TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS
We aim to offer our Clients quality legal advice with a personal service at a fair cost. As a start, we hope it is helpful to you to set out in this statement the basis on which we will provide our professional services.
OUR COMMITMENT TO YOU:-
- REPRESENT your interest and keep your business confidential
- EXPLAIN to you the Legal work which may be required and the prospects of a successful outcome.
- MAKE SURE that you understand the likely degree of financial risk which you will be taking on.
- ADVISE YOU if Legal Aid might be available to you.
- KEEP YOU regularly informed of progress or, if there is none, when you are next likely to hear from us
- TRY to avoid using technical legal language when writing to you – tell us when we fail in this aim!
- DEAL with your queries promptly; for example, we will always try to return your telephone calls on the same day, or at the very latest, the day after.
Keeping You Informed and Managing Your Case
As your solicitors it is our duty to use our professional skills and expertise to advance your case. We are also subject to the Solicitors Practice Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 as amended and the Solicitors (Client Communication) Practice Regulations 2008. We will use our professional judgement to take steps to protect your interests. This means that we will receive letters, emails and phone calls which we will be obliged to consider and respond to if it is in your interests.
We will also have to write and make telephone calls to try to advance your case. We cannot contact you for instructions every time we receive communication or we need to make an enquiry, as this will unnecessarily increase the costs of your case. We assure you that every effort will be made to keep you informed about the main developments in your case and we will contact you immediately for your instructions if anything significant or unusual occurs. We will also contact you if we receive information that affects our current views. We will seek your instructions and give you a written review on the issues at that point. You should bear in mind that as a case develops, the length of time it takes to resolve and the way in which it is progressed, is influenced not just by what we decide to do together but also how others decide to deal with your case.
If there is any new information that might affect your instructions, it is important that you tell us about it as soon as possible. It is useful to receive written confirmation of that information, either by letter or electronic means.
Conduct of Proceedings
We will not institute any legal proceedings without first obtaining your express authority, but once legal proceedings have been instituted it is important that you understand that we are entitled to take steps which are usually taken in proceedings of this nature. Apart from our duty to you, we have obligations to the Court and/or Tribunal as Officers of the Court. It is important that you respond promptly to requests for information as failure to do so could harm your case. It is also important that you abide by any advice given by Counsel or us.
We shall assume that we have your authority to incur routine expenditure e.g. police and medical reports as necessary. We will, however revert to you as regards incurring any expenditure of an unusual nature such as retaining Junior and Senior Counsel or the services of an expert or specialist.
Money Laundering: Government Rules
In most transactions you will have to produce your original passport, driving licence or other official photographic identity document and either a recent utility bill or bank statement to confirm your address, as we require a copy of each for our file. You need to do this as soon as possible otherwise we will not be able to continue to act for you.
We may have to ask you questions about the proposed source and flow of funds for your case and make such further enquiries as may be relevant to the transaction. There also are circumstances under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 in which we are required to make a confidential report to the Serious Organised Crime Agency where we know or suspect that a criminal offence has been committed, and we may be prevented from informing you of this under the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.
Because of the provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 our policy is that we do not accept payments in cash exceeding £300.
Our Charging Arrangements and Time for Payment
Our charging methods are sent to you by letter. Fees and expenses payable in respect of interim invoices are payable within 28 days after the date of the invoice. Any outstanding fees and expenses will be payable on completion of a matter. If you do not pay within 28 days from the date of the invoice we will charge interest on the amount outstanding on the due date at the Bank of Ireland base rate.
We will not carry out further work until any outstanding bill is paid. If you have difficulty paying our fees then you should contact us as soon as possible.
When your case is concluded and we are holding money on your behalf, we will deduct our fees and expenses from the monies due to you and pay you the balance.
How we Handle Data and Records
It may be necessary for us to retain personal data about you on our files and/or computer records. Examples can include financial information, bank details, sensitive personal data and medical records/reports. In accepting these Terms of Business you confirm that we may receive and hold confidential and/or sensitive personal data in relation to you and that, where appropriate, this may need to be disclosed to others, such as counsel/solicitor advocates, experts and other parties. If you have a concern about disclosure of any particular sensitive personal or commercial data please raise this with us at an early stage.
