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What would YOU change if you could?

  • D L
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16 Jul 09 #131884 by D L
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Flegal wrote:
Speaking from someone in the legal trade here is my halfpenny's worth:

I completely agree that an information pack should be compulsory - and this should include information about e.g. how to change your solicitor, the costs involved, what a solicitor does - and does not do (ie they are not your counsellor) and the options for self repping.

A Rule 2 (previously 'Rule 15') letter should be sent to each client when first instructed. This details the instructions, the advice, the person representing you (and their grade and status), costs estimates, the complaints handling procedure and several other things.

We are talking beyond Rule 2 - this thread is basically saying that the current system does not work and needs a touch of tweaking. A Rule 2 letter can (and sadly is) in too many cases far far far too basic. Personally, I think putting together a pack is a super idea, and in terms of the wiki code, I am going to design one, in consultation with the membership, so that sols can simply dish it out. I will of course expect that it is doled out for free!

To a certain extent family solicitors do provide a counselling service. Many clients are emotional wrecks when they first arrive and can actually crack a smile after the first appointment. However, your reference to not being a counsellor stands in contrast to this comment:

erm ... and they should above all remember that their clients are distressed human beings who are likely not to be thinking straight .. and who need to be treated with care and respect.

..which suggests that the Solicitor should be more compassionate. There is a fine line between letting a client bend your ear and providing an emotional crutch in the form of sound advice and reasoning – it varies with each client.

Absolutely it does, especially in this area. Providing an info pack to enable clients to find appropriate support will therefore counteract that. Also a very very bold assertion of the role of the solicitor and making clear that the solicitor has to charge for time spent, should assist in making clear the demarcation.

All sols should be email literate and should have a charging system that reflects 21st century communications practices - ie not charging the earth for reading v short emails ...communicating via email when possible.

Email is still not formally recognised by the Courts. It can be used instead of letters (I certainly encourage it if only to save on postal costs) but the response time from the Solicitor is still the same as a letter apart from getting to the Solicitor a day earlier. Clients don't realise that post trays are still in operation and emails are printed and put into post trays.

Oh come on - modern firms do not work that way and shouldn't work that way.

Charging systems have their pros and cons. I regularly see large firms that rely heavily on time costing printouts where lawyers are tasked with recording 7 chargeable hours a day. Employees then look at their time at the end of the day and 'flood' files they have worked on with the balance of time required to make up a full day.

It is very easy to criticise the current method of time recording but it is difficult to keep track of time spent attending clients, preparing documents, speaking to people on the telephone and starting and stopping each of the tasks ­base­d on unforeseen events (mainly telephone calls). The firm I work for sets a much more realistic target of 5.5 hours a days during working hours of 9.00am to 5.30pm.

Good to hear that.

The Courts realise that tracking time is difficult and introduced a minimum unit of 6 minutes which is 10% of an hour. Any item that is below 6 minutes is deemed to be routine and attracts a 6 minute unit fee. How sophisticated would a system have to be to track every minute (or every second) of somebody's day? My answer would be "too sophisticated ". You could spent hundreds of thousands on a bespoke system that would do the job but the Courts would still insist on the current system as it works and has done for hundreds of years.

The system is of course open to abuse but so are charging systems in other industrys. One that springs to mind is getting a car serviced at a main dealer. If you have your oil changed during a service and 8 litres of fully synthetic race-spec oil is used, two five litre containers are invoiced. The remainder (at £40 per litre) is kept by the garage to use on another job. Sounds illegal but it isn't. It's the same principle.

My belief is that if you are very open about what you are charging for, clients soon realise you do not charge them for every second you spend on an email or call. That is the way to keep them happy - be transparent.

The charges should be clearly understood, there should be a transparent invoicing system and there should be no charges for correspendence querying bills .....

I agree with this partially. I see a lot of bills to clients that simply say "TO providing legal services…….£X" This is too little detail. I prepare very detailed schedules which describe each item of work and the amount charged. Routine letters and telephone calls are shown as a number e.g. 38 letters @ £14.50 each = £551.00.

