Terms of Business
1. Office hours
Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm. Our switchboard operates until 6:00pm but fee earners and assistants may not be available outside office hours.
There is limited parking at the rear of our office at the owner’s risk.
3. Telephone calls
Callers are put through to the person they ask for. If not available you may leave a voicemail message or divert the call to the person’s assistant. To ensure messages are received quickly please do not leave a message with the switchboard. To protect your interests our staff are under instructions to take detailed messages but not to divulge information unless they know the caller and are sure it is authorised.
Email communications with clients, is on the basis that clients accept the breach of confidentiality risk involved in this “open” communication system. Clients must also recognise that there is no verification that the sender is as purported and both an e-mail and a fax message can be incomplete or not received although recorded as having been transmitted. We shall act upon that which we receive, in good faith but at our clients’ risk. If you require letters to be marked confidential or if you wish to be contacted before an email or fax is sent please tell us.
Cyber security: Emails are open communications and so are NOT secure. Please do not EVER send us bank account details by email. Our client bank account details NEVER change. If you receive an email from us asking you to transfer funds to a different bank account , it is FAKE.
5. Client identification/Proceeds of Crime Act
The law requires us to verify the identity of every client with whom we carry out any financial transaction over £10,000. In the case of a company we must verify the identity of the person instructing us. To comply, we often have to ask existing clients for proof as well as new clients. Normally, the production of a passport or photo driving licence and utility bill confirming your address, not more than three months old is required. We must take and keep copies. Sometimes we have to repeat these checks on behalf of organisations with whom we are dealing on the clients’ behalf. This cannot be avoided. Provided we have photo ID we can carry out a check online for an additional cost of £15 plus VAT per person to include the agency search fee which we shall include in our bill to you.
The law also requires that if we learn something which should make us suspect that a client, or another person, has committed a crime and benefited financially, we must report what we suspect to the National Criminal Intelligence Service. We must do this without giving any hint to the client that we have made a report.
6. Partners’ responsibility
The Partners whose names are listed on the firm’s correspondence are the solicitors who own and who are responsible for the firm.
Clients will usually regard one of the Partners or another member of our professional staff as their normal contact. We encourage this relationship and this is the person to contact initially even though the work might be outside their speciality. They will ensure that your work is dealt with by the right person.
Matters handled for you are dealt with either by a Partner (possibly assisted by other professional staff) or by professional staff under the supervision of a Partner. We shall tell you (usually in an initial letter) who is the Partner and which members of staff are involved in your work. Any changes will be notified to you.
7. Client care
At the beginning of a new matter clients will receive a letter confirming the instructions received, the action proposed, the name of the supervising Partner responsible, the other professional staff involved and information about costs. This information is updated as the situation merits. There are clients to whom much of the information is very familiar and who often do not appreciate receiving it again and again. In these cases, only information specific to the matter being handled is confirmed.
You should never feel short of information but if you do, ask and it shall be supplied.
8. Clients’ responsibility
Please communicate with us promptly and accurately. Lack of openness, neglecting to follow advice and delay are the commonest causes of inappropriate advice, poor results and escalation of costs.
We depend upon clients:
Giving clear instructions;
Promptly responding to communications;
Providing full and accurate information;
Carrying out any agreed course of action;
Being open and frank with us; and
Providing money promptly, when required.
Fixed fees, quotations and estimates of costs are conditional upon these requirements.
Any person giving instructions on behalf of a company or organisation warrants to us that he or she has the authority to give those instructions on its behalf and that it is financially able to meet the commitments. If that is not true then the person giving the instructions is himself or herself personally liable to us.
If you, your company or your organisation wants us to act only on the instructions of specified people you must let us know in writing so that the position is clear. Otherwise we assume and you authorise us to assume that those representing you, your company or your organisation are duly authorised to give us information and instructions.
There are occasions when a client has a problem with our service which has not been satisfactorily resolved with the person dealing with the matter. Please contact our Client Care Partner, Alexandra Adam, who will provide you with our Complaints Procedure and investigate and respond to your complaint. We are committed to prompt, efficient, fair and courteous handling of complaints.
If for any reason we are unable to resolve a problem between us the Legal Ombudsman (tel: 0300 555 0333 or firstname.lastname@example.org) will consider the complaint. Normally you will need to bring a complaint to the legal Ombudsman within 6 months of receiving a response from us about your complaint.
