Terms of Business

The purpose of this document is to confirm the arrangements between us. Although your continuing instructions in this matter will amount to your acceptance of these Terms of Business, we ask that you sign, date and return one copy for our file.

Table of contents

  • Business hours
  • Our responsibilities
  • Your responsibilities
  • Service levels and frequency of communication
  • Limit of liability
  • Regulated services
  • Non-regulated services
  • Data protection
  • Storage and retrieval of files
  • Outsourcing
  • External auditing
  • Terminating your instructions
  • Prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing
  • Confidentiality
  • Receiving and paying funds
  • Complaints
  • Negligence
  • Legal Ombudsman
  • Your Case
  • Charging Rates
  • Payments on Account
  • Bill of Costs
  • Your Rights
  • Termination of our Retainer
  • Expenses
  • Value Added Tax
  • Manner of Payment and Other Transactions
  • Agreements with or Orders against Third Parties with Respect to Costs
  • Orders for Costs made Against You
  • Resolution Code of Practice
  • Investment advice services
  • Equality and diversity
  • Applicable law
  • Future instructions

Business hours

We are normally open between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm from Monday to Friday. We may be able to arrange appointments outside of these hours and at Weekends, in cases of emergency. We are closed on all bank holidays.

Our responsibilities to You

We will:

  • treat you fairly and with respect
  • communicate with you in plain language
  • review your matter regularly
  • advise you of any changes in the law that affect your matte
  • advise you of any reasonably foreseeable circumstances and risks that could affect   the outcome of your matter

Your responsibilities to Us

You will:

  • provide us with clear, timely and accurate instructions
  • provide all documentation and information that we reasonably request in a timely manner
  • safeguard any documents that may be required for your matter, including documents that you may have to disclose to another party

Service levels and frequency of communication

We will

  • update you by telephone or in writing with progress on your matter regularly.
  • explain to you by telephone or in writing the legal work required as your matter progresses.
  • update you on the likely timescales for each stage of this matter and any important changes in those estimates. Whenever there is a material change in circumstances associated with your matter, we will update you on whether the likely outcomes still justify the likely costs and risks.
  • update you on the legal cost of your matter at the intervals set out in our letter confirming your instructions. If appropriate, we will continue to review whether there are alternative methods by which your matter can be funded.

Limit of liability

We have professional indemnity insurance giving cover for claims against the firm. Details of this insurance, including contact details of our insurer and the territorial coverage of the policy, can be inspected at our office or made available on request.

Our maximum aggregate liability to you in this matter will be £2 million including interest unless we expressly state a different figure in our letter confirming your instructions. If you wish to discuss a variation of this limit, please contact the person dealing with your matter. Agreeing a higher limit on our liability may result in us seeking an increase in our charges for handling your matter.

We will not be liable for any consequential, special, indirect or exemplary damages, costs or losses, or any damages, costs or losses attributable to lost profit or opportunity.

Sharp Family Law Limited is a limited company registered in England and Wales under number 9887572. This means that the firm’s members are not personally liable for any acts or omissions by the firm, unless the law requires otherwise. This does not limit or exclude liability of the firm for the acts or omissions of its members.

We can only limit our liability to the extent the law allows. In particular, we cannot limit liability for death or personal injury caused by negligence. Please ask if you would like us to explain any of the terms above.

Regulated services

Sharp Family Law Limited is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Ipsley Court, Berrington Close, Redditch, B98 0TD (the SRA) under number 00472143. This means that we are governed by a Code of Conduct and other professional rules, which you can access on the SRA’s website www.sra.org.uk or by calling 0870 606 2555.

Non-regulated services

You may receive services from individual and separate businesses which we refer to you in connection with this matter. Please note that any such referral is a separate business to Sharp Family Law Limited and it is not regulated by the SRA.

Any work carried out from such a referral is not covered by the SRA Compensation Fund and is not covered by our professional indemnity insurance.

