At HRS we understand that it is reassuring for our clients to know that a) we are properly regulated and b) we address concerns and complaints with a professional mentality.
Our standard Terms of Engagement letter, example below, is designed to both meet our legal obligations but also to help our clients understand the complex legal issues and regulatory framework that accompanies instruction of a Solicitor. This instruction, known as the retainer, is governed by regulation enforced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and this document is approved by them.
TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT
This firms’ policy, encouraged by The Solicitors Regulation Authority, is to clearly explain the terms upon which we will act for you. This is known as the retainer. These terms are intended to apply to all work undertaken by this firm unless otherwise agreed. HRS Family Law Solicitors Ltd is an independent law firm that has no referral or funding arrangements with any third party. You can trust that our advice is only motivated by a wish to serve you as well as we can.
- WHO WILL MANAGE YOUR CASE?
At HRS we work on files in teams of at least two people, sometimes up to four. Files are run on a daily basis by one member of the team and others have input as required. Your file will be run by xxxxx xxxxxxxx, who is your Caseworker and a [Paralegal] [Trainee Solicitor] [Solicitor] at the firm. The file will be supervised by xxxxx xxxxxxxx, who is the file Supervisor and a Solicitor as well as a member of the Law Society [Children] [Family law] panel. This means that your file will be reviewed as part of the HRS quality assurance philosophy in conjunction with the Specialist Quality Mark held by the company. We aim to ensure continuity of personnel but we reserve the right to delegate your case to another member of staff, if necessary. Such changes are unavoidable due to illness, departures, training etc.
- TYPES OF FILE
This firm engages entirely in family law matters to include Divorce, Children Law, Ancillary Relief, Co-habitation, Care and Social services’ law, Wills and Probate and related work pertaining to the modern family’s legal needs such as Lasting Powers or Court of Protection applications, small civil claims and Civil law disputes. If, however, you have a problem within another area of law we will be happy to provide you with advice and assistance by acting as your agent to facilitate the matter with an expert Barrister or Solicitor in that field. We call this our Entourage service. Please ask your Solicitor for further information. Such cases may include personal Injury, employment law, crime or housing disputes as well as landlord and tenant advice. We can also refer matters for you or signpost you to other firms of Solicitors within the geographical area.
The caseworker will confirm the fee as a quote or estimate the fee in writing to you at the outset. We will always require a payment on account at that stage to confirm the retainer and to commence acting on behalf of a client. If the fee is fixed it will be an exact sum for work of a precise nature. Alternatively, it may be an hourly rate that is agreed or the fee will be met by the LAA or a third party. We may also take work on an a la carte basis known by the Profession as unbundling.
The cost estimate, we have provided, if not a fixed fee, will be kept under constant review and you will be provided with a written update on a six-monthly basis during your case. Fixed fees are set and will not change. Nothing in this letter in any way detracts from your rights under the Solicitors’ Remuneration Order 1972, details of which will be supplied on request. Our charges in hourly rate cases will be calculated mainly by reference to the time spent by fee earning staff dealing with this matter and will include, for example, advising, attending on you and others, preparation, travelling, waiting and hearing times.
There is an additional charge for standard correspondence and telephone calls at one tenth of the hourly rate and letters received at one twentieth. Our charging rate will depend on whether you are in receipt of Legal Aid. Rates of payment for Legal Aid work are governed by regulations currently in force whereas for privately funded work we reserve the right to charge our work at a rate agreed with you, in advance. In the absence of a charging agreement, our charging rate will be as currently set down by the Lord Chancellor’s Department. For private fee-paying client’s we will often agree a fixed fee to make the process easier and certain for you as to how much you will need to pay. This fee is agreed and due to be paid in full regardless of how much work is undertaken on a file or how long the case takes to complete. The advantage of the fixed fee is certainty for the client, but equally, if more, or less work, than is envisaged is ultimately needed to complete the case then the same fee applies. Only in exceptional cases will we agree a reduction in the fixed fee if, at our absolute discretion, we believe that to require payment of the whole would be unfair. In such circumstances, a half fee will apply, namely half of the fixed fee agreed. Once a fixed fee is agreed we will not entertain a full refund. We have a minimum fee of £200 for all matters that are opened as a file by the firm.
