TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS
It is important that you are fully informed about how your matter will be handled. This page sets out the firm’s Terms and Conditions of Business. Please read this document carefully, together with the client care letter you will be sent upon instruction.
- Service Standards
We will endeavour to update you with the progress of your matter and explain to you the legal work required as your matter progresses. At the outset we will confirm to you in writing your instructions and our advice about what steps should be taken and explain to you the issues involved. We shall update you on the likely costs of your matter as it progresses, which shall include updates on the likely timescales involved and any important changes. We are of course happy to receive calls and encourage communication by email wherever possible. Within reason, our aim is for calls and emails to be dealt with within 24 hours. We hope you understand that this enables us to manage our caseloads in the most efficient way. Occasionally however, due to work commitments, it may not always be possible to revert back to you within the desired timescale. In such circumstances, we need to know that you are trying to contact us and request that you email and leave a telephone message for your Fee Earner confirming your name and telephone number. We will only contact you where it is necessary for us to do so, for example with an update.
We require you to provide us with clear, timely and accurate instructions, together with all required documentation to complete your matter in a timely manner. We shall also require you to safeguard any documents that are likely to be required for disclosing and also to keep us updated with any key information that may be required by us, for example your home address and/or telephone contact numbers. Please note that it will not usually be possible to have a personal attendance with your Fee Earner without an appointment.
- Business Hours
Our office is open between 9.00am and 5.00pm Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). The office may sometimes be closed for lunch between 1.00 and 2.00pm. Messages can be left with the main reception or on the answer phone if necessary.
- Responsibility for Work
You will be informed of the identity and status of the person with overall responsibility for your matter in the attached client care letter. That person may change from time to time, although we shall endeavour to keep changes to a minimum and will inform you of any changes at the earliest opportunity.
- Responsibility for Costs, Disbursements and Expenses
It shall be your responsibility to settle all the legal costs, disbursements and expenses that we incur throughout your matter.
We shall accept undertakings from separate parties where such costs, disbursements and expenses are to be settled by that party. However, notwithstanding any written agreements (e.g. undertakings or guarantees) in place on your matter, it is a condition of our instructions that should any circumstance arise whereby the said third party dishonours its agreement, it shall be the personal responsibility of the firm’s client(s) to settle any outstanding costs owed, which we have not otherwise been successful in recovering from the third party.
It is often very difficult to predict the costs, disbursements and expenses involved to the conclusion of a matter. We will provide you with an initial estimate, however it is often the case that such estimate relates to completion of work up until a certain stage of the matter. Further estimates will be provided as the matter progresses and when the Fee Earner has a better idea as to the likely costs, disbursements and expenses to be incurred. There may be occasions, where estimates may have to be revised. If any factors affect your estimate, for example if the matter becomes more involved than initially set out, then the Fee Earner will provide an updated estimate.
- Calculation of Fees, Charges and Expenses, Annual Hourly Charging Rates and Time Records
Where a fixed price is not already agreed, our fees are calculated principally on the basis of the time spent dealing with your matter. Our fees will be charged in accordance with the hourly rate(s) of the Fee Earner(s) working on your matter. We charge time in six minute units. Minutes are rounded up to the subsequent unit. The fees calculated include attending you and others, time spent on the telephone (including telephone calls made and received), preparing and reading (including letters in from an opponent and/or third parties), travelling and waiting time, correspondence, research, preparatory work, retrieval of papers and obtaining information from a stored file, and other secretarial/clerical work. We shall notify you of any other fees calculated that are not mentioned in these Terms as and when appropriate to your matter. All time spent working on your matter is recorded save for where the fee is agreed in advance. Copies of our records are available on request. The hourly charging rate of the Fee Earner with conduct your matter is specified in the attached letter. The rate is reviewed annually and may be increased with effect from the 1st January every year. We shall notify you in advance of any increase in rate. If at any time any other Fee Earner is required to undertake work on your matter, you will be advised of their hourly rate.
It is often the case that there are disbursements and expenses that the firm is required to incur on your behalf, which shall be payable by you in addition to our costs in advance of incurring such expenditure. Certain disbursements and expenses may be charged for separately; for example, these may include postage and packaging costs where they exceed the price of a first class stamp, telephone calls (especially long distance calls), photocopying and/or any travelling charges (such as courier fees), search and court fees. Such charges will not exceed a reasonable amount.
- Payments on Account
We may be required to incur expenditure on your behalf; for example Court or search fees and other disbursements and expenses. Therefore, we may require a payment on account to authorise the firm to incur such expenditure on your behalf. In such cases, disbursements and expenses may be requested separately. Where we require one-off payments to cover expenses on your behalf, these shall be requested from you separately where there are insufficient funds on account to reimburse the firm. We are prepared to consider regular payments on account provided these are made by Direct Debit. We may retain any funds held on account upon conclusion of your matter to contribute towards settlement of any costs, disbursements or expenses owed on any other file(s) belonging to you and your acceptance of these Terms shall authorise us to debit such monies.