I prepare around 2200 of these schedules a year and it keeps me busy. However, despite providing this level of details clients occasionally seek more detail such as "you didn't send me 38 letters" – my real answer is not fit for public consumption but suffice to say I do explain that we send letters to the other side, the court, the court welfare officer (CAFCASS), the Land Registry, the mediation service, counsel etc. – all of which count towards the total.

Then a simple line in the accompanying letter says "we are currently in correspondence with...." would demonstrate to the client that letters are going elsewhere and it isnt simply a case of them totting up all the ones they have.

Providing (or directing clients to) word version of all documents so clients can fill them in themselves and just have them checked ... (like the passport checking service)

Provision of a service costs money or resources which amount to the same thing. You would be surprised at how often the Court moves its standard documentation around with no explanation. Somebody has to track down these things and forward them for free? The internet can certainly assist a person in finding forms as can going to a court for the necessary blank forms. The CAB can also help as it is a non-profit making organisation.

Providing Word documents is sometimes appropriate but other times not. In the case of my firm we use a legal software package called Laserform which allows us to keep up to date with the 350 or so forms we use regularly. The software is proprietary and the documents it produces cannot be opened with anything other than Laserform. A PDF version can be sent to the client for hand editing but anything after that is a limitation of the system I'm afraid.

freeformlaw.tm (part of osprey) provide up to date word forms free for all areas of law.

We regularly assist clients with completing forms. If a client has prepared a form most Solicitors will charge a small fee for 'giving it a once over'. Accountants will do the same with self-assessment forms. Of course, if the form is completely wrong or has glaring errors it may require substantial reworking which will cost more time and money. An example of this was a client of one of my colleagues who wanted to make an application in a Children Act matter. The client prepared a statement himself "to save money" which went into intricate detail and which numbered 20 pages or so. My colleague had to read the statement, edit the statement and take instructions on the issues that were actually important. The resulting statement was less than 5 pages long. My colleague spent around 4 hours on the statement but decided that he could only charge 2 hours as what he should have done was get the client in, take instructions and prepare the statement himself. The benefit of hindsight…

This is where experience, knowledge of the client and honesty are key. Some clients are not able to do their own stuff, but want to so that they feel empowered - as long as they know it might cost more in the long run let them get on with it - it is their case. Some clients are capable and don't have time, and some clients merrily get on with what you ask. This is about choice.

Sols should also see the Family Law protocol as a binding guideline not just a nice to do but it does not matter if you don't ... If only all sols stuck to these, life would be a lot easier.

Family law protocol is not always appropriate which is why it isn't binding. If you have instructions to issue a Section 37 application to prevent removal of funds and/or assets by an estranged spouse, divorce and ancillary relief proceedings have to be issued at the same time if no applications have already been made. The protocol says that the divorce petition should be submitted to the respondent for approval but this kind of gives the game away particularly when the particulars of divorce specify a reckless financial lifestyle and threats of desertion to a domicile outside the Court's jurisdiction (okay I manufactured the example to fit the purpose but there are many scenarios that would necessitate a disapplication of the protocol).

We all know with a couple of tweaks we can have it as a binding protocol to be disapplied in certain circumstances. It is, with respect, disingenuous to suggest that because there are some cases in which we need to disapply, we cannot have a binding protocol.

Without knowing your specific gripes in relation to Family Law Protocol it is difficult to comment further. You should bear in mind that solicitors are officers of the court and have a duty to supervise their minions to the same standard. Solicitors are regulated which means that they are duty-bound to act professionally and not bring the profession into disrepute. There are harsh penalties for going against these principles.

Yes, yes - but the vast majority of stuff ups in this area fall far below misconduct - they still can and do seriously impact on an individual though :(

erm ... and they should above all remember that their clients are distressed human beings who are likely not to be thinking straight .. and who need to be treated with care and respect.
Yes, it is the client's job to "instruct" the solicitor ... but the client does not always know what the options are .. or could be.

This respect should also extend to the other party. Inflammatory behaviour is not acceptable ..