HRS Family Law Solicitors provide payment arrangements to clients on the basis of need and as confirmed by the Payment agreement between the firm and the client. This is usually by a reviewable monthly payment often by direct debit. The retainer is on the basis that this arrangement is at the absolute discretion of the company, and not the client, and may be retracted at any time with the full amount having been billed to that date becoming due. Our terms are 28 days unless otherwise stated. At no time, without express prior written agreement, will HRS Family Law Solicitors Ltd agree “credit” or terms of indebtedness beyond £1,500.00 or 12 months. If a payment arrangement is breached or a payment missed then the full amount of the fixed fee or invoice plus VAT will be payable forthwith and we will seek to recover the amount in the Courts if not paid immediately in line with our terms. We may, in certain circumstances at our absolute discretion, agree to act on a pro bono basis. The fee, estimate or fixed fee, confirmation of a pro bono basis or Legal Aid certificate award will be noted in the first or otherwise first applicable letter to you from your caseworker.
- LEGALLY AIDED CLIENTS:
You may be eligible for financial help from the Legal Aid Agency. Please note that Legal Aid cannot be applied for retrospectively and so unless you qualified from the outset for help under the “Legal Help Scheme” there may be a private charge due for initial work, unless a pro bono arrangement is agreed in advance. In family matters, the statutory charge may apply and you should read the separate documentation that we supply. The Statutory Charge applies if the result of your case is that you preserved or obtained property or money. In such circumstances, you may have to pay back some, or all, of the costs of your case. Please ask your Solicitor if you want to apply for Legal Aid. Legal Aid is bureaucratic and can be slow to obtain. We cannot control their decision making and many clients find it better, quicker and easier to pay privately even if Legal Aid is available. We cannot accept responsibility for loss or delay caused by the slow Legal Aid Agency decision making process. The Legal Aid Agency perform regular audits of our case files. If you are a private client and do not wish your file to be audited please inform your Solicitor who will mark it to this effect.
- COSTS ESTIMATES:
Whether you are a privately funded client or a client receiving advice under a Legal Aid Certificate or under the Legal Help Scheme, you will be provided with a written estimate of the likely cost of the matter. We are sure that you will appreciate it is difficult to estimate how many hours of work will ultimately prove necessary to conclude the matter and therefore any calculation cannot be more than a best guess. We are happy to give an estimate more regularly than every six months, if requested, and we offer a variety of payment options to ensure that fees can be met within a realistic budget. Our estimate in this case is between £ and £ .
- COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE:
Our aim is to ensure that your legal work is performed in an efficient, friendly and cost-effective manner. Whilst we hope that you will not need to complain, if you do have a complaint against a member of this firm or of a more general nature then please do not hesitate to speak to your caseworker who will endeavour to resolve the issue. If necessary s/he will institute a more formal enquiry in accordance with our Complaints policy. A copy is available on request. Whilst HRS is confident that you will be happy with the outcome of your case the fact is that law in the UK is an adversarial process and sometimes there is a winner and a loser. We cannot guarantee the outcome of a case as it is the decision of the Court. If you are not happy with the outcome it does not necessarily follow that either the company has not executed its work properly or that something has been missed, omitted or that there has been negligence. The company will not accept responsibility for an outcome that is not what was hoped for unless there has been a manifest error or negligence on the part of those involved. Likewise, a complaint is not valid simply because the case did not turn out as expected or as desired. Once the complaints policy has been followed and the procedure exhausted the Legal Ombudsman may be approached but there is a six-month limit on such a referral. The HRS Complaints policy is designed to be a fair and open process if matters have not been addressed to our usual high standard.