- Value Added Tax (VAT)
All quotations, estimates and hourly charging rates are exclusive of VAT. Please note that VAT is chargeable on disbursements, such as photocopying, postage and telephone and travel expenses. Third party fees, such as barristers’ fees are also subject to VAT, although the figure we require from you may include the applicable VAT. This is a requirement under the Solicitors Accounts Rules and the VAT treatment of solicitors’ overheads by HM Revenue & Customs. We will not charge VAT for expenses such as Court or Land Registry fees. If you have any queries in this regard, please raise this with the Fee Earner with conduct of your matter as soon as possible. Please note that we do not have expertise to offer any financial or tax planning advice. We suggest that you speak to your financial advisor/accountant for further information in this regard.
- Instructing Third Parties and their Charges
Where we consider it appropriate to obtain specialist advice and/or services from third parties such as barristers, expert witnesses, process servers, bailiffs, costs draftsman etc. we will let you know and seek your instructions. In the event that you instruct us to obtain such third party services, it shall be your responsibility to settle all of their costs, plus any applicable VAT, prior to formal instruction of the expert. We shall notify you of the third party’s estimate where appropriate and will require the estimated costs to be paid to us on account (in addition to any monies held on client account at such time) as a pre-condition to instructing that third party. Where no estimate can be provided for practical or any other reasons, such as due to shortness of time or the urgency of the situation, we shall request an amount we deem appropriate or a contribution thereof. Please note however, in circumstances where it is not possible to obtain an agreed fee quote with the third party, the actual costs may exceed any previous request and/or estimate and you shall remain liable to reimburse us for the balance of such fees.
- Regulated Services
Sarah Bentley Solicitors is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) under SRA Number 641993. The SRA rules can be accessed by visiting the SRA rules website.
It should be understood that by instructing us, you accept that there is a risk that there may be occasions, where, due to matters outside yours and/or our reasonable control, in litigious matters, you may not be successful in resolving your dispute. In such circumstances, the firm cannot be held responsible for any loss that may be suffered as a result thereof.
- Conflicts of Interests
Solicitors must endeavour to avoid situations of conflict and ensure that a client’s interests are not compromised. We will advise you if we become aware that an issue of conflict exists. If you are concerned about such an issue then please refer your concern to your Fee Earner. We assure you that we will always act independently and in your best interests as our client. Money Laundering Regulations can also give rise to matters of conflict and lead to us being unable to continue acting in some exceptional circumstances.
- Suspension of Work and Termination of the Retainer
You may end your instructions to us in writing at any time. We may decide to stop acting for you but only ever when we have good reason to do so and where we have provided you with reasonable notice. In the event of either party suspending or terminating instructions or work on your matter, we reserve the right to retain your file of papers, together with any other documents or property we may be holding on your behalf as a lien pending settlement of any outstanding costs, disbursements or expenses. If you notify us that you no longer wish us to act on your behalf, there may be further work that we are required to carry out on your matter even though you have requested us to cease acting for you. In such circumstances, the time spent on the matter shall be kept to a minimum and you shall personally be liable for the costs we incur.
- File Retention and Retrieval
If there is money owed to us, which shall include any outstanding disbursements or expenses and any monies owed on any other file of yours, we will be retain your file and related documents until such time that the firm is reimbursed fully. We shall store your file of papers for two years from the date of the final invoice, depending on the matter description, except those papers that you ask to be returned to you. You are entitled to any of your papers upon request. Unless we hear to the contrary, we keep files on the understanding that we are authorised to destroy them after this time. We will not destroy documents you ask us to deposit in safe custody and shall store certain files indefinitely. In the event that you require us to retrieve a file from storage or send any of your papers to you or any third party, we may levy a charge for the service. This is done to reflect the time spent in retrieving the file and to cover any postage and/or photocopying costs that we incur. We may also levy a charge where your instructions in relation to the retrieved file of papers involve perusing, corresponding or any other such work. We shall not usually make a charge for retrieving files that relate to a continuous or new matter. Should you require us to send your file of papers to you in the post, we shall require such postage costs to be paid on account in advance of releasing the papers. We shall not release any file of papers to any third party unless we have your written consent to do so. The party collecting the file on your behalf will need to supply us with photo identification and a copy of the same will be retained for our records. We require a signed ‘form of authority’ in order to release a file to another firm of solicitors.