We will communicate with you by the most effective means, but we cannot be responsible for the security of correspondence and documents sent by fax, e-mail or other electronic means. If you have concerns about the confidentiality of any information sent by such electronic means, please let us know so we can arrange for secure transmission.
When a matter has completed we normally retain copies of relevant documents from our correspondence file for a period of up to 6 years after completion, or as otherwise directed from time to time by the Law Society or our Professional Indemnity Insurers. Conveyancing files will be retained for 10 years. We will not keep originals of documents but we will scan all of the documents we feel we need to keep onto our computer systems. The original file will be destroyed without reference to you unless, before then, you notify us that you wish to retain some part of the file. Original documents will usually be returned to you, or the apparent owner.
Termination: Ending the Solicitor Client Relationship
You may terminate our engagement on this matter in writing at any time. We shall continue to correspond with you using the most recent contact details which you have provided us with. We cannot accept any liability for any issues arising from incidents where we have not been provided with details of your updated contact details. You will have to pay all outstanding fees and expenses up to the date of termination. We may retain all documents, deeds and other papers until payment of all monies due to us.
We may at some time consider that we ought to stop acting for you, for example, if you did not respond to any requests for information or did not abide by or accept any advice given.
You will be responsible for all the fees and expenses incurred to the date we cease to act and we may retain all documents, deeds and other papers until payment of all monies due.
On the termination of the retainer we will notify all relevant parties accordingly and if appropriate, apply to the court to come off record on your behalf.
Conflict of Interest
On occasions we may be asked to advise a client in a similar line of business. In accepting these Terms of Business you agree that we will not be precluded from acting on behalf of other clients, whether current or future, who are in a similar line of business to you either during the conduct of this matter or after our retainer has been completed, unless there is a clear conflict of interest arising from the specific work that we do for you.
Limitation of Liability
In no circumstances will we be liable to you for any loss arising out of or in connection with this engagement in contract, tort, by statute or otherwise, unless the loss is caused directly as a result of our negligence or default.
In all circumstances the potential total aggregate liability of our firm, whether for breach of contract, tort, including negligence and/or misrepresentation, breach of statutory duty (or otherwise), arising out of or in connection with our engagement, will be limited to an amount not exceeding £3 million. As solicitors in Northern Ireland have compulsory Professional Indemnity Insurance cover under the Society’s Master Policy, which is underwritten by a “Slip” of Insurers in any one insurance year. We can confirm that the Territorial limits of the Master Policy are World Wide but there is a restriction of the Jurisdiction Limits in respect of USA and Canada, as follows:-
The Policy excludes:-
A) damages or other monetary awards, judgements or negotiated settlements claimant’s costs and expenses and defence costs connected with or arising out of any claim made or suit brought against the Insured before any arbitrator tribunal or court in the United States of America, its territories and possessions, or Canada.
B) the enforcement upholding or registration against the Insured by any arbitrator tribunal or court outside the United States of America, its territories and possessions, or Canada, of any damages or other monetary awards, judgements or negotiated settlements claimant’s costs and expenses and defence costs connected with or arising out of any claim made or suit brought against the Insured before any arbitrator tribunal or court of the United States of America, its territories and possessions, or Canada.
Our Professional Indemnity Insurance provider is Willis Towers Watson, Willis Risk Services (Ireland) Limited, Floor 3 Centrepoint Building, 24 Ormeau Avenue, Belfast, BT2 8HS. The potential total aggregate liability of our firm to you arising out of or in connection with our engagement will in addition be limited to the amount that could be met without recourse to the personal assets of any partner.
We shall not be liable for any indirect consequential loss or for loss arising out of any action necessary for us to take to comply with any Money Laundering Regulations 2007.
Where any loss is suffered by you for which we and any other person are jointly and severally liable, the loss recoverable by you from us shall be limited so as to be in proportion to our relative contribution to the overall fault, taking into account that other party’s liability. That other party may include you, for example, in a situation of contributory negligence.
If, as a result of any exclusion or limitation of liability agreed by you with any other person the amount, which you are able to recover is reduced, then our liability to you will be reduced by an equivalent amount.
We shall not be liable to any third party for any services or advice that we provide to you nor shall we have any liability to you for any services or advice given by any third party whom we instruct on your behalf, for example in relation to legal, financial or other professional advice.
