1.0 THE FIRM’S COMMITMENT TO QUALITY
The practice exists to provide legal servi...
1.0 THE FIRM’S COMMITMENT TO QUALITY
The practice exists to provide legal services. The firm’s manual indicates the ways in which particular types or areas of services are to be selected and those which the firm will from time to time offer to clients. Whatever the type of legal service however, the emphasis should be on the ‘service’ element, and the requirements of the client should be accorded priority accordingly.
The firm is committed to the concept that all aspects of its operations should be of the highest quality. As part of this commitment, it is working towards and is committed to achieving and retaining recognized externally certified quality marks.
There needs to be more to the firm’s quality programme than simply complying with a standard, however. The expectations of clients have risen considerably over recent years, and poor service is increasingly less likely to be tolerated. It is therefore not only in order to comply with the beliefs of the firm’s management that the provision of a quality service is required: it is necessary for the firm’s success. It follows that all personnel within the firm must judge their actions from the client’s viewpoint, and be aware that in addition to the provision of the highest levels of technical legal expertise, clients have a right to expect that their lawyers will be
This manual, by setting out the policies and procedures that should followed by everyone throughout the firm, aims in general terms to provide a framework within which all will be able to work in a way that will offer the best chance of providing a consistently good level of service to all clients.
2.0 DRESS AND DEMEANOUR
It is important that the firm should at all times project a sense of professionalism in its dealings with clients. First impressions gained by clients do matter. Please also try to conduct yourself in a way that will reassure clients. All personnel should dress in a manner that is appropriate for a professional practice, and in particular avoid loud, revealing or casual types of dresses [specifically, NO jeans, leggings, tops with prominent logos, e.t.c.] and on ‘’dress down days’’ in particular avoid scruffy jeans, t-shirts and tops with prominent logos. Please also try to conduct yourself in a way that will reassure clients. This can be achieved by appropriate behavior around the office and a smile or a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ to those clients you encounter in the office. Please try to be as helpful as possible to all clients of the firm not just those that you happen to be dealing with.
3.0 CLIENTS CONFIDENTIALITY
3.1 The firm is under a duty to keep all clients dealing properly confidential. It is easy to fall foul of this important duty by thoughtless conversations and quick meetings in the reception area. Please keep any discussions of clients business in the reception area to a minimum and, wherever possible, take clients into a meeting room when they come in to sign a document or bring in papers that need to be explained or discussed. What should be a short visit can easily change if the client asks questions and they should be entitled to do so out of the earshot of other clients or visitors.
3.2 All personnel are also asked to keep personal conversations in the reception area to a minimum. The impression gained by clients overhearing conversations especially if about the firm or other clients in the reception area can be very negative.
3.3 All solicitors and other staff are bound by the rules which require confidentiality to be maintained in all dealings with clients. This means that nobody may reveal to any outsider the nature of instructions provided or advice given to any client, other than in the pursuit of the client’s instructions. In most circumstances it will also be inappropriate to reveal that the firm is in receipt of instructions from any named client. This is particularly the case in litigation, especially crime or divorce. If you are aware that friends or other people that you know are instructing the firm, it may be tempting to reveal this information to others. Do not do so. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you should reveal whether the firm acts for a given client, or give out his, her or its address, check with a partner. Breaches of confidentiality could cause considerable problems for the firm and will usually be treated by the firm and will usually be treated by the firm as a serious disciplinary offence.
4.0 RECEPTION AND TELEPHONE FACILITIES
4.1.1 The standard of repair and decoration of the firm’s premises, both internal and external, will be maintain through a budgeted [five] year rolling programme prepared by the practice manager and approved by the managing partner. The reception area, including the main office door and the adjacent windows, and the interview rooms, may require more frequent attention.
4.1.2 An untidy office does not create a good impression. While it is accepted that files being worked upon and paper in general cannot be hidden, every endeavor is to be made to keep the office tidy during the day and in the evening. In particular, fee earners should tidy their own offices before a client appointment if they are not to use one of the designated interview rooms.