Data protection

We use the information you provide primarily for the provision of legal services to you and for related purposes including:

  • updating and enhancing client records
  • analysis to help us manage our practice
  • statutory returns
  • legal and regulatory compliance

Our use of that information is subject to your instructions, the Data Protection Act 1998 and our duty of confidentiality. Please note that our work for you may require us to give information to third parties such as expert witnesses and other professional advisers. Under data protection legislation you have a right of access to the personal data that we hold about you.

We may from time to time send you information that we think might be of interest to you. If you do not wish to receive that information please notify our office, preferably in writing.

Storage and retrieval of files

At the conclusion of your matter, we shall report to you with a final accounting statement where appropriate and also advise of anything that remains to be done, either by you or by us on your behalf. We will retain files after completion for such period as is required by law or Law Society Rules. We reserve the right to destroy files at the end of that period. We will not destroy any documents which you ask us to deposit in safe custody.

If we take papers or documents out of storage in relation to continuing or new instructions to act for you, we will not normally charge for the retrieval. However we may charge you for:

  • time spent producing stored papers that are requested
  • reading, correspondence or other work necessary to comply with your instructions in relation to the retrieved papers

Outsourcing

Sometimes we ask other companies or people to do typing and other administrative tasks on our files to ensure this is done promptly and cost effectively. We will always seek a confidentiality agreement with these outsourced providers. If you do not want your file to be outsourced, please tell us as soon as possible.

External auditing

External firms or organisations may conduct audit or quality checks on our practice e.g. our regulator, the SRA. These external firms or organisations are required to maintain confidentiality in relation to your files.

Terminating your instructions

You may end your instructions at any time, by giving us notice in writing. We can keep all your papers and documents while our fees or expenses are outstanding.

We can only decide to stop acting for you with good reason and we must give you reasonable notice.

If you or we decide that we should stop acting for you, you are liable to pay our fees up until that point. These are calculated on the basis set out in our letter confirming your instructions.

Prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing

We are required by law to get satisfactory evidence of the identity of our clients and sometimes people related to them. This is because solicitors who deal with money and property on behalf of their clients can be used by criminals wanting to launder money.

To comply with the law, we need to get evidence of your identity as soon as possible. This is explained in our letter confirming your instructions.

We are professionally and legally obliged to keep your affairs confidential. However, solicitors may be required by statute to make a disclosure to the Serious Organised Crime Agency where they know or suspect that a transaction may involve money laundering or terrorist financing. If we make a disclosure in relation to your matter, we may not be able to tell you that a disclosure has been made. We may have to stop working on your matter for a period of time and may not be able to tell you why.

Confidentiality

The information and documentation you provide us is confidential and subject to legal professional privilege unless:

  • stated otherwise in this document or our letter confirming your instructions, e.g. in relation to prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing
  • we advise you otherwise during the course of your matter

We cannot absolutely guarantee the security of information communicated by email or mobile phone. Unless we hear from you to the contrary, we will assume that you consent for us to use these methods of communication.

Receiving and paying funds

Our policy is to only accept cash up to £500. If you try to avoid this policy by depositing cash directly with our bank, we may decide to charge you for any additional checks we decide are necessary to prove the source of the funds. Where we have to pay money to you, it will be paid by cheque or bank transfer. It will not be paid in cash or to a third party.

Complaints

We aim to offer a quality service, that meets the needs of our clients. However we also recognise that things can go wrong. As a company we are anxious to hear of concerns, so that we can try to put things right for you. By our complaints procedure we aim to restore a good working relationship where possible and we aim to resolve issues so that you can feel comfortable about how your case is being handled.

Our complaints director is Richard Sharp. If the matter concerns Richard or for any other reason it is inappropriate that he deals with it then the complaint will generally be allocated to director Sharon Giles. The complaint director will be responsible for dealing with the concerns you raise.