- Complaints Procedure
Whilst we endeavour to ensure that you will be pleased with our service, in the unlikely event that you do have any cause for complaint, this should be made within 6 months of completion of the matter and in the first instance should be raised with the Fee Earner responsible for the day to day conduct of your matter. We have a complaints procedure which details how we handle complaints and is available on request. Your Fee Earner will attempt to settle any dispute that you may have, however, if for whatever reason you remain dissatisfied following his/her input, you should direct your concerns to our Complaints Handler who will investigate the matter in full. If, after having exhausted our complaints procedure, you still remain dissatisfied with the outcome you should direct your concerns to the Legal Ombudsman, contactable at PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton WV1 9WJ or by telephone on 0300 553 0333 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Acceptance of Terms and Conditions of Business
Your continuing instructions constitute acceptance of these Terms and Conditions of Business. If you pay money on account in respect of any costs, disbursements or expenses relating to your matter, after we have sent to you a copy of these Terms, it shall be deemed that such terms have been accepted in their entirety. If you have any queries or questions relating to these Terms, please raise them immediately with your Fee Earner before agreeing.
- Identification, Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing
We are required by law to get satisfactory evidence of the identity of our clients and sometimes people related to them and/or any third parties involved in your matter. To comply with the law, we need to get evidence of your identity as soon as possible. Our requirements in this respect are set out in the client care letter sent to you upon instruction. Please note, the identification requirements referred to herein and in the client care letter may vary depending on the matter type and the individual circumstances of the case. We therefore reserve the right to request further documentation should we deem it appropriate in order to satisfy the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 and any other such governing regulations and/or legislation. We do of course appreciate that not everyone has access to some of the forms of identification as accepted by the firm. It is therefore imperative that you speak to your fee earner immediately at the onset of your matter if you are unable to meet the identification requirements, as otherwise we may be unable to act for you, as to do so may be contrary to the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.
We have a professional and legal duty to keep your affairs confidential. However, should an occasion arise where any of the firm’s Fee Earners suspects that a transaction during your matter may involve money laundering or terrorist financing, it will be reported, which may result in a disclosure to the Financial Crime Agency (FCA) and we may be unable to inform you of the disclosure. We may have to suspend work on your matter for a period of time and/or even terminate the retainer and we may not be able to notify you as to the reason why.
- Equality and Diversity
The company is committed to promoting equality and diversity in all of its dealings with clients, third parties and employees. We have an Equality and Diversity Policy, a copy of which is available upon request.
Any failure to enforce at any time one or more of these Terms of Business shall not be a waiver of them or the right at any time subsequently to enforce all applicable Terms of Business.
- Explanation of Terms
If you are unclear as to the nature and/or extent of either our or your obligations under these Terms and Conditions of Business, or you require further information, please contact the person responsible for your matter before signing the client care letter.
- Jurisdiction and Law
The law of England and Wales applies to these Terms and Conditions of Business and any dispute that may arise in respect of them. The English and Welsh Courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction of any matters of dispute that may arise in respect of these Terms of Business.
- Data Protection Act 1998 and Confidentiality
Generally speaking, all information supplied to us by you shall be treated as confidential at all times, unless we are required to disclose and/or discuss your information upon your instructions (implicit or actual), by an Order of the Court, under current legislation, updated legal and/or regulatory compliance or by way of any other statutory exceptions. Your personal information is stored by us in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 1998). We use the information you provide primarily for the provision of legal services to you and other related purposes, including analysis to help us manage our practice and for updating and enhancing client records. Our use of such information is subject to your instructions, the DPA 1998 and our duty of confidentiality. You have a right of access under data protection legislation to the information we hold about you. Our firm may be subject to audit or quality checks by outside organisations and your information may also be passed to Authorities in the event of any disclosures. Your acceptance of these Terms shall be treated as appropriate authority for us to pass on such details unless we hear to the contrary in writing beforehand. All external organisations are required to maintain confidentiality in relation to your files. We encourage communications by way of email. However, please note communications by email can be unsecure and emails may contain viruses. Whilst the firm uses anti-virus software for all email communications, we cannot be held responsible for any potential risks that may arise from any emails that we send, which may contain viruses and which shall also include any circumstances where emails have been misdirected or not received by you.
- Limitation of Liability
We have professional indemnity insurance giving cover for claims against the firm. Details of this insurance, including contact details of our insurer and the territorial coverage of the policy can be inspected at our offices or made available on request. Our liability to you for a breach of your instructions shall be limited to £2,000,000.00 (two million pounds sterling), unless we notify you at any other time otherwise. We shall 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. We can only limit our liability to the extent the law allows. In particular, we cannot limit our liability for death or personal injury caused by our negligence.
- Terms of Payment, Recovering our Fees, Interest and Your Right to Challenge Our Fees
Invoices we render are due 7 days from the date of delivery, save for any third party fees and expenses which are required in advance unless otherwise agreed. Apparent failure to comply with the above timeframes may result in the firm ceasing to act for you. We may issue formal legal proceedings against you in order to recover any sums due. We reserve the right to accrue daily interest on the outstanding sum at a rate of 8% per annum after 30 days. We would urge you to contact us at the earliest opportunity to discuss with us any difficulty you may have in making payment. If at any time you are unhappy with the level of our fees, you should in the first instance contact the fee earner.