All money held and handled by the firm for you goes though a client bank account. It takes one working week to clear a personal cheque or banker’s draft drawn on a UK clearing bank. Should it be necessary for us to pay out on your behalf by bank transfer or banker’s draft we need cleared funds at the time that the payment is made. You will be asked to give us your cheque the requisite number of days in advance to allow for clearance or to arrange a bank transfer in time.
Where we hold your money for a time and in circumstances which would enable deposit interest of more than the Solicitors’ Deposit Rules limit (currently £20) to be earned on it we will pay that interest to you.
We will not handle amounts of cash which exceed £500 per transaction.
11. Money transfers
Bank Electronic Funds Transfer (sometimes called CHAPS) has become the normal method of payment for transactions involving a substantial amount of money. Money transmitted before 3:00pm on a business day should arrive as cleared funds in the recipient’s bank account the same day. We have an in house banking terminal to facilitate the process.
Banks do not guarantee that a payment will arrive by a particular time even if sent early in the morning. The system sometimes breaks down. Whilst, when working normally, this system is the most efficient way of transmitting funds quickly, it is important that you know that the system can fail or be delayed. The implication for you may be that your transaction will not complete on time.
Your transaction may depend upon people transferring money to us and doing so in good time. That does not always happen. A chain of transactions involves money moving more than once in a day. You are at risk therefore if money does not arrive when required. Elimination of this risk usually involves the arrangement of bridging finance with your Bank. Should you require us to make an electronic money transfer then we must have full bank account details from you in writing.
12. Financial Services and Investment Business
The firm does not provide in house investment advice or discretionary investment management. We believe it is better to work with independent FCA authorised organisations (stockbrokers, insurance brokers, investment advisors etc.). The same applies to pensions and insurances.
We advise upon estate and tax planning and financial strategy and we provide administration and liaison services in relation to investments. We are authorised to do this where it is incidental to the legal services we are providing to you.
We are not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. However we are included on the register maintained by the FCA so that we can carry on insurance mediation activity, which is broadly the advising on, selling and administration of insurance contracts.
This part of our business is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The register can be accessed via the Financial Conduct Authority. The Law Society is a designated professional body for the purposes of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 but responsibility for regulation and complaints has been separated from the Law Society’s representative functions. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is the independent regulatory authority of the Law Society and the Legal Ombudsman is its’ independent complaints handling body.
13. Safekeeping of Documents and Storage
We store clients’ files on the understanding that we have your authority to destroy them after six years. Clients wishing us to send their papers to them rather than having them destroyed must let us know. This applies also to anything recorded by us in electronic or other non-paper form. We may need at some point to change to electronic or photographic recording of files (destroying the originals). You agree that we may do this.
We store clients’ deeds and securities in our strong room and those documents are never destroyed.
Our storage facilities are provided at the clients’ risk and at the moment, free of charge. Clients should arrange their own insurance of valuable items.
After completing your work we are entitled to keep all your papers and documents whilst there is still money owing to us for our charges and expenses.
14. Confidentiality in use of data
In engaging us you accept that we must comply with the following requirements. We are required to give access to all client records and data both to the Law Society and our reporting accountants in respect of compliance with professional and financial standards and reporting.
We are required to give access to client records and data to the Financial Conduct Authority in carrying out its functions as our regulator.
We are required to report to Her Majesty’s Renvue and Customs upon interest paid to clients and in accordance with the Taxes Management Act 1970, Section 17.
From time to time there may be other authorities or organisations to who we are required to give access to client records and data because of compliance requirements for the carrying on of our practice.
We keep records about clients of the type which are covered by the Data Protection Act. From time to time we use these records to contact clients about our services or changes in the law but this information is not given to others for marketing or similar purposes unless we have the client’s authority or consent.
15. Intellectual property rights
We retain the copyright in all material produced by us both in writing and in electronic form. The client is licensed to use the material for the purpose for which it is produced in accordance with the client’s engagement but not for any other purpose without our prior written consent.
Opinions obtained from barristers and others, where it is we who engage the barrister or other expert, are also likely to be copyright and the question of use of that copyright is between us and the barrister or expert.
Solicitors’ fees are governed by the Solicitors Act 1974 and Regulations made under it. Charges depend upon the level of staff involved, the value (financial and personal), the difficulty and urgency. Some work is undertaken on a fixed fee or a conditional fee basis. Most is undertaken on the basis of the time involved, the value of the transaction or a combination of these.
When a fixed fee is agreed it will be confirmed in writing and is for dealing with the matter in accordance with the initial instructions/heads of agreement/particulars first received and on the basis that it proceeds in a normal manner.