What to do:

  • You will generally want to raise the issues that concern you with the solicitor concerned.
  • You may, however, want to raise the matter directly on the telephone or by email with our complaints director. At this stage, you will discuss and agree how matters might best be advanced.
  • Alternatively, you should write to our complaints director, marking your letter “complaint”.
  • We will acknowledge your letter within 3 working days and the issues you raise will be considered within 14 days. If for any reason we cannot accommodate this timescale then we will notify you of the reasons within the 14 day period.

During this period we will:

  • consider the substance of your complaint
  • read the parts of the file which touch on the matters you raise
  • discuss the issue with the person concerned; and then
  • write to you with an itemised reply to the points you have raised
  • report on other issues on the file or from discussions which need to be addressed
  • make proposals as to a resolution
  • inform you of the steps that you should take if not satisfied.

Subsequent stages: If you are not satisfied with the process then please write to the complaint director marking your letter “complaints appeal”.

  • Your letter should identify concerns you have about the way your original complaint was handled.
  • Within 3 working days, you will be sent a letter confirming the director who will deal with the matter.

The issues you raised will be addressed within 28 days.

These time limits are a guide only and may be exceeded:

  • In exceptional circumstances
  • because of the work involved in addressing the matters you raise
  • because of the absence of the fee earner or a similar event.

Steps will, however, be taken as promptly as circumstances permit. What would help us

  • Being specific:   It may be helpful if you set out each area of concern and, where relevant, refer to particular items of correspondence. The more specific you can be, the more focused we can be in our investigations.
  • Highlighting special needs: is there anything particular that we should know or have in mind as we consider the complaint?
  • Management of your case during the investigation: A concern may not arise at a convenient moment in the conduct of your case and you should alert the complaints director to any ongoing issues, so that your case is dealt with appropriately whilst your concerns are being addressed.

Negligence

Where a complaint raised indicates a claim in negligence (i.e. that the quality of our work has fallen below reasonable standards and losses have resulted), it may be inappropriate that we deal with it and the Legal Ombudsman is likely to take a similar view. You may well need to take legal advice on how to proceed.

The Legal Ombudsman

You are also entitled to raise issues of concern with the Legal Ombudsman in England and Wales. The relevant website contains guidance and can be found at: www.legalombudsman.org.uk

You must contact the Legal Ombudsman within twelve months of your last contact with your solicitor. The Legal Ombudsman will first try to resolve your complaint informally. If this is not possible, they will investigate your complaint formally and you will have a chance to put your case in writing. If you accept the Legal Ombudsman’s decision, it will be final and binding on you. If the Legal Ombudsman agrees that our service has been unsatisfactory, they can ask us to do any of the following:

  • apologise to you
  • give you back any documents you might need
  • pay you compensation for loss, inconvenience or distress (up to £30,000)
  • to put things right if more work can correct what went wrong
  • refund or reduce legal fees.
  • If the fee earner has broken any rules of professional conduct, the Legal Ombudsman may refer your complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. In extreme cases, the fee earner could be disciplined or struck off which would mean they could no longer work as a solicitor.

You can contact the Legal Ombudsman at:

Legal Ombudsman PO Box 15870 Birmingham B30 9EB

Tel: 0300 555 0333 (Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm) Minicom: 0300 555 1777

E-mail: enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk

Website: www.legalombudsman.org.uk

The Legal Ombudsman encourages you to give reasonable time (the period of 8 weeks is suggested) to endeavour to resolve issues by making use of a company’s complaints procedures. This is also an approach we invite you to adopt; we want to resolve the matters you raise. We hope that you will find our complaints procedure of help and hope it will address any concerns you raise.

The Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints by consumers and very small businesses. This means that some clients may not have the right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman, eg charities or clubs with an annual income of more than £1 million, trustees of trusts with asset value of more than £1 million and most businesses (unless they are defined as micro-enterprises). This does not prevent you from making a complaint directly to us about the service you have received or about the bill.

