages. In this globalized world, the country borders are no longer representative of the geographical limits of our family or business ties. This increased integration has made the world a smaller place but at the same time, complicated the process to get the conflicts resolved. NRI legal services need specialized knowledge, at times of the laws of various countries, depending on the citizenship of the individuals involved and the type of dispute. Therefore, an NRI lawyer has a different skill set and knowledge than a lawyer handling domestic disputes.
NRI legal services include providing legal help of any sort to NRIs. Due to increased litigation with NRIs involved as one of the parties and also a differentiation of laws in some respects, most of the legal practitioners have begun to recognize NRI legal services as a separate and specialized field, which might need a slightly different approach than catering to a domestic client. NRI clients cannot be present at all times, and even if they are, they have other responsibilities to fulfill while on their visit to India. Insufficient knowledge of the system of jurisprudence in India puts them at an increased risk of being duped and misled, at heavy costs. This is primarily the reason it is recommended to seek help of a professional no matter how familiar you are with Indian laws and procedures. As they always say, better safe than sorry. However, due care must be taken when you choose an NRI lawyer to seek legal help. Since you cannot meet that person that often nor do you have the option of questioning his methods in case he is doing something which is not in accordance with how you would have liked to proceed, you must be sure that your and you, are on the same page. Here, we have compiled a brief checklist which would help you narrow down your search and pick the perfect lawyer as per your need from the umpteen options available.
- The nature of your case – Though most lawyers have a reliable knowledge of all branches of law, they have their fields of expertise and experience. Two broad divisions are civil law and criminal law. Within these two categories, there are more sub-categories. It would be a great start if you have a rough idea of what kind of case you are caught in, so you can look for lawyers who have successfully dealt with those cases, for NRIs, in the past. A good property lawyer, no matter how experienced and successful, won’t be of much help if you have a child custody case.
- A lawyer’s portfolio – It is absolutely important to conduct a little background check of all the lawyers you have shortlisted to pick the one. Most of the leading law firms have a considerable presence online. Another tool which could be of great help is the clients’ feedback on their website or google. Reviews will give you a gist of the kind of cases they have handled, their success rate, how well your lawyer values his clientele and also if there have been any complaints. You can select the lawyer you think is the right match to solve the issue you are grappling with.
- Your rapport with your lawyer – As impersonal it may seem from the outside, a lawyer-client relationship is a bit more personal. Unless you are completely at ease while talking to your lawyer, you won’t able to confide in her. It is not for the lawyer to decide whether you are right or wrong in your pursuit, he may decline to help you if it is against his ethics. However, he is primarily supposed to win the case for you. An honest conversation is the key to winning the case. If you hold back any of the details, thinking them to be trivial or too personal to share, it may end up tilting the case in the opposite party’s favour during the hearing. So make sure, you have chosen a lawyer with whom you can effortlessly communicate your expectations.
- Communication is the key – As lawyers, we are supposed to be excellent at interpersonal skills too, among other things. For NRI clients, communication assumes an even more important role. As an NRI, you cannot be physically present for every appointment, discussion and court hearing. Technology has made communication across continents seamless and fast. We have all the resources to share documents, video call, send messages- in real time, without any time lag. There is no reason why your lawyer should delay conveying any important detail to you. The first meeting and the follow-up mails/phone calls will give you a fair idea about the responsiveness, how interested in the lawyer in taking up your case and how important you are as a client. Time is a vital element in all legal matters. You cannot simply wait around for your lawyer to find the time to get back to you, he owes it to you keep you informed. Therefore, you should definitely choose a lawyer who is prompt is responding back.
- Reputation says it all – If possible, talk to the previous clients, ask around for recommendations from family and friends, confirm from the people who have worked with this lawyer to gather a rough idea about his working style. Discipline is very important to succeed in any profession, and legal representation is no different. As an NRI, you certainly cannot afford to change a lawyer if he later isn’t working as per your expectations. Unfortunately, NRI clients are the ones who often face negligence from their lawyers’ side. The fact that you cannot confront them on making slow progress on your case makes it all the more frustrating for you.
- Objective and Honest feedback – Any lawyer can tell you what you hope to hear. And someone after your money will tell you exactly that. But sugar coated words will not work in your favour. It is your right and the lawyer’s obligation to tell you the truth, however unpleasant it might be. Even if the odds are not in your favour, you can make an informed decision about whether the matter is worth your time and money. Also, this gives you a chance to reconsider and go over the details to see if you missed out on anything important which could help strengthen your case. At times we do not realise that even something which might seem unimportant to us could hold the key to a better argument in the court.
- Accountability – Your lawyer, once he commits to represent you in court, is responsible for the outcome of the case. The result of every hearing is a culmination of his research and preparation for your case. He shouldn’t get away by saying that the matter itself is too complicated or that it was supposed to be like this since the beginning. We hear NRI clients lament that the lawyer they hired was quite enthusiastic and optimistic about the case when he took it up but lost interest once he received his fee. You should get your money’s worth, so make a wise choice while picking your legal representative. Otherwise any amount of money you spent would go waste if you are not getting sincere outcomes from your lawyer.
- Getting most work done without traveling back – The whole point of finding a good NRI lawyer is that your work doesn’t suffer in your absence. Your legal representative should be able to handle most of the hearings and paper work without asking you to travel back frequently. There might be moments when you will have to be physically present but for most of the work, an experienced NRI lawyer would know how to make a convenient for his NRI client. E-mails, video calls, messaging can take care of day-to-day communication. You can get the documents sent which need your signatures. So make sure you discuss this with the lawyer before you decide to hand over your case to him.
- More than a lawyer, a guide – A lawyer has to don the hat of a guide, a friend and at times, a counselor. Legal disputes can get very stressful and take their toll on your mental peace. You will feel like you have lost everything or you might feel triumphant and certain that the case will get decided in your favour. Your lawyer should comfort and support you in both the scenarios. Keeping an optimistic outlook is very important while your case is underway. Whether it is a long pending property dispute, a contentious divorce or an intimidating criminal case, a confident and committed lawyer will make all the difference. Cross-questioning can often lead the parties to step right into the opposite lawyer’s trap and give some replies which could prove to be a setback. However, if your lawyer prepares you well and you have complete faith in his abilities, you can be certain of a favourable verdict.
- Clarity about fee, services included – Most NRI clients are often overcharged for the same services as compared to their domestic counterparts. Just because you earn more and are settled abroad does not mean that you should be asked to shell out more money. There should be clarity about the fee structure of the lawyer and whether you will be expected to pay the full amount in a single go or in installments. Also be certain to ask about the services that will be provided to you, any hidden charges, service charges etc. A client is also a consumer as per the law and you are entitled to certain rights as a consumer according to Indian laws. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask for a details of charges and services that will be covered in return. You can pick the best you can afford if you know about the fee structure right at the beginning of your search for the lawyer.
This checklist would help you streamline your search and avoid the common mistakes we are prone to make when we choose a lawyer.