Thursday 13 March 2014

Client Care 101

Let’s call this lesson “Client Care 101”.

It begins with the letter you send to clients at the beginning of a new instruction. Although not a regulatory requirement, lawyers are obliged to advise clients about complaint procedures, etc.  Retainer letters have been best practice for years now - although, much to my surprise, some firms open files even if the letter is not countersigned. Many firms will have their standard letter or terms checked by a risk consultant often being lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that this document need not be changed until the next time the risk expert takes a look at it.

But beyond the basics, the retainer letter should be a more sophisticated tool.

Unless you have a separate sales team, the likelihood is that as a conveyancing lawyer you will have at least some involvement in winning instructions or requoting an existing client. And chances are that you will talk about the the sale or purchase process and the virtues of retaining your firm's services. All the effort is made in converting the client into into an instruction. You are busy and not necessarily inclined to invest too much time finding out about the transaction in detail with a view to making it clear what you don't cover. At this stage it’s all about the sale.

It’s as if as conveyancers we are reluctant to explicitly advise clients what the retainer does not include. Based on numerous conversation with underwriters and claims handlers it this reluctance can actually cause negligence claims. One underwriter went so far as to tell me that the vast majority of claims stem from a risk that could have been picked up when the client was first taken on and combated by limiting the retainer.

It is such a simple thing in hindsight, but if there is a specific area that you don’t believe you are being instructed to work on, there is no harm at all in saying so in the retainer letter or in your ROT (or preferably both).

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