Chapter 1 of the SRA Code of Conduct sets out a number of areas that must be communicated to the client at the outset of each matter. Whilst there is no strict requirement to put this information in a client care letter, it is certainly common practice. Use this note to help you plan your client care letter and make sure it complies with the rules.
- Do read the client care requirements in the Code of Conduct
Do make sure the information in your letter is set out in a clear and accessible way. As well as using plain language, think about it from the recipient’s perspective e.g. if you know that the client is partially sighted, consider larger fonts or alternative means of communicating the required information (such as following up by telephone or audio recording). Learning difficulties and language barriers are likely to pose similar challenges.
Do identify your client and their objectives. Knowing your client is not just about preventing financial crime. Treating each client as an individual, rather than just another transaction, is the starting point for delivering a good service.
Do give a clear and concise overview of the issues involved, as well as any limitations or specific exclusions. What can you realistically do for the client – what are the best and worst case scenarios? What can you not do for the client (e.g. tax advice, limits placed on you by a funding party)? This is all about making sure the client knows exactly what they are getting into, and properly managing their expectations. The gap between expectation and outcome is the cause of many complaints.
Do agree the next steps in the process, including a realistic timescale for the matter.
Do confirm the name and role of the person responsible for the client’s matter, as well as the supervisor where appropriate. What is the best way to contact you, and are there any times of the day that you are less likely to be available?
Do provide the client with a useful costs estimate. Simply telling a client that their matter might cost anywhere between £5,000 to £15,000 is not particularly helpful (not least because the client is likely to subconsciously expect your final bill to be closer to the lower figure – a recipe for complaint). Your experience of past cases should guide you here – ask yourself, if I were offering to do this on a fixed fee, what would I charge? If you really cannot know what the case will cost, make sure you explain why and keep the client up to date regularly. You may also want to offer putting in place a costs ceiling so that the client knows that they cannot spend more than they can afford.
Do advise the client of their right to complain and make a copy of your complaints procedure available when necessary
Do give the client the statutory cancellation rights and information if the contract was entered into away from the office (either as a distance sale, or at the client’s home/hospital etc.)
Ensure that you review and update your client care letters regularly.
Don’t use overly complicated legal language as this may hinder your client’s understanding and their ability to make informed decisions.
Don’t forget that your client may not be used to dealing with solicitors, and you will be acting for them at an important milestone in their life. Your client care letter should always reflect this.
Don’t bury important information in an overly-long client care letter. Consider using signposts in your letter such as “Do make sure you read the following sections, which include really important information about your case: ….”. Headings and short paragraphs and sentences usually help.
Don’t include irrelevant information e.g. take out any reference to mortgage fraud if dealing with a PI claim.
Don’t use a generic client care letter for all clients. It goes without saying that a letter to a corporate client will require a different approach to a simple Will instruction. Every client warrants individual consideration.
Don’t forget the requirements of the Provision of Service Regulations 2009 (e.g. information about professional rules that you are subject to, your compulsory professional indemnity insurance, your VAT number and contact details)