4.2 The client appointment procedure
4.2.1 For a potential new client, the enquiry for an initial appointment will normally be made by telephone or through visiting the reception in person. If enquiry is by telephone, the first impression the client gains of the firm is by the manner in which the call is answered. Invariably the name of the firm should be clearly given [preference: ‘Good morning, ABC Solicitors’ or ‘ABC Solicitors, may I help you?’ e.t.c.]. If the call is taken by anyone other than the telephonist, it is good practice to give a name (‘Mrs ABC…… speaking’). The tone should be friendly, interested and professional.
4.2.2 The telephonist will need to ascertain what the client enquiry is about then transfer the call to the appropriate department where the enquiry can be dealt with more fully. Please bear in mind that until the telephonist has transferred the call (s) he is prevented from dealing with any other incoming calls.
4.2.3 It is understood that for many reasons fee earners are not always immediately available to speak to new clients. Therefore each department is required to designate a secretary or a fee earner on a [daily/ weekly /monthly] rotational basis to be available for dealing initially with all new client enquiries. The telephonist and receptionist are to be informed. Outline information about the client’s concerns is to be obtained for it to be passed to a designated fee earner. If at all possible an appointment should be agreed then or it may be necessary for the fee earner to agree on it later. The objective is to show the client that something is being done without delay and in a professional manner, and to secure a new client matter.
4.2.4 If a new client has called in person to reception, then similarly the receptionist is to ascertain what the client wants and then pass the enquiry to the relevant department for processing. All personnel should avoid a conversation about possible services occurring in the reception area.
Confirmation of an appointment
4.2.5 If time permits, an appointment is to be confirmed in writing supported by the firm’s [Client’s Services] leaflet which includes a location map of the office and details of parking facilities.
4.2.6 There are [………….] parking bays for clients in the car park on the grounds opposite the office staff car park. These are strictly not for use by the firm’s personnel. Alternative parking is available on the grounds generally.
4.2.7 There are two [………] interview rooms; a meeting room attached to the receptionist and a conference room suitable for meetings of up to 20 persons, located on the first floor. If these are to be used, a reservation should be made with the FDO/receptionist.
Appointment notification to receptionist
4.2.8 All appointments in the office are to be notified to the receptionist who will maintain an appointments diary for the office. It creates a good impression if it can be seen that a client is expected.
4.3 Telephone calls
4.3.1 The firm’s objective is to ensure that incoming calls are answered promptly. At peak times, when the volume of incoming calls may be too much for the telephonist to deal with without delays, a proportion of the calls will be cascaded to designated secretaries to act as temporary telephonists.
4.3.2 The procedures for telephone answering are as follows.
4.3.3 The telephonist will give the name of the firm and ‘good morning’ or good afternoon’. The telephonist will ascertain the identity of the caller and the person they wish to speak to.
4.3.4 The call will be put through to the relevant person as required by the caller, and announced. If that person is not at his or her desk then he or she should have directed the telephone to whoever is delegated to take the calls.
[Or. The call will be put through to the relevant fee earner’s secretary, or if not available, the supervising partner or associate around. The switchboard should announce who is calling and the person the caller wishes to speak to. The alternate receiver of the call should greet the caller by name and say who she is and her role.]
4.3.5 When the caller requires to speak to someone who is not on the firm’s premises the caller will be told that the person is ‘out of the office’ or ‘at a meeting’. It is important that the client is not given the impression that someone else’s business is more important than theirs. The telephonist should indicate when the person is expected back before being asked if the caller would wish to leave a message with the relevant secretary, or like to speak with someone else.
4.3.6 Any person answering a telephone, whether the call is internal or external, is to answer with his/her name. It may be appropriate on external calls to explain role [e.g. ‘secretary to X’] as well.
4.3.7 Any fee earner who leaves his or her desk for longer than a few minutes is required to divert his or her telephone to a secretary, or another member of the firm, for message taking purpose. It is not necessary to notify the switchboard, only the person to whom the telephone has been diverted. [Where available, automatic divert arrangements will have been arranged]
4.3.8 Free earners should notify their secretary of the period in the day when they will return any calls that come in when the fee earner is unavailable. This
Gives a client time when (s)he will call back;
Prevents the client from calling again before the stated times;
Gives a business-like and efficient impression to the client.