If the matter requires work outside the normal course or the requirements change we shall advise you that the work is outside the fixed fee and shall explain why and of any additional cost. An estimate or budget figure received is not a fixed fee but our best estimate at the time, of the likely cost of a matter or stage, being charged upon a time basis, usually based on our experience of comparable cases. There is bound to be a compromise between your need for an indication of cost at the outset and the uncertainty about how the matter will develop. Our duty is to tell you if and when the way a matter develops means the estimate is inaccurate, and to give an updated estimate, if possible.
A conditional fee agreement or a damages based agreement is sometimes another way of financing the cost. If acting for you on either bases then special terms and conditions apply to such arrangements and can be discussed with you if appropriate to the case.
You are entitled to complain about your bill;
You may also have the right to complain about your bill to the Legal Ombudsman and /or by applying to the court for an assessment of the bill under Part III Solicitors’ Act 1974;and
If all or part of the bill remains unpaid we are entitled to charge interest.
17. Costs and charges
Unless an exemption applies VAT is added to our charges at the current rate. Fixed fees or estimates of fees do not include VAT which will be added to the figures notified to you. We are also obliged to add VAT when billing clients for most of the expenses we incur on their behalf.
When a time basis of costing applies we record the time taken in units of one-tenth of an hour to the nearest one-tenth of an hour.
The charge is based on the units recorded. Time spent on research, drafting, meeting with clients and others, telephone calls, letters received and sent, e-mails, preparation and dictation, making notes of conversations, meeting compliance requirements, travelling, waiting and time spent in court will all be charged.
Time rates are renewed from time to time and in respect of a member of staff if that person is upgraded. Charges are calculated at the current applicable rate of the person concerned. When a fixed fee matter stops before being completed the work to date is charged on a time basis but the total will not exceed the fixed fee.
Fixed or estimated fees do not include expenses incurred on your behalf such as stamp duty, search fees, barristers’ and experts’ fees, court fees, bank charges and travelling expenses unless specifically stated. Normally telephone costs and photocopying are included in our fees but will be charged separately if particularly large.
If we are charging on a time basis you may set an upper limit on our fees and you will not then be liable to pay more than that limit (plus disbursements and VAT) unless you agree otherwise. If we reach that limit then we shall stop all further work and advise you that the limit has been reached. You may then set a new limit or just pay for the work which has been done so far. It is not usually appropriate to set a limit in a contentious case once proceedings have been issued as it may prevent us from taking necessary steps in the proceedings. Please see information below for litigants.
18. Billing arrangements
Unless other arrangements have been agreed with you:
For continuing work we shall send bills periodically (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly) depending on what we decide is appropriate to the case. When a rapid escalation of costs occurs in a case it may be billed more frequently. Short term matters or those relating to a one-off transaction are billed when substantially completed.
In respect of routine conveyancing transactions the normal terms of business are that you are billed and payment is due at the time of completion. Some mortgage lenders insist upon this. If sufficient funds are available on completion and we have sent you a bill you agree that we may deduct our charges from the funds we hold.
Any special arrangements with regard to billing agreed between you and us will be confirmed to you in writing.
Unless otherwise stipulated or agreed payment of a bill is due within one month of our sending the bill to you. Interest accrues on overdue bills at the Judgment Debt Rate.
In many cases an advance payment on account of costs or expenses to be incurred is required. That money is held in a client ledger in your name. Money held on account of costs is not taken in payment until a bill has been rendered to you.
19. Credit/debit card payment
We accept payment of our bills by MasterCard debit, MasterCard credit, Maestro, Visa debit, Visa credit, Solo or American Express. Debit card transactions are free. For credit card transactions there is a charge which will be added at the rate current at the time of payment.
20. Third party costs
Sometimes a client will have to pay a third party’s costs e.g. when ordered by a court in litigation or in some non-contentious transactions such as taking a commercial lease. Where a client is at risk of being ordered to pay another party’s costs in litigation we shall advise on that risk and the implications of the same. The reforms brought about by the Civil Procedure Rules 1999 place an obligation upon parties to a dispute and their advisers, to seek to resolve matters speedily and efficiently and not to pursue claims of little merit. Pre-action protocols must be followed. Alternative Dispute Resolution e.g. mediation, must be considered in most cases. Penalty costs can be awarded against a party to a dispute who does not comply with these requirements. Our acceptance of a retainer to act in a dispute on the basis that the client agrees to our conducting the matter in the way we think necessary to comply with these requirements.