- FINANCIAL SERVICES:
We are not authorised under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 but we are able, in certain circumstances, to offer a limited range of investment services to clients because we are members of the Law Society and are regulated by the SRA. We can provide these investment services if they are an incidental part of the professional services we have been engaged to provide. We have a policy, however, not to do so. Should you need financial advice you will be advised to seek it from an independent financial advisor.
- FILE STORAGE
Unless you instruct us otherwise all files are destroyed 6 years after the conclusion of the case. Original documents are returned to clients when the case concludes. A small admin charge applies to file and document retrieval. The fee for retrieval of a file or part thereof is £25.00. We will not send files to third parties and any requested paperwork must be collected personally by the client, at the office in Dudley, who will be asked to sign a receipt. We do not keep copies of a file or a bundle of papers that is returned to a client. Please note that a Solicitors’ lien will apply to the file of papers if our fees are not paid in full such that they will not be released to you or an agent until payment is made.
At HRS we employ a range of staff from highly experienced Solicitors to paralegals starting out on their career. Please note that we do not guarantee that all, or even some, work on a matter or file will be undertaken by a qualified Solicitor. As you would expect trainee and other staff need to learn by doing. If you require a Solicitor to be the exclusive case-worker then please notify us in advance. Rest assured that all staff are closely supervised in accordance with the management standard known as the Specialist Quality Mark operated by the Legal Aid Agency which means that they are supervised by a Solicitor who will also be a member of a Law Society specialist panel. At HRS we work in teams and more than one fee earner is likely to be involved in your matter.
- EQUALITY & DIVERSITY
The company will not accept any unfair, discriminatory or aggressive behaviour on the part of staff, stakeholders or clients. Any breach of our policy in this regard will lead to an immediate cessation of the contractual relationship between us and the third party or client to include the retainer for legal services. Please ask about our Equality and Diversity policy.
- DATA PROTECTION
- CLIENT CONFIDENTIALITY & THE MONEY LAUNDERING REGULATIONS
Your attention is drawn to the fact that following the introduction of The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, there are certain exceptions to the general rule of Client Confidentiality. Further, please note that we are required by law to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations. We therefore require the two forms of Identification from all clients who are paying for their legal work, namely photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence and proof of address such as a utility bill. We cannot commence work until that information is received and we will not accept payment on account or otherwise until the identity issue is completed at which point the retainer is created. The company limit for cash towards fees per transaction and month is £2500. We take our regulatory responsibilities seriously and cannot do any work, whatever the circumstances, unless we have prior compliance. Each client is also asked to provide a copy bank statement and salary slip or P60 to assist our administration of the file. Credit searches may, from time to time, be undertaken unless you have specifically advised that we are not permitted to do so.
- CASE DURATION
It is difficult at the outset of the case to predict how long a matter may take. Our initial estimate in this case, based upon our experience, is that the file will be open for approximately [ ] months.
- PAYING FOR YOUR LEGAL ADVICE AND PAYMENT TERMS
At HRS we understand that paying for legal advice and Court proceedings can be difficult. That is why we offer six ways to help you find the costs necessary to resolve your legal issue. Please note that all payment schemes are exclusive of VAT at 20% and disbursements that may apply, such as Court fees. Instruction of counsel, a barrister, where applicable, will cost extra as agreed in advance from time to time. Similarly, all quotes, fixed fees or otherwise, do not include disbursements namely travel and parking costs, court fees or expert costs. Such fees are not paid first. For early payment of said fees they must be paid in full in additional to our costs, in accordance with our terms and we reserve the right to use any monies paid to the client account for our costs howsoever we wish regardless of how the client determines their allocation. Unless otherwise specifically agreed, all fixed fee quotes do not include preparation for or representation at a Final hearing. At HRS we believe in continuity of representation and therefore we do not instruct counsel unless specifically requested to do so. Counsel’s fees must be paid for in advance of the hearing in full. Please note that whilst we try to ensure that the specific fee earner is available to represent a client at a hearing but that is not always possible and we reserve the right to provide a commensurate substitute where necessary. Please note that if you fail to make your payments as agreed then we have the right to pass the debt to a third-party debt recovery organisation and further costs may incur. We do sue for unpaid debts and enforce judgements when obtained.