Your Case

We will act for you in relation to your family law issues and such other matters as may be agreed between us. Generally, we will not give advice on any conveyancing, tax, trust or financial steps that are required to put an order into effect; please, therefore, ensure that you secure the services of an appropriate accountant/lawyer/expert in good time if required. (We can discuss this with you and put you in touch with suitable advisers).

Whilst you will be involved in the major decisions about progressing matters, economy or circumstances may require our taking action on a day to day basis without consulting you over the details of a particular step. We will use all reasonable care to ensure that you are given the control over the progress of your case that you need and that you are given the information on which to base your decisions.

We may not take every step on your behalf ourselves: we will instruct experts, local agents or barristers etc. where your interests require this.

Charging Rates

Our charges are based primarily on the time taken by us in any matter. We will charge at higher rates in exceptional circumstances; for example, if we were instructed to take emergency action including, but not limited to, over a weekend or in the evening or in matters of particular complexity. All time spent (including time spent on the telephone, reading letters and emails received from you or third parties, dictating notes or travelling) is recorded and charged at an hourly rate. This hourly rate is reviewed periodically, usually annually. In the event we are unable to agree any review of our charging rates with you we reserve the right to determine our retainer (i.e. our contract with you).

Payments on Account

Where ongoing work is required, we seek deposit of a float, intended to cover ongoing costs of work. The amount of the float will vary depending on the work that is likely to be required. We will usually ask for at least £1,000. Additional sums may be sought, as the progress in the case dictates, to the intent that the company holds at all stages funds to cover the costs of the work that it is undertaking on your behalf.

Whenever we are instructed in relation to a court hearing we will ask for a sufficient sum on account to cover the charges that is likely to be incurred. We will need the on account payment in advance to enable us to prepare. For any final or substantive hearing we will request payment three months prior to the hearing. This payment is placed in the company’s general client account and credited to a ledger account in your own name. It is treated as an advance payment. It will be credited against the last account we render to you (but only when details have been sent to you) or used to meet substantial expenses (see below). The arrangement does not affect your entitlement to challenge any bill.

Funds will not be placed in a separate designated client account unless we are specifically instructed to do so. Interest will be paid on monies held in accordance with the SRA Accounts Rules 2011.

Bills of Costs

You are liable to pay legal costs as set out in our letter confirming your instructions. We will also usually discuss this at our initial meeting with you.

During the course of the matter, whenever it may be appropriate to do so but usually on a monthly basis, we will render a bill of costs which we shall require you to treat as a separate self-contained bill covering the period to that date. We shall expect payment of a bill upon delivery.

Payment is due to us as soon as you receive our invoice.   If you do not pay an invoice (in whole or part) within 14 days of the date of the invoice, we may charge you interest on the amount outstanding (including any disbursements that we have actually paid on your behalf) from the date of invoice until payment at the prevailing Law Society Interest Rate (4% above Barclays Bank Plc Base Rate).

Your Rights

You have the right to request that bills are assessed by the court if you are concerned about the size of the bills. That request must usually be made within one month of delivery of the bill although the time period may be extended on application. Please contact us if you want information about this.

We expect concerns about bills to be raised within 30 days after the bill (or the statement of the sum due) has been sent to you and it would be unusual for us to consider concerns raised long after the event, so it is important that you consider bills or statements when they are delivered to you.

Termination of our Retainer

We may cease acting for you if an interim bill remains unpaid after 28 days or if our reasonable request of a payment on account of costs is not met.

You have the right to challenge or complain about our bill. Please see the Complaints section above for details of how to complain about our bill. The procedure for challenging a bill varies depending on whether it relates to a matter involving court proceedings. When we send you a bill, we will explain the relevant procedure for challenging it.

We can keep all your papers and documents while there is still money owed to us for fees and expenses.

You may terminate the company’s retainer at any time by giving us reasonable notice. Where there are ongoing court proceedings you must also file at court and serve on all parties to the proceedings a notice of acting so that the company is no longer on the court record as acting for you. In these circumstances we will cease to act and will send you a bill for any unbilled time spent on your case. That bill and any prior outstanding bill must be settled before we will be able to release your file or case papers to you or to new solicitors.