These Terms of Business are governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Northern Ireland.
We would ask you to return one signed copy of this letter/agreement as an acknowledgement that you accept these terms. In the meantime, in so far as we carry out work for you prior to receipt by us of the signed copy of this letter/agreement, or you raising particular concerns or issues about the content, the work will be deemed to be done on the basis of the terms set out above. In any event, your continued instructions in this matter will be deemed an acceptance of these terms.
Who to Contact
The solicitor signing off these Terms and Conditions will be responsible for dealing with your instructions.
Our contact details are:
Telephone Number: 028 9024 3901
E-mail address: email@example.com
Fax Number: 028 9024 4215
Office hours: 9am – 5:15pm
We are increasingly communicating with our clients by e-mail. We find this method of communication more efficient and cost effective. We very much encourage e-mail communication. Please let us know your e-mail address and confirm that you are happy to receive e-mails regarding the progress of your case from us. Please ensure that you are satisfied that any email you wish us to correspond with is secure.
FEES AND BILLING CLAUSES
(i) Professional Fees
Our fees will normally be calculated with reference to the time spent by members of staff involved in the matter. The work may include meetings with you and others, reading and working on papers, dealing with the other party’s solicitors, witnesses and counsel, and where necessary time spent travelling away from the office. Our hourly rates for members of staff take into account the experience and knowledge of those involved. These will be confirmed to you in our letter confirming your instructions for us to act.
These hourly rates have to be reviewed periodically to reflect increases in overhead costs and inflation. Normally the rates are reviewed with effect from 1 January each year. If a review is carried out before this matter has been concluded, we will inform you of any variation in the rate before it takes effect.
We are unable to estimate the total number of hours at this stage but we will be able to provide you with historical details of time taken on request.
In addition to the cost of the time involved, we are entitled to take into account (amongst other things) the complexity, importance, urgency and difficulty of the matters involved, the number and importance of the documents involved, the skill and responsibility involved and the value of the transaction, together with its importance to the client. In certain instances percentage uplift on our hourly rate may be appropriate.
The hourly rate does not include expenses incurred by the firm on your behalf. Examples include:
- Counsel’s fees;
- Experts/medical fees;
- Stamp duty;
- Court fees;
- Travel expenses;
- Bulk photocopying;
- International calls or conference telephone/video links;
- Bank charges e.g. electronic funds transfer;
- External or overseas lawyers/advisors such as accountants.
These will be shown separately on your bill and will be in addition to the professional fees. Such expenses will be your responsibility. We are under no obligation to make such payments unless you have provided us with the funds to do so. We will normally ask that significant expenses such as government charges to issue court documents, counsels’ or experts’ fees be paid in advance at the appropriate time. A charge is not normally made for routine work of support staff or for routine postal charges for mail.
If we require any funds on account of costs from you, we will write to you explaining fully what it is we need and why. We may bill you on an interim basis for work done on your behalf. This should assist you with managing costs on an ongoing basis.
(iii) Recovering Costs from your Opponent and your Obligations
In litigation, even when successful, you may not recover the full costs of pursuing your case. There is nearly always an element of non-recoverable costs irrespective of the outcome of legal proceedings pursued or defended on your behalf. Some courts such as the County Court, operate on scale fees that set out the amount that can be recovered for legal costs. However, we may have to charge you more than the scale fees.
If you are unsuccessful in the legal proceedings then the Court may make an order for costs against you for some or all of the costs of other parties. Those costs and expenses are in addition to our own professional fees and expenses. If you are successful in the proceedings then, in certain circumstances, even if an order for another party to pay your costs is made, that party may not be willing or able to pay you.
We expect that at the conclusion of the proceedings you will, if requested, make full payment of our costs and outlays without waiting for payment from any other party. In the event of our recovering all or part of those costs from another party we will then account to you for that money.
(iv) Legal Aid
If you are eligible for Legal Aid we will apply for this on your behalf. In certain circumstances even if your application for Legal Aid has been successful, you may have to make a contribution towards the cost of your case. We are not able to accurately assess how much you may have to contribute. The Social Security Agency will make the assessment and it is important that you co-operate with them. The assessment is based on your net income, including that of your partner, how much money you/you both have in savings, the number of dependents and your outgoings. If at any time your financial circumstances change, for the better or worse, you should tell us immediately as we will have to notify the Legal Services Agency accordingly and a re-assessment of your financial position will be carried out.
