Client care

Version 18 of the Handbook was published on 1 November 2016. For more information, please click "History" above.

Chapter 1: Client care

This chapter is about providing a proper standard of service, which takes into account the individual needs and circumstances of each client. This includes providing clients with the information they need to make informed decisions about the services they need, how these will be delivered and how much they will cost. This will enable you and your client to understand each other's expectations and responsibilities. This chapter is also about ensuring that if clients are not happy with the service they have received they know how to make a complaint and that all complaints are dealt with promptly and fairly.

Your relationship with your client is a contractual one which carries with it legal, as well as conduct, obligations. This chapter focuses on your obligations in conduct.

You are generally free to decide whether or not to accept instructions in any matter, provided you do not discriminate unlawfully (see Chapter 2).

The outcomes in this chapter show how the Principles apply in the context of client care.

Outcomes

You must achieve these outcomes:

O(1.1)

you treat your clients fairly;

O(1.2)

you provide services to your clients in a manner which protects their interests in their matter, subject to the proper administration of justice;

O(1.3)

when deciding whether to act, or terminate your instructions, you comply with the law and the Code;

O(1.4)

you have the resources, skills and procedures to carry out your clients' instructions;

O(1.5)

the service you provide to clients is competent, delivered in a timely manner and takes account of your clients' needs and circumstances;

O(1.6)

you only enter into fee agreements with your clients that are legal, and which you consider are suitable for the client's needs and take account of the client's best interests;

O(1.7)

you inform clients whether and how the services you provide are regulated and how this affects the protections available to the client;

O(1.8)

clients have the benefit of your compulsory professional indemnity insurance and you do not exclude or attempt to exclude liability below the minimum level of cover required by the SRA Indemnity Insurance Rules;

O(1.9)

clients are informed in writing at the outset of their matter of their right to complain and how complaints can be made;

O(1.10)

clients are informed in writing, both at the time of engagement and at the conclusion of your complaints procedure, of their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman, the time frame for doing so and full details of how to contact the Legal Ombudsman;

O(1.11)

clients'  complaints are dealt with promptly, fairly, openly and effectively;

O(1.12)

clients are in a position to make informed decisions about the services they need, how their matter will be handled and the options available to them;

O(1.13)

clients receive the best possible information, both at the time of engagement and when appropriate as their matter progresses, about the likely overall cost of their matter;

O(1.14)

clients are informed of their right to challenge or complain about your bill and the circumstances in which they may be liable to pay interest on an unpaid bill;

O(1.15)

you properly account to clients for any financial benefit you receive as a result of your instructions;

O(1.16)

you inform current clients if you discover any act or omission which could give rise to a claim by them against you.

Indicative behaviours

Acting in the following way(s) may tend to show that you have achieved these outcomes and therefore complied with the Principles:

Dealing with the client's matter

IB(1.1)

agreeing an appropriate level of service with your client, for example the type and frequency of communications;

IB(1.2)

explaining your responsibilities and those of the client;

IB(1.3)

ensuring that the client is told, in writing, the name and status of the person(s) dealing with the matter and the name and status of the person responsible for its overall supervision;

IB(1.4)

explaining any arrangements, such as fee sharing or referral arrangements, which are relevant to the client's instructions;

IB(1.5)

explaining any limitations or conditions on what you can do for the client, for example, because of the way the client's matter is funded;

IB(1.6)

in taking instructions and during the course of the retainer, having proper regard to your client's mental capacity or other vulnerability, such as incapacity or duress;

IB(1.7)

considering whether you should decline to act or cease to act because you cannot act in the client's best interests;

IB(1.8)

if you seek to limit your liability to your client to a level above the minimum required by the SRA Indemnity Insurance Rules, ensuring that this limitation is in writing and is brought to the client's attention;

IB(1.9)

refusing to act where your client proposes to make a gift of significant value to you or a member of your family, or a member of your firm or their family, unless the client takes independent legal advice;

IB(1.10)

if you have to cease acting for a client, explaining to the client their possible options for pursuing their matter;

IB(1.11)

you inform clients if they are not entitled to the protections of the SRA Compensation Fund;

IB(1.12)

considering whether a conflict of interests has arisen or whether the client should be advised to obtain independent advice where the client notifies you of their intention to make a claim or if you discover an act or omission which might give rise to a claim;

Fee arrangements with your client

IB(1.13)

discussing whether the potential outcomes of the client's matter are likely to justify the expense or risk involved, including any risk of having to pay someone else's legal fees;

IB(1.14)

clearly explaining your fees and if and when they are likely to change;

IB(1.15)

warning about any other payments for which the client may be responsible;

IB(1.16)

discussing how the client will pay, including whether public funding may be available, whether the client has insurance that might cover the fees, and whether the fees may be paid by someone else such as a trade union;

IB(1.17)

where you are acting for a client under a fee arrangement governed by statute, such as a conditional fee agreement, giving the client all relevant information relating to that arrangement;

IB(1.18)

where you are acting for a publicly funded client, explaining how their publicly funded status affects the costs;

IB(1.19)

providing the information in a clear and accessible form which is appropriate to the needs and circumstances of the client;

IB(1.20)

where you receive a financial benefit as a result of acting for a client, either:

(a)

paying it to the client;

(b)

offsetting it against your fees; or

(c)

keeping it only where you can justify keeping it, you have told the client the amount of the benefit (or an approximation if you do not know the exact amount) and the client has agreed that you can keep it;

IB(1.21)

ensuring that disbursements included in your bill reflect the actual amount spent or to be spent on behalf of the client;

Complaints handling

IB(1.22)

having a written complaints procedure which:

(a)

is brought to clients' attention at the outset of the matter;

(b)

is easy for clients to use and understand, allowing for complaints to be made by any reasonable means;

(c)

is responsive to the needs of individual clients, especially those who are vulnerable;

(d)

enables complaints to be dealt with promptly and fairly, with decisions based on a sufficient investigation of the circumstances;

(e)

provides for appropriate remedies; and

(f)

does not involve any charges to clients for handling their complaints;

IB(1.23)

providing the client with a copy of the firm's complaints procedure on request;

IB(1.24)

in the event that a client makes a complaint, providing them with all necessary information concerning the handling of the complaint.

Acting in the following way(s) may tend to show that you have not achieved these outcomes and therefore not complied with the Principles:

Accepting and refusing instructions

IB(1.25)

acting for a client when instructions are given by someone else, or by only one client when you act jointly for others unless you are satisfied that the person providing the instructions has the authority to do so on behalf of all of the clients;

IB(1.26)

ceasing to act for a client without good reason and without providing reasonable notice;

IB(1.27)

entering into unlawful fee arrangements such as an unlawful contingency fee;

IB(1.28)

acting for a client when there are reasonable grounds for believing that the instructions are affected by duress or undue influence without satisfying yourself that they represent the client's wishes.

In-house practice

Outcomes 1.1 to 1.5, 1.7, 1.15 and 1.16 apply to your in-house practice.

Outcomes 1.6 and 1.9 to 1.14 apply to your in-house practice where you act for someone other than your employer unless it is clear that the outcome is not relevant to your particular circumstances.

IHP(1.1)

Instead of Outcome 1.8 you comply with the SRA Practice Framework Rules in relation to professional indemnity insurance.

Notes

(i)

The information you give to clients will vary according to the needs and circumstances of the individual client and the type of work you are doing for them, for example an individual instructing you on a conveyancing matter is unlikely to need the same information as a sophisticated commercial client who instructs you on a regular basis.

(ii)

Information about the Legal Ombudsman, including the scheme rules, contact details and time limits, can be found at www.legalombudsman.org.uk.