4.3.9 Short, local personal telephone calls are allowed. All other calls should be made with partner consent. You may also receive incoming personal calls, whether on the firm’s system or your own personal mobile phone, but please be sure to keep these calls to a reasonable period of time. [To transfer an external call, press * and the desired extension, e.g. * 802; to receive a transferred call, press *. Alternatively, cross-refer to a separate telephone instruction list]. Once connected to the recipient, the receptionist should replace receiver.
[For direct telephone lines provided to fee earners and other staff, calls are limited to official communication kept short. Office phone lines are not for social calls or personal engagement. No caller should be encouraged to unnecessary engaged the line, preferably not longer than 5 minutes]
[If mobile phones are provided to fee earners, guidelines on how they are to be used shall be provided]
4.4 Facsimile (fax)
4.4.1 Although e-mail correspondence has to a large extent reduced the volume of messages by fax, it still remains an important means of communication with the firm’s clients and professional contacts. Fax machines are located at the reception and general office:
4.4.2. While there is no restriction on using fax for transmitting correspondence or documents, the facility should be used with common sense and not just because it is available. The general rules are:
If there is no urgency to get the document to the addressee on the same day, use the normal mail, express or registered.
Unless essential do not follow up a fax transmission by sending the original copy by mail
Remember that while an outgoing message is being transmitted the fax machine cannot receive an incoming message which may be genuinely urgent.
For outgoing messages, the standard fax transmission sheet is to be used. This is stored as a standard precedent document.
Secretaries are responsible for sending their own fax messages including the re-transmission of messages that have become corrupted.
[Where there are further department fax machines whose numbers are not given out to clients, the fee earner charged with it shall ensure he/she follows the established protocols above]
4.5 JOB DESCRIPTION FOR FRONT DESK OPERATIONS OFFICER
The operations of the firm’s front desk shall be the responsibility of the receptionist/front desk officer (FDO).
He/She shall ensure the neat, clean and tidy ambience of the reception area, main and inner doors, windows partitions, adjoining meeting rooms and conveniences, are maintained at all times.
Shall ensure there is sufficient display of marketing materials about the firm, and ensure magazines, journals or newspapers are available and changed regularly.
Ensure the reception and meeting rooms are kept clean and tidy before and after meetings.
Ensure refreshments are available for visitors where necessary and ensure visitors/clients are not kept waiting beyond 10minutes. After the first 5minutes, he/she shall re-notify by intercom the required firm staff sought and keep the client informed of reasons for any delays.
Ensure telephones, internet, office network, fax machines, intercom/PABX facilities are functional at all times
Receive, process, transfer and answer all telephone calls and visitors in a most courteous, friendly and professional manner, and without delay. Receptionist is not to give legal advice or opinion in any circumstance but ensure all enquiries are transferred to the appropriate officer. Note: Until the receptionist has transferred a call, he/she is prevented from dealing with any other incoming call, or desk enquiry.
- The processing of all incoming messages and telephone calls include the logging of calls and conveying of messages to the officer sought. Where a required officer is unavailable, it is the receptionist’s duty o take down messages, telephone numbers and names of the caller to facilitate the firm being able to return the call.
All fresh briefs, enquiries by new clients by telephone or otherwise are to be referred to either the available partner or (if no partner is available) to the most Senior Associate in chambers.
Schedule and confirm official appointments at the firm, book necessary meeting rooms for such appointments, and keep an appointment diary for all office meetings.
Ensure facilities provided for the convenience of visitors (water dispensers/Refrigerators, air conditioners, etc) are fully maintained, serviceable and stocked.
Undertake other clerical and administrative duties as may be reasonably required from time to time
Suggest any review to any aspect of this manual to the practice administrator or managing partner, who has overall supervision and implementation of the office procedure manual.
In all, there is a requirement of a high degree of responsibility to project the image and ethos of the firm at all times.
5.0 POST AND COMMUNICATIONS
5.1 Incoming mail
5.1.1 All official incoming post are to be opened in the presence of a partner or, if a partner is not available, in the presence of the Practice Administrator, or Department/Practice Group Head or Deputy [in that order]. This forms an important component of the overall supervision structure of the firm.
Often substantial amounts of monies are received by cheques and these are to be controlled and passed to the designated partner or accounts department without delay.