The Court has discretion to award costs in proceedings. The general rule is that the loser pays the winner. The Court may however take into account a range of matters relating to conduct, willingness to negotiate and make offers and whether a winner has been successful on all the issues raised. Since rule changes which came into effect on 1 April 2013 it is far less certain than it ever was previously the extent to which a successful party in litigation will be entitled to recover costs. Indications thus far suggest that the Court will apply a broad brush approach often without a proper consideration of the extent of work done as previously looked at and the Court will also take into account “proportionality” which is undefined at present. It is therefore even less likely than previously that a party awarded their costs will receive anything like the full amount that party will have had to pay their own legal advisers.
In some circumstances we are asked to provide an undertaking to pay a third party’s costs on behalf of a client e.g. in lease matters. An undertaking is a personal obligation on the firm, which it has to meet. It is in our discretion whether or not we are prepared to give a requested undertaking in a particular case. Whenever we do so it will be limited in amount and we shall require that amount to be deposited with us in our client account, in cleared funds, before the undertaking is given. The money is deposited with us on the basis of irrevocable instructions to apply it to meet the undertaking if and when the undertaking has to be complied with.
21. Payment of costs by third parties
When you engage us to undertake work, you are the person responsible for the payment of our fees. When a third party is liable to pay or contribute towards your legal costs it is your right against the third party. You are liable to pay our fees whether or not the third party pays you. If it is part of our instructions from you, we will do what is reasonably practicable to recover payment from the third party on your behalf. Additional work of enforcement falls outside any estimate of costs provided to you.
22. Relationships with Third Parties
Authorities, institutions and the courts make mistakes and are often slow in their responses. Third parties and their advisers do not always deal with matters promptly or efficiently. Sometimes apparently agreed terms are re-opened. Not everybody acts honestly and with integrity. Problems can occur through no fault of yours or ours.
This creates additional work which means an additional charge in both fixed fee and time based charge cases. The additional work is charged for at our current charging rates for the professional people involved.
In such instances it is our responsibility to ensure that the client knows that additional cost is being incurred. You the client are responsible for deciding:
(a) whether or not to continue;
(b) whether to make contingency plans;
(c) the extent to which you want to try to deal with the problem yourself with a view to saving cost.
It is a hard fact of life that in most cases of additional work caused by the fault of others, it is not possible or cost effective to attempt to recover the cost from the offending third party.
23. Legal Aid
We do not undertake work on a Legally Aided basis.
You may terminate your instructions to us in respect of any matter, at any time. You should notify us of this in writing. If our retainer is terminated whilst the matter is still current we shall be entitled to do whatever is necessary to comply with our professional obligations in respect of the matter. The passing of papers to you, or to other legal representatives, will be subject to those obligations and fees and expenses due to us having been paid. We may retain your papers and documents until our fees and expenses are paid. In court matters we may require to be removed from the record as acting.
Once we have accepted instructions from you to deal with a matter we will stop dealing with it and terminate the retainer only with good reason. This may occur if for example; a conflict of interest arises; if we are prevented from continuing due to Practice Rules or ethical code; in the event of non-payment of our bills or expenses or of a requested payment on account; if there is a breach of good faith; or if you refuse to accept our advice and there is a breakdown of the solicitor/client relationship. In cases funded by insurance we have the right to terminate the retainer if the insurance cover is withdrawn. If money is requested but is unpaid then we may suspend our services pending receipt of payment or terminate our retainer.
25. Warning to all litigants
Since changes to procedural rules in April 2013 the courts are applying much stricter case management upon all litigants whether Claimant or Defendant. Time limits must be complied with and relief from sanctions will not be granted. All clients must therefore be aware that if they fail to provide instructions, funds on account or documents which prevent compliance with time limits then it is possible that their case may be struck out by the court. That will mean the case is at an end and it is likely that the other side’s costs will have to be paid.
26. Professional Indemnity Insurance
Our liability to you for a breach of your instructions shall be limited to £2,000,000 unless we expressly state a higher amount in the letter accompanying these terms of business. We will not be liable for any consequential, special, indirect or exemplary damages, costs or losses or any damages, costs or losses attributable to lost profits or opportunities in excess of that sum.
27. Service Quality
We work to quality standards. We welcome comments from our clients as to how our service can be improved and please tell us if we have done well.
These Terms of Business can be obtained in larger print.