- INTEREST RATES
Interest will be charged at a rate of 8% per annum on all outstanding total balances from 31 days after issue if payment terms are not met in accordance with article 5 of the solicitors (Non-contentious Business) remuneration order 2009. Given that the firm pays bank charges for the client account and holding client money but does not charge for this facility HRS Family Law Solicitors Ltd does not pay interest on client balances, however large, other than by specific agreement. Should you require interest to be paid please ask for the client account monies to be applied to a specific designated deposit account. Interest on such an account will be paid at 1% below Bank of England base rate to cover our costs of provision.
LEGAL AID: We have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency and therefore offer Legal Help, Legal Help Higher and Legal Representation depending on the type of case. All Legal Aid applications are merits or means tested other than in Public Law. If LAA funding is likely to be granted we may do initial work on a pro bono basis to achieve the funding. Please note that the statutory charge will apply if you pay a contribution to your legal aid fees or your case concerns financial issues. You will be given a leaflet by the fee earner which explains the statutory charge.
MONTHLY PAYMENTS: You wouldn’t necessarily pay your bills, such as car insurance, in one go, so why your legal work? At HRS we can agree a monthly payment plan through a Standing Order Mandate or Direct Debit based upon an agreed estimate of your costs at the outset, reviewable by agreement at regular intervals. For as little as £200 per month you can fund your divorce and/or Court representation. Please note that unless otherwise agreed in writing, the first payment instalment is due within 28 days of instruction denoted by a signed copy of the payment agreement form and is non-refundable. The full balance falls due in full if any instalment is missed. In such circumstances, we reserve the right to suspend work indefinitely or until payment in full has been made. It is the responsibility of the client to ensure payments are kept up to date in line with an agreement. Please note that we will not attend Court and may apply to leave the Court record if owed money or the client is in breach of a payment arrangement with us. Please note that monies paid will not be allocated to Court fees until the company has received half the agreed total of it’s fees.
FIXED FEES: At HRS we offer an agreed fixed fee for your legal costs. We also offer a repeat fixed fee arrangement for Court work, for example £600 plus VAT per hearing, to include all preparation work. The full fixed fee is due within 28 days of instruction as denoted by a signed copy of the payment agreement form. Please note that it is a condition of the fixed fee agreement that advocacy will be carried out by a member of our staff and not by a barrister. If you require counsel then there will be an additional charge for their instruction. Fixed fees do not include a final contested hearing unless specifically agreed and such hearings will attract an additional fee. If a fixed fee is agreed but the instructions are withdrawn before all work is completed the full amount is payable unless, at the absolute discretion of the company, half of the fee is waived. That may apply where for example no substantive work has yet been undertaken. The initial payment on account of costs, £200, is not refundable. All fees do not include Court fees and other disbursements. Where a fixed fee has been agreed and the agreed work or remit for the fixed fee has been completed the firm will charge at the relevant fee earner hourly rate until such time as a further or alternate fee structure is agreed or until the retainer is terminated by the client.
UNBUNDLED WORK: We can do work on an ad hoc basis, i.e. a limited retainer to do specific limited work whilst the client continues to act in person and deal with Court or the other parties themselves. The firm is not on the Court record. This is known as unbundling. We are happy to give competitive quotes for such things as preparing applications and statements, attendance at a hearing or even to write a difficult letter. Please ask reception for a quote. The fee agreed is due within 28 days of instruction as denoted by a signed copy of the payment agreement form unless otherwise agreed in writing by the fee earner and set out therein.
INTERIM BILLS: The traditional method for paying a Solicitor is to pay at regular intervals when a bill is rendered. This suits many people who need action immediately and cannot wait for their important matters to be resolved. At HRS we bill on a quarterly basis subject to a reasonable payment on account at the outset. Payment is then made in arrears of work done at an hourly rate and payment is due within 28 days from the date of invoice unless otherwise agreed in writing by the fee earner. The minimum, non-refundable fee on account is £200.