Hand deliveries can often be marked urgent and the receptionist is then to ensure that the delivery is passed direct to the departmental partner or other partner without delay. Post is not to be left on reception desks or anywhere else un-actioned.
5.2 Outgoing mail
5.2.1 Fee Earners working on any matter and secretaries are responsible for delivering outgoing mail to the general office by no later than 12.00noon daily. Post office mail and courier mails are to be separated. The Office Assistant will frank the post and take it by hand to the Post Office. It is greatly appreciated by all concerned if batches of post can be with the general office as early as possible to avoid the daily last minute rush [or all mail is to be placed in the appropriate basket and will be collected throughout the day].
Class of mail
5.2.2 All mails are to be sent by Express mail/regular mail or as stipulated by the originator.
5.2.3 There will be occasions when it is necessary to send mail or documents y means of a courier service when normal postal services will be insufficient. When this is required, the fee earner concerned is to make the necessary arrangement through the [general office].
6.0 INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Increasingly, e-mail messages are now used as the routine method of correspondence. This facility, together with access to the internet, is available to all personnel through the firm’s computer network.
The following guidance is given to ensure that the facility is properly used and not abused. If there is any doubt or concern, reference should be made to the managing partner.
The overriding principle is that e-mail messages are to be controlled and processed to the same standards as for normal correspondence. Because e-mails, both received and sent, are processed on an individual personal computer, in the majority of instances without the knowledge of a supervising partner, there must inevitably be a high degree of trust from everyone in the use of e-mails.
6.1.1 Incoming messages
All incoming messages related to client work MUST be printed out and a hard copy placed on the appropriate client file.
As appropriate, the free-earner is to refer any message of substance to the supervising partner, either by direct discussion or by forwarding an additional copy of the message to the partner.
Any suspicious or offensive messages received are immediately to be referred to a partner.
No undertaking may be accepted by e-mail a signed letter must be received.
If a lawyer is away from his/her desk for half a day or more, the auto office message should be set stating that the individual is away and unable to respond to emails immediately.
6.1.2 Outgoing messages
As appropriate, outgoing messages of substance must first be approved by the supervising partner before being transmitted.
A print copy of outgoing messages is to be placed on the relevant client file.
No potentially offensive messages are to be sent. Defamation, harassment and breaches of the firm’s discrimination policy are all potential risks. Please also be wary of the temptation to send off a hasty message that, on reflection, would seem unwise. A good rule is to reply later or the next day if annoyed or offended by action taken or a communication received: allowing yourself a ‘cooling off period’ can avoid putting yourself in the wrong.
The following e-mail distribution lists are stored in the address book:
The following e-mail distribution lists are stored in the address book:
All e-mails are to be restricted to the firm’s professional work.
Always check the state of attachments to see that you are sending the correct draft and where this is going out to the client or outside of the office generally, the document should be attached in PDF format to avoid unauthorized alteration.
6.1.3 Deletion of e-mails
It is the responsibility of the individual regularly to review all stored messages and delete those that are no longer required. Please be aware that all incoming and outgoing messages on client matters must be regarded as being normal correspondence and are therefore subject to a retention period (2 to 3 years). Lawyers are in any event asked to ensure that printed copies of messages, including draft documents, have been placed on the client file before deletion of messages.
6.2 Virus protection
The firm’s e-mail facility is protected by an anti virus and regular protection updates will be received and must be actioned on each individual personal computer. All anti-virus updates are to be processed without delay.
Nobody may introduce to their PC any USB (flash) or disk without the permission of the managing partner. Failure to seek his/her permission before doing so will be treated as a disciplinary offence.
If a suspicious e-mail message is received, for example from an unidentifiable sender, especially with attachments, it should not be opened. Particular caution is needed where the message is from a familiar source but there is no text in the message. In such circumstances please telephone the sender before opening that attachment to see if they have indeed sent a bona fide message to you. Alternatively, please refer the issue to the supervising partner. Where there is still doubt, the message should be deleted without being opened.
6.3 Internet use
Access to the internet is possible from all desk top computers.