The Legal Services Agency has what is called a statutory charge over any money recovered or preserved through the proceedings. This means that if you receive a financial benefit from the proceedings the Agency is entitled to be paid that sum which it will use to re-pay itself any money which has been paid out on your behalf and which may not be recovered from your opponent. The balance of the money will then be paid out to you. This means any compensation will be paid to this office and we may be required by the Agency to pay it to them.
Please note that there is usually a significant time delay between applying for and the granting of Legal Aid. The grant of Legal Aid is not backdated and therefore costs incurred before you are in receipt of a full Legal Aid Certificate will not be covered and will remain your responsibility. If you cannot afford to pay for your case to progress and Green Form assistance has been used up, we will have to wait until a Legal Aid Certificate is available before we can take any further steps to progress your case.
Legal Aid is not presently available for certain types of work e.g. Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal matters in Northern Ireland and that the maximum entitlement would be for advice only under the Green Form Scheme.
(v) Legal Expenses Insurance and Third Party Cover for Costs
Many people do not know that often household or even car insurers provide legal expenses cover to their policyholders. We would strongly recommend you check these policies to see if they cover you for your legal costs and expenses. In the event that your legal costs are indemnified by your household or car insurers or Trade Union, meaning that you are not personally responsible for our fees and outlays provided you comply with a) the terms of your insurance policy which will have been provided to you by your legal expenses insurance company or b) with the requirements of your Trade Union. Where you are receiving support from a third party such as an insurance company or trade union, we are acting also for them and can only continue to act for both of you if there is no conflict of interest between you. However if at any time we are of the view that to continue with the case would not be cost effective, we will be obliged to notify the paying party accordingly and they may decide to discontinue financial support. At that point you will have to decide whether to continue with the case, paying for it yourself, or discontinue your case.
(vi) Employment Tribunal Proceedings
In proceedings before the Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals in Northern Ireland it is important to note that costs remain your responsibility. In other words, win, lose or draw, you must pay your own costs.
Tribunals rarely award Costs Orders. Accordingly whether or not you are successful or your claim is settled or lost, you will be personally liable for the legal professional fees and expenses incurred on your behalf. It is therefore important that you respond to requests for information and documentation promptly and fully and that you co-operate with any direction issued from the Tribunal.
(vii) Alternative Dispute Resolution
Most contentious Court and Tribunal proceedings allow for the possibility of considering Alternative Dispute Resolution, whether by way of conciliation, arbitration or mediation. Such mechanisms can be quicker and cheaper and we are happy to discuss these with you at an early stage.
(viii) Administration of Estates
The professional fees charged in the administration of the estates, which are not subject to dispute, reflect time spent on an hourly rate basis, and the value of the deceased’s estate.
If the Estate in the deceased’s sole name is valued at less than £30,000 we charge solely on a time (i.e. hourly rate) basis.
For estates over £30,000 typically we charge on a time basis plus a value element, which may be up to:-
1% of the value of the estate, on estates up to a value of £500,000.
0.5% of the value of the estate for estates over this figure.
If the Estate includes land or a dwelling, the value element may be reduced by the value of the land, dependant on how title to this property is to be passed on.
This does not cover litigation or conveyancing work arising out of the administration. In the event that a Partner of the Practice is an Executor of the estate, and or Trustee, additional charges may arise. If conveyancing work is required the value of the relevant asset may be excluded from the calculations above.
Our basic charge for a Will is £125.00 plus VAT.
Couples often wish the content of their respective Wills to mirror that of their partner. Our charge for preparing two basic mirror Wills is £150.00 plus VAT.
Wills requiring a greater deal of complexity such as the creation of Trusts will be costed according to the time spent in line with hourly rates as detailed within.
Discussion and advice in relation to Inheritance Tax planning; the implications of funding long term healthcare; the implications of life time transfers of assets; and discussions regarding potential claimants who may challenge a Will after death, will be costed according to time spent again in line with our hourly rate as detailed within.
Where home visits are required to take instructions and or execute Wills our charges will reflect the increased time involved in travelling.