HRS FAMILY LAW SOLICITORS LTD
The HRS complaints handling procedure is designed for us to help you so that if for any reason the service you receive is not exactly what was expected then we will do our utmost to resolve it whilst co-operating fully. It has four stages and is printed here;
HRS FAMILY LAW SOLICITORS LTD COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE v9
This firm understands that complaint handling is fundamental to the perception of the firm on the part of the general public and thus our ongoing success.
Every complaint, however minor, is important to the person making it. We shall treat it seriously and courteously in order to show them the respect they deserve.
- Stage one: Once a complaint is made to any member of the firm the fee earner with responsibility for the file shall clarify if it is a formal complaint or a matter capable of informal resolution by them. If it is an informal or less serious issue the matter will be noted on the file and the issue regarded as concluded, subject to agreed action which for the sake of clarity shall be specifically recorded on an attendance note. It will then be recorded in writing to the client. The action agreed will be undertaken and the matter closed. The fee earner should copy their Supervisor in to the final communication for clarity in the event of any future discussion.
Examples of minor issues include non-return of a call, failure to meet an agreed deadline or cancellation of an appointment. An example of an informal issue is something that has irritated or inconvenienced a client. In isolated cases this should be resolved by a discussion and agreement about how best to avoid a repetition in the future.
- Stage two: If the client is not content to resolve the issue at the first stage, as outlined above, or if the fee earner believes that the complaint or issue is not something that can or should be informally resolved then it must be referred to the Supervisor for the office in question. This should be reported by email within 5 working days, preferably sooner unless there is reason for delay, absence, holiday period etc. The Supervisor will acknowledge in writing to the client within 7 days of receipt, enclosing a copy of this policy, and copy the letter to the fee earner for the file and email the compliance manager with a copy.
- In that letter the client will be asked to choose either a formal complaint by letter or to attend for a meeting with the Supervisor. Where the complaint is by letter it should be comprehensive and sufficiently detailed for analysis and consideration in order that the Supervisor can consider the detail of the complaint and answer point by point. If the complaint is by way of a meeting then the Supervisor will offer the client a meeting within 7 days of the reply if possible, or not unreasonable. The intention will be to try and resolve the matter at the meeting. If that is not possible then the answer to the complaint will be forwarded to the client within 7 days of the meeting, if possible. If further information is required, then it will be asked for. Complaints by letter will be answered within 21 days of receipt. Again, this will be copied to the fee earner and the Compliance Manager
- Stage three: If the response to the complaint is not to the client’s satisfaction then he may refer the matter to the Compliance Manager by email or letter firstname.lastname@example.org / or West Bromwich office. The Compliance Manager will reply within 7 days or as soon as possible thereafter. She will offer a telephone conversation or a meeting within a further 7 days thereafter, again if that time period is possible.
The Compliance Manager will decide whether a) there is any further action she can take or b) the case should be referred to the final stage. She may decide that there is no further reasonable action to resolve the issue, to re-allocate the file to a different fee earner, or to offer a remedy. In each case she shall notify the client by email or writing within 21 days.
Remedies are; an ex gratia payment up to a maximum of £250.00, Reimbursement of fees up to £250.00 or an apology and any combination of the three. This is the final stage of the process unless she decides that the issue or the nature of the complaint is so serious or complex that it should be referred on to the fourth stage.
- Stage four: If referred to the Managing Director by the Compliance Manager the MD will then review all the relevant papers and report to the client within 28 days. The decision is final, and any settlement made will be binding if accepted by the client.
For example, an ex gratia payment at this stage, reimbursement or other compensation will be paid only on the basis that the matter is concluded and the said payment is in full and final settlement of the issue to include no further action with the Legal Ombudsman. If the client does not wish to take the outcome or settlement offered, then they may refer the matter to the Legal Ombudsman within 12 months of the final letter. If that is undertaken, then any payment made on any basis whatsoever is immediately repayable.
- Please note that we do not consider the complaint procedure to be exhausted until stage three or four is concluded, as applicable.