Most family solicitors I know act in the best interests of their clients. They act on the instructions that they receive and accept every word that is said as if it were the truth. There are always two versions of events and the bits that don't match are the bits that solicitors focus on in disputes. If a solicitor backs down too easily it will be to their client's detriment and may lead to a claim of negligence. But fighting too hard will inhibit settlement. The best solicitors are in the middle, mediating.

I agree - there are some great solicitors out there who are fantastic at what they do, great to work with, and who have happy clients. These are the solicitors we want to partner with. There are sadly far too many who are pants at the job and should consider a different area of law. I cannot tell you the amount of clients who truck up to meet me at a final hearing still wondering what the hell is going on. I cannot tell you the amount of clients who truck up at a hearing at a loss as to how they got there. I cannot tell you how many briefs I have received which tell me nothing - even worse, how many times I have had to work through the night to attempt to get a case back on track. I cannot tell you how many solicitors still do not understand the legal framework they are working under - only last night I received a PM on here FROM A LAWYER asking me to advise as to the next steps to take in a client's case!!!!

Charles, please don't take this as a dig at you - it isn't by any stretch of the imagination. But I think the sooner the profession acknowledge that actually, there are areas we can improve, the quicker we become respected by the public we serve.

  • hadenoughnow
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16 Jul 09 #131885 by hadenoughnow
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What happened to your lie down??


  • D L
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16 Jul 09 #131886 by D L
Reply from D L
Errrr.... I am only playing with this thread, honest ;)

  • .Charles
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16 Jul 09 #131907 by .Charles
Reply from .Charles
Not to worry I don't take it as a dig at all. I'm trying to make a difference with client care in my firm and taking an active role in doing so. We are still streets ahead of our peers.

I was dipping in on a long standing thread and should have read the rest. I'm keen to defend the profession when it is deserved and as solicitors get a bad rep from the media I try to dispel the rumours and do take heed of everyone's comments and responses.

Being actively involved in facilitating charges to clients I am well aware that clients should receive sound and timely advice on their case and the costs involved. I'd rather see a client act in person than instruct my firm to do a job that s/he can ill-afford.

I will go an read the rest now and come back when I have the full picture.

Thanks for the feedback - it's always interesting to see a barrister's point of view and how that relates to the solicitor's work process.


  • YNK000
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17 Jul 09 #131979 by YNK000
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Thanx tets

  • TRT
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20 Jul 09 #132664 by TRT
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Something I've considered recently is how the CSA calculate their 7ths

You see, they use overnight care as a guide, but how much does a parent outlay when the child is asleep? Contact at weekends can be much more expensive due to trips out, three meals in a day rather than two due to, say, free school meals. The child could be returned in the evening fed (food costs), bathed (water & fuel costs) etc. which could add £5-£10 a week. My contact, e.g., includes child-minding in the evening whilst the ex goes out, and this can take place 4 nights a week - I get no credit for this financially (petrol costs to get there), although I wouldn't for the world go without seeing the children whenever I can.
And the active "Absent Parent" still gets asked for school trip money, club fees, uniform, shoes, contributions to birthday parties and presents (both their own children and gifts for taking to friend's parties!) It's unclear just what the CSA calculated amount is supposed to pay for!

An absent parent who doesn't have overnight care, but who sees the kids 4 days out of 7 and pays for various sundry items will pay the same as an absent parent who never sees the children and doesn't even send them a birthday card. The CSA calculations are inflexible enough to effectively penalise active parents, or possibly reward inactive parenting.

I can't think of an alternative system, though, but some flexibility in setting the shared care percentage would be appreciated. Hard to see how a PWC would agree to a reduced CM payment, though!

  • alchemist
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20 Jul 09 #132681 by alchemist
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Not sure if they are already used but lie detector tests in family courts would save an awful lot of money and emotional costs to all persons involved..

all the lies that my stbx has told has cost me a fortune to unravel and the penalties for doing this should be higher. He has lied because he knows he can get away with it and that nothing will be done to him.

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