Expenses

Inevitably various expenses (“disbursements”) have to be incurred, for instance if we have to instruct a barrister, accountants, valuers, enquiry agents or translators.

Whenever possible we shall obtain an estimate where disbursements are likely to be substantial or of an unusual nature. However, it may not always be possible to obtain your prior approval, in which case we shall act in accordance with your general instructions to us, and in your best interests. Please note that some liability arises in advance of the work being carried out (for example part of a barrister’s fee may fall due for payment some weeks before the hearing even if the hearing subsequently does not take place).

Value Added Tax

To our charges and some of the disbursements there will be added Value Added Tax (VAT) unless they are exempt, for instance if you permanently reside outside the European Community.

Manner of Payment and Other Transactions

All monies received from you or on your behalf will be converted into sterling and held in an account designated for client monies.

All cheques are to be made payable to Sharp Family Law Limited. We will provide details of our account for BACS payments and telegraphic transfers upon request. If you would prefer to make payments in any other way, please speak to us. We are also able to accept payment by debit or credit cards.

Agreements with or Orders against Third Parties with Respect to Costs

It is possible that someone will agree to, or will be ordered to, pay part of your legal costs. For example, the other side might be ordered to do so or a friend or relative might agree to do so. However, it will be you who will remain personally liable to us for payment of our charges and disbursements as and when they become due. We are not able to postpone payment of our bill simply because it ought to be met by someone else or because of some hope, expectation or promise that the bill will be met by someone else.

Sometimes in litigation cases a losing party (for example your spouse or former partner) must pay the other side’s costs. If interest is payable to you under a costs order, it is a term of our agreement with you that interest recovered on costs and disbursements shall belong to us in relation to such of our costs as remain unpaid by you. At our discretion interest paid on disbursements may be paid to the person to whom the disbursement is payable (e.g. Counsel, experts etc).

In any event, if another party is ordered to pay your costs, the full amount will almost certainly not be recovered and you will be responsible for the difference. Costs payable by other parties are determined by the Court.

Even if you are successful in your application to the Court, there is no guarantee the Court will make a costs order in your favour, particularly if the other party is legally aided. This is because legally aided clients are afforded additional protection against costs orders.

Orders for Costs made Against You

You must also bear in mind that the Court may make an order for costs against you, in which case you will have to pay, or contribute towards, the other party’s costs as well as pay your own.

Resolution Code of Practice

All Solicitors at Sharp Family Law Limited are members of the family law group Resolution, First for Family Law. This is an organisation of family law solicitors and other professionals involved in the family justice system which aims to promote fair and conciliatory solutions to the issues arising at times of family change. Although the Code is prepared for solicitors, it is designed to benefit clients in the way the work is undertaken. We hope to conform to the Code (whenever possible) in dealing with your case.

Investment advice services

We are not authorised by the Financial Services Authority. If, while we are acting for you, you need advice on investments, we may refer you to someone who is authorised to provide the necessary advice.

However, we may provide certain limited investment advice services where these are closely linked to the legal work we are doing for you. This is because we are members of the Law Society of England and Wales, which is a designated professional body for the purposes of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. The Solicitors Regulation Authority is the independent regulatory arm of the Law Society. The Legal Ombudsman deals with complaints against lawyers. If you are unhappy with any investment advice you receive from us, you should raise your concerns with either of those bodies.

Equality and diversity

We are committed to promoting equality and diversity in all our dealings with clients, third parties and employees. Please contact us if you would like a copy of our equality and diversity policy.

Applicable law

Any dispute or legal issue arising from our Terms of Business will be determined by the law of England and Wales, and considered exclusively by the English and Welsh courts.

Future instructions

Unless otherwise agreed, these Terms of Business will apply to all future instructions you give us on this or any other matter.