- Complaints will be dealt with sensitively. It is the right of the client to complain and at HRS we understand that. It is through dealing sensibly with complaints that we can improve our client care and our business.
- Clients are reminded that they have the right to seek independent legal advice and to complain to the requisite independent authority. Currently that is the Legal Ombudsman. Clients are hereby given notice that they have a time limit of twelve months from the end of the HRS complaint system to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman, failing which they will be out of time and their matter will not be processed. Equally, they should not refer the issue to the Legal Ombudsman unless they have exhausted our process.
- At the conclusion of the process the Compliance Manager will check that the complaints file is updated and will personally ensure that the action agreed with the client has been undertaken to include speaking with the fee earner involved about generic/strategic issues, copying the action agreed to him and undertaking any other or further steps agreed.
- Minor or one-off errors should as a guide be resolved by an apology and may attract an ex gratia payment of £50.00. More serious or prolonged errors may attract an apology, confirmation of a strategic change in the firm’s systems and, or a payment of up to £250. Compensation above that sum will only rarely be paid and can only be agreed on an exceptional basis with the permission of the Managing Director.
- All fee earners and clients alike should note that the firm aims to resolve complaints fairly but will not entertain spurious or unfair complaints against our staff who we value and believe do their job honestly and to the best of their ability. They have a right to be treated with courtesy whatever the scenario and should not be abused or shouted at. If that happens we reserve the right to refuse any further action and or dealings with the individual concerned. Further, law is an adversarial system and we cannot be responsible for outcomes that are disappointing or with which clients disagree. We act for people in Court cases. We do not decide them. Equally, nobody is perfect and unless thee is an ongoing or chronic problem then minor failings should be resolved at the first or second stage. We will be reasonable, but we also expect clients to understand that sometimes mistakes are made and not every error should attract prolonged discussion or compensation.
- The Legal Ombudsman will act on a complaint if it has not been resolved by the firm. It is essential therefore that if a matter has been resolved informally and if a complaint has been resolved on a formal basis that not only this is recorded on the file but that the client confirms the same in writing or with a signed receipt, email or note. Files cannot and should not be continued in the absence of said receipt and, or written confirmation of the complaint having been resolved.
- Unless the client stipulates that an outcome response at any of the four stages is not acceptable, we will proceed on the basis that the matter is concluded. If the client thereafter refers the matter to the Legal Ombudsman, we will then ask that the remainder of our process, as applicable, be continued to a final outcome and will oppose the jurisdiction of the Legal Ombudsman until that opportunity to resolve the matter has been extinguished.
“A complaint is an opportunity to make our systems work better. We will do our best to resolve it.”
Clive Iain Rebbeck
HRS Family Law Solicitors Ltd
We want to give you the best possible service. If, however, at any point you become unhappy or concerned about the service we provided then you should inform us immediately, so that we can do our best to resolve the problem.
In the first instance it may be helpful to contact the person who is working on your case to discuss your concerns and we will do our best to resolve any issues at that stage. If you would like to make a formal complaint, then you can read our full complaints procedure above. Making a complaint will not affect how we handle your case. The Solicitors Regulation Authority can help you if you are concerned about our behaviour. This could be for things like dishonesty, taking or losing your money or treating you unfairly because of your age, a disability or other characteristic. You can raise your concerns with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, details below. What do to if we cannot resolve your complaint? The Legal Ombudsman can help you if we are unable to resolve your complaint ourselves. They will look at your complaint independently and it will not affect how we handle your case. Before accepting a complaint for investigation, the Legal Ombudsman will check that you have tried to resolve your complaint with us first. If you have, then you must take your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman: Within six months of receiving a final response to your complaint, and, no more than six years from the date of the act / omission; or no more than three years from when you should reasonably have known there was cause for complaint. If you would like more information about the Legal Ombudsman, please contact them. Visit: www.legalombudsman.org.uk Call: 0300 555 0333 between 9am to 5pm. Email: email@example.com Legal Ombudsman PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton, WV1 9WJ.