Acceptable uses of the internet include:
Client or practice research
Any other personal or social use of internet facilities must be kept to a minimum and in no circumstances should any individual within the firm visit sites that could reasonably be regarded as pornographic or offensive, unless it is necessary to do so in pursuance of a client’s instructions; in which case such use must be authorized by a partner.
Users must also be wary of breach of copyright from inappropriate downloads.
6.4 Security of data
One of the aspects which the firm is keen to observe is with regard to the security of data. This may mean electronic or physical security, or, as with a laptop computer, both. All personnel must comply with such policies as are from time to time notified to them in respect of the firm’s computer system, and in particular must observe secrecy in respect of any password or user name. Access to any part of the firm’s network must not be given to any unauthorized person. This may be a matter for particular concern where someone is carrying out the firm’s work on a computer at home. Measures must then be agreed with the firm’s IT manager for storage of the firm’s data within a secure and protected area of the home computer’s memory.
6.5 Computer system
The firm has a centralized accounting and electronic data storage system and all personnel have direct access to much of the system and the data through the computer network. Immediately control is exercised by the practice administrator and any difficulties concerning the system should be directed to him/her.
7.0 FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
7.1 Receipts for cheques and cash
Receipts must be issued for cheques and cash. This is the primary responsibility of the practice administrator but the fee earner must ensure that this is done as part of his/her responsibility under the accounting regulations.
7.2 Cheque requisitions
If a lawyer requires a cheque to be drawn on Client Account, the lawyer is to raise a memo and forward to the accountant. The client name, payee, date, amount and brief details of the reason for the cheque, are to be fully completed.
7.3 Payment out of client monies
Payment out of the client monies by cheque, cash or transfer, irrespective of the amount, can be authorized only by a partner.
The write-off of any balance in respect of costs or disbursements can be authorized only by the managing partner.
7.5 Petty cash/office float
Without exception, all petty cash transactions are controlled by the accountant. If petty cash is required, a petty cash form is to be fully completed and taken to the accounts department for their action.
The form must clearly identify whether the expenditure is in respect of a client matter and is therefore recoverable, or is charge to the firm itself.
7.6 Credit control
The firm’s credit control procedures are based upon the following main principles:
Wherever possible money on account from the client is to be obtained in respect of fees and disbursement.
Wherever possible interim invoices/bills are to be raised at least [monthly/every two months]. Agreement to this must be obtained from the client. Smaller regular bills are less likely to be subject to non-payment and where this does arise, consideration may need to be given as to whether to continue to act for the client.
Lawyers remain closely involved in the credit control process notwithstanding any action taken by others such as the accounts department staff. A matter is not completed until the bill has been paid. Early intervention by the lawyer is more likely to generate payment than hastening correspondence from the accounts department.
There will be a hastening process of escalating severity finalizing in court proceedings being taken against the client.
The credit control procedures will automatically be activated for all client debts unless under exceptional circumstances a partner intervenes to prevent some or all of the procedures from taking place.
Except under exceptional circumstances, court proceeding will be taken if necessary irrespective of the client
The credit control procedures will be actioned as a priority tasks by whoever has the responsibility.
7.6.1 The procedure
Once client bills have been posted onto the ledger, they will be filed in the accounts department in date order on a lever arch binder. Within the binder(s) there will be further monthly sub-divisions. When a bill has been paid, it will be transferred to a paid binder with the bills filed in alphabetical/bill number order.
This method of filing will greatly assist with the credit control procedures as it will immediately identify those unpaid bills that require hastening action at whatever stage. In particular, as bills are paid and removed, there will be a residue of bills remaining that are paid and removed, there will be a residue of bills remaining that justify special attention. Any bill that remains unpaid for three months is regarded as being a particular problem.
Once a bill enters the credit process, the credit controller will record what action has been taken plus any instruction or information about the debt received from the fee-earner or other person concerned. It is most important that fee-earners liaise closely with the credit controller to ensure that proper action is taken.
The escalating procedure for client debts is as follows.
Step 1. Bill sent to client with copy retained on the client file, and a copy passed to the accounts department for posting action and for filing in the unpaid bills binder
Step 2. If bill remains unpaid after four weeks, the credit controller sends a statement to the client.
Step 3. If bill remains unpaid after six weeks, the credit controller asks the lawyer to contact the client about the non-payment. There may be understandable reasons from the client’s point of view and a process for settlement could be agreed.