(x) Enduring Powers of Attorney
Our standard charge for the execution of an Enduring Power of Attorney is £90.00 plus VAT.
If a couple wish to execute their respective Enduring Powers of Attorney on similar terms, at the same time our charge will be £150.00 plus VAT to include both Enduring Powers of Attorney.
(xi) Residential Property Transactions
In accordance with our Law Society guidelines, a detailed quote will be provided for purchase and sale transactions. Should unforeseen difficulties arise in such a transaction we reserve the right to vary our charges to reflect the additional time spent. We will write to you should we anticipate this eventuality has arisen.
We apply the same principles to re-mortgage transactions.
(xii) Bank details
The Law Society of Northern Ireland have warned of an increased threat posed by criminals intercepting emails and fraudulently changing bank account details with the aim of stealing your money or otherwise diverting the money from the intended recipient. PLEASE NOTE that Francis Hanna & Company’s bank account details will NOT change during the course of a transaction. Our Bank details shall not be provided to you by way of email. We would suggest you contact our reception and verify any details provided to you before you transfer any money. We will not accept any responsibility if you transfer money to an incorrect bank account.
Concerns and Complaints
At all times we try to deliver a high quality, client focussed service. If at any time you are worried about how your case is being processed, please contact the solicitor primarily responsible for dealing with you. We anticipate that we will be able to resolve your concerns informally through discussion with the solicitor dealing with your case. If you do not get a satisfactory explanation however, then you may invoke our formal complaints procedure set out below.
We are committed to providing a high-quality legal service to all our clients. When something goes wrong we need you to tell us about it. This will help us to improve our standards. We would encourage all clients if they have any concerns about the progress of their case to discuss these concerns with the Solicitor with carriage of their case. Often we find that an open discussion with a client about their concerns satisfies everyone that the matter is progressing as it should. On occasion however, there may be issues that you feel you cannot discuss with the Solicitor concerned and you would like to make a complaint.
If you complaint is about the level of fees charged you may also have the right to seek a Remuneration Certificate from the Law Society (in certain instances) and you can seek to have the costs taxed by the Taxing Master. You will be advised about these rights should you raise any concerns regarding costs.
The following is what you should do if you would like to complain about anything to do with the conduct of your case.
Client Care Contact
If you have a complaint, please contact one of our partners, Ms Linda Johnston, in writing. You can write to her at our address or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org marking the email for Ms Johnston’s attention. If the complaint is about Ms Johnston, we would ask you to write to one of the other partners in the firm, Mr Martin Hanna or Ms Claire Edgar.
What will happen next?
- We will send you a letter acknowledging your complaint and asking you to confirm or explain the details of the complaint in writing. We will also let you know the name of the person who will be dealing with your complaint. You can expect to receive our letter within seven days of us receiving your complaint.
- We will record your complaint in our central register and open a section within the central register for your complaint. The central register will record the date the complaint was made, the name and address of the client, the date the complaint was dealt with and the outcome.
- We will acknowledge your reply to our acknowledgement letter and confirm what will happen next.
- We will then start to investigate your complaint. This may involve one or more of the following steps:
- We may ask the member of staff who acted for you to reply to your complaint
- We may examine the reply and the information in your complaint file. We may then ask for more information.
- We may invite you to meet Ms Linda Johnston to discuss and, it is hoped, resolve your complaint. We will do this as soon as is reasonably practicable after receiving all the details we need from the member of staff who acted for you.
- After any meeting, we will write to you to confirm what took place and any suggestions we have agreed with you. If you do not want a meeting or it is not possible, we will send you a detailed reply to your complaint. This will include our suggestions for resolving the matter.
- At this stage, if you are still not satisfied you can write to us again. We will then arrange to review our decision. This will happen in one of the following ways:
- Ms Linda Johnston may review her own decision.
- We may arrange for someone in the firm who has not been involved in your complaint to review it.
- We may invite you to agree to independent mediation. We will let you know how long this process will take.
- We will let you know the result of the review as quickly as we can. At this time we will write to you confirming our final position on your complaint and explain our reasons. If you feel we have not resolved the matter satisfactorily you can contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland to discuss the circumstances of the complaint and how we dealt with it. You must do this within six months of making the initial complaint. If we have to change any of the timescales above, we will let you know and explain why.