Client care is central to the regulatory regime under which we operate. CWJ is committed to providing a good standard of service to all clients and all staff share the responsibility of ensuring we achieve this.
Our firm's most important attributes are both its commitment at all levels to providing top quality legal advice and the loyalty and dedication of its staff.
The concept of quality is central to the vision of our firm. As a member of LawNet, the firm is committed to abide by the quality management systems contained by ISO 9001:2015. The Partners are committed to continually improving and re-viewing systems and to communicating them to everyone at CWJ.
All staff constantly strive to ensure that the firm matches the needs of its clients by supplying legal services which the clients want and need.
CWJ is committed to the principles of the LawNet Client Service Charter including being sampled on eight occasions during a calendar year by mystery shoppers who will provide reports on our adherence to the Client Service Charter or equivalent. Standardised online client surveys are also sent to clients in accordance with our client satisfaction policy and LawNet guidelines.
The firm is also a Eurojuris law firm by association with LawNet.
Treating our clients fairly
We must treat our clients fairly and with respect. In all cases, we will:
- explain to the client, record on the file, and confirm in writing any limitations or conditions on what we can do for them, e.g. because of the way their matter is funded
- have proper regard to their mental capacity or other vulnerability (e.g. incapacity, duress or disability - see further Vulnerable clients below) when taking instructions and during the matter
- consider whether a conflict of interest is present or has arisen.
We tailor our client care arrangements according to the needs of each client to ensure that the information we provide is appropriate.
For every client we consider:
- whether they are used to dealing with law firms
- to what extent our standard engagement letter is appropriate or whether further steps need to be taken to make sure they understand it
- whether they are in a position to make informed decisions
- whether they are vulnerable.
We take into consideration our client's mental capacity or other vulnerability, such as disability, incapacity or duress:
- when taking instructions, and
- during the course of the matter.
All staff are aware of and comply with the Law Society practice note.
There are three broad categories of vulnerable clients:
- clients who have capacity to make decisions and provide instructions, but by reason of a range of mental and/or physical disabilities need extra support to access our services and give instructions
- clients who lack mental capacity to make decisions and provide instructions, for whom a range of statutory and other safeguards must be followed
- clients who are vulnerable to undue influence or duress and who may or may not have mental capacity to make decisions and provide instructions
The following factors could indicate a vulnerability:
advanced age, children and young people
heavy reliance on family or friends for necessary care or support
physical disabilities or ill-health
long-term alcohol or drug abuse
exposure to financial abuse
loss of mental capacity to make relevant decisions
acquired brain injury
difficulty in accessing and/or understanding complex information, e.g. because of psychological or emotional factors such as stress or bereavement
mental health problems
Any one or more of these risk factors may mean the client is vulnerable and some clients may be affected by more than one factor.
It is not always easy to identify vulnerability. Some signs may be obvious while others are hidden, and clients may not tell us of any difficulties. CWJ members should not feel inhibited about asking for more information. We will tactfully try to identify the needs of our client to find out whether they:
- understand and can act on the information and advice provided, or whether they may need support to do this, e.g. from an advocacy service or interpreter
- have any requirements:
- for communicating with us
- to access our services, e.g. to overcome mobility problems or hearing or sight difficulties
- about how our services are provided, e.g. documents written in clear and simple language or information given orally.
If we identify or suspect a client vulnerability, we will refer the matter to the head of department.
The table below gives examples of the sort of steps we will consider taking where we identify a client vulnerability:
- Vulnerability factor
Client does not speak or understand English
Use an interpreter or translator.
Client has a physical disability
Liaise with head of department, who will ensure appropriate steps are taken in order to accommodate the client’s needs.
Allow extra time for meetings.
Conduct conversations using the text relay system, where the client has a speech impairment.
Client has hearing impairment
Provide a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator.
Provide a portable induction loop.
Conduct conversations using the text relay system.
Client’s ability to attend the office is impaired by mental health issues
Consider visiting client at home, with appropriate safeguards in place.
Client has cognitive impairment, particularly affecting memory
Provide a digital recorder, dictaphone or electronic notetaker.
Conducting the matter
Enquiries from potential clients
Enquiries from potential clients will be dealt with in accordance with our New Enquiry Procedures policy. We will exercise the same level of care in relation to potential clients as we do for actual clients.
Protecting clients' interests
We will provide services to clients in a manner that protects their interests. This includes ensuring 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.
Adequate resources and skills
Each head of department will ensure that we have the resources, skills and procedures to carry out a client's instructions in a competent and timely manner that takes account of their best interests. Heads of department will review all new matters each week to ensure compliance with these requirements.
Information about our lawyers
Lawyers will give their name and status (i.e. solicitor, trainee solicitor, etc) to clients and tell them the name and status of the person with overall supervision of their matter.
Level of service
Lawyers will agree an appropriate level of service with clients, e.g. agreeing how they will update the client on progress (i.e. by letter, email or telephone) and how often. We will explain our responsibilities and those of the client. This will be recorded on the matter file and confirmed to the client in writing.
Lawyers will ensure that a timely response is made to telephone calls and correspondence from the client and others.
Lawyers will ensure that the strategy for a matter is always apparent on the matter file. In complex matters, a project plan should also be developed.
Lawyers will ensure that the status of the matter and the action taken can be easily checked by other members of staff.
Lawyers will maintain all key information on the file, including:
- letters, emails and other communications to and from the client
- attendance notes or other records of information
- a record of all explanations given to the client, and
- a record of any steps taken to protect the client's interests
- all costs and funding information and updates
- all other documents relevant to the matter.
We will discuss our fees and funding at the initial client meeting, over the phone or by email/letter and then confirm our discussion in writing (unless already covered in the email/letter exchange). Our engagement letter, Terms of Business and Client Charter documents cover the key costs and funding information that we are required to give to clients.
General costs information
We will provide the best information about the likely overall cost of the client's matter at the outset and when appropriate as the matter progresses. This should include:
- our projected fees
- expected disbursements (including whether disbursements attract VAT)
- whether rates might increase during the period we are to be instructed
- whether we will charge if the matter does not proceed, e.g. where the sale of a property falls through
- whether the client has a potential liability for another party's costs
- how often you will provide costs updates
- whether the client has set an upper limit on costs.
We will agree and record payment terms with each client, especially how and when costs are to be paid, unless these fall within our standard terms of business in the engagement letter, Terms of Business and Client Charter.
Cost-benefit risk analysis
Clients must be in a position to make informed decisions about:
- the services they need
- how their matter will be handled, and
- the options available to them.
To make such decisions, the client will need to know how much our services are likely to cost. We will discuss whether the potential outcomes of the client's matter are likely to justify the expense or risk involved.
Limitations or conditions
We will explain whether any costs or funding issues give rise to any limitations or conditions on what you can do for the client, e.g. where the client has legal expenses insurance there may be a condition requiring us to report to the insurer before rejecting a settlement offer.
Complaints about bills
We will inform clients about:
- their right to challenge or complain about a bill, and
- the circumstances in which they may be liable to pay interest on an unpaid bill
Instructing and introducing clients to third parties
Instructing a third party (e.g. a barrister) is not the same as introducing a client to a third party, such as a financial adviser or other lawyer. The difference, in practical terms, is set out in the table below:
Features of instructing a third party on a client’s matter
Features of introducing the client to a third party
We retain control of the matter on which we have instructed the third party
The third party advises the client independently of the firm
We have overall responsibility for that matter
We are not responsible for the advice given by the third party
The third party has a relationship with us rather than directly with the client
The third party has a direct relationship with the client
The third party invoices the firm
The third party invoices the client directly
Commissions and financial benefits
In the unlikely event we receive a financial benefit or commission from a third party as a result of acting for a client, we will either pay it to the client or offset it against their fees.
Where we act for commercial clients on many matters under a general retainer, we will agree terms and confirm on each matter that the matter is to be dealt with under the terms of the general retainer.
Complaints, including complaints about bills and those relating to equality and diversity, are handled in accordance with our Complaints Handling policy. All staff have obligations in ensuring complaints are handled properly.
- tell clients in writing at the outset of their right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and how to do so - our engagement letter and Client Charter contain this information which clients receive before we begin work
- refer any complaints to the head of department or the managing partner promptly
- respond to any enquiries by your head of department or the managing partner in relation to a complaint fairly, openly and effectively
- otherwise comply with our Complaints Handling Procedure.
Claims against the firm
We aim to offer an excellent service to our clients. Mistakes can occasionally happen despite our best efforts. We maintain professional indemnity insurance (PII) to protect our clients if we make a mistake.
If we become aware that we may face a negligence or similar claim in relation to advice we have given, the managing partner will be informed. He or she consider whether it is necessary or appropriate to contact the client (perhaps to tell the client to obtain independent legal advice) and/or notify our insurers.
We will not seek to limit liability, other than the standard limitations in our Terms of Business, without the agreement of the managing partner.
We will ensure that the £10m cap on our liability is in writing and brought to the client's attention. This is contained in our Terms of Business and our engagement letter contains a reminder.
We conduct work that is regulated by the SRA as well as work that is not subject to regulation. We will tell clients if and how the services to be provided are regulated by the SRA and how this affects protections available to them.
Our engagement letter contains information on regulation. Lawyers will ensure that the information sent to a client reflects the regulatory position in their particular matter.
Accepting or refusing instructions and ceasing to act
We must comply with the law and with the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 when deciding whether to act or to terminate instructions. This means we:
consider whether we should decline or cease to act because we cannot act in the client's best interest (e.g. where there is a conflict of interest)
act for a client when instructions are given by someone else or by only one client in a joint matter unless we are satisfied that the person giving the instructions is authorised to do so (see Vulnerable clients above)
refuse to act where our client proposes to make a gift of significant value to us, our family or another member of staff or their family
cease to act without good reason and without reasonable notice
act for a client when there are reasonable grounds for believing that the instructions are affected by duress or undue influence unless we are satisfied that they represent the client's wishes
discriminate unlawfully when accepting or refusing instructions
We have a legal and regulatory duty to protect clients' confidential information. The protection of confidential information is a fundamental feature of our relationship with clients. This duty continues after the end of the retainer and even after the death of a client.
All members of staff, including support staff and consultants, owe a duty of confidentiality to clients. Everyone must keep the affairs of clients confidential (including bills) unless:
- disclosure is required or permitted by law (e.g. under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, or
- the client consents.
We will ensure we are satisfied that any external provider has taken all appropriate steps to protect clients' confidential information.
Equality and diversity
CWJ encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity in our relationships with clients and others.
We will not discriminate unlawfully or victimise or harass anyone, including clients, and must provide services to clients in a way that respects diversity. We will not discriminate unlawfully when accepting or refusing instructions.
This means that we will not discriminate on the grounds of:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
We will make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled clients are not placed at a substantial disadvantage and will not pass on the costs of adjustments to these clients; see Vulnerable clients above).
We have a separate Equality and Diversity Policy. The Quality Partner is responsible for this policy. All staff are aware of and adhere to it. All staff will receive training on the requirements of the policy.
Compliance will be monitored through our regular file audit process and monthly meetings.
Review of our client care arrangements
We review our Client Care and Quality Policy annually.
We provide information and/or training to all staff on any changes we make, and we publish any updates on our website.