Step 4. If bill remains unpaid after eight weeks, following further liaison with the fee-earner, the credit controller sends the client a letter threatening court proceedings if payment is not forthcoming.
This letter is always to be signed by a partner
Step 5. After ten weeks from the date of the issue of the bill, if payment has not been made or alternative payment arrangements have been agreed with the client, a final letter will be sent to the client stating that court proceedings will be taken unless payment is made immediately. This letter will be signed by the credit control partner who first will have necessary liaised with the appropriate supervising partner.
Step 6. When proceedings are to be taken a new debt matter will be opened but the outstanding debt will remain on the fee-earner’s printout records for analysis and records purposes.
The credit control partner will carefully monitor these procedures and will liaise with other partners when necessary.
8.0 CLIENT CARE
8.1 Policy on client care
ABC Solicitors is committed to providing quality service to all clients. The firm’s services should be recognized as being expert, accurate and appropriate. The firm strives to ensure that its advice is cost effective and communicated in a manner that is appropriate for each client. The firm is also committed to providing a truly professional service: it seeks to act with integrity and strict confidentiality in all its dealings with clients.
All personnel should at all times consider the need to perform to the ‘four Cs’ of competence, confidentiality, commitment and courtesy.
The firm will accept instructions only where it can meet its commitment to the provision of an expert and professional service to clients. Where instructions would be outside the expertise or the capabilities of the firm they will be declined
All lawyers are bound by the rules of professional conduct which require confidentiality in all dealings with clients. This means that nobody may reveal to any outsider the nature of instructions provided or advice given to any client, other than in the pursuit of the client’s instructions or in accordance with legal duties to do so, as under money laundering legislation. In most circumstances it will also be inappropriate to reveal that the firm is in receipt of instructions from any named client. This is particularly the case in litigation. If you are aware that friends or other people that you know areinstructing the firm it may be tempting to reveal this information to others; do not do so. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you should reveal whether the firm acts for a given client, or give out his, her or its address, check with a partner. Breaches of confidentiality could cause considerable problems for the firm and will be treated by the partners as a serious disciplinary offence.
Clients seek legal advice for a variety of reasons, but many approach the firm when they are vulnerable and in their business activities. All clients are entitled to expect a real commitment from the firm in handling their instructions, and for the firm to attach appropriate priority to their requirements. A professional service does not involve becoming emotional, however, and this should be borne in mind in wording correspondence. If it is necessary to make a threat it should be clear that the threat is one that the firm’s client makes and not the firm itself.
All clients are entitled to be dealt with in a respectful and courteous manner. This will have many implications, from not keeping clients waiting in the reception area without explanation, to showing them the way to and from meeting rooms, to returning telephone calls and e-mails as a priority and generally taking an interest in them and their problems. The firm should show a genuine concern for its clients by doing its best to help them.
On no account shall any member of the firm be rude or discourteous to a client, no matter the provocation. In a case of provocation by any client, you are expected to be firm but polite, and where you are unsure or unable to exercise self control, report he matter to a partner
8.1.5 Client confidentiality
The firm is under a duty to keep all client dealings properly confidential. You can easily fall foul of this important duty by thoughtless conversations and quick meetings in the reception area. Please keep any discussions of client business in the reception area to a minimum and, wherever possible, take clients into a meeting room when they come in to sign a document or bring papers in. what should be a short and undetailed visit can easily change if the client asks questions and they should be entitled to do so out of other clients or visitors.
Would all staff also please keep personal conversations in the reception area to a minimum. The impression gained by clients overhearing conversations in the reception area can be quite negative.
9.0 LAWYER’S RESPONSIBILITIES
The firm is more likely to project an organized and professional image if lawyers will take responsibility to:
Advice the front desk of all appointments;
Make a reservation as soon as possible when meeting rooms are required;
Ensure that clients are kept waiting;
Ensure that clients are shown hospitality and are provided with appropriate refreshments, water, coffee, tea, biscuits, etc. ;
Are shown to and from any room used for a client appointment;
Ensure that FDO and colleagues are informed if they leave the premises other than at lunchtime, telling them when they are leaving the firm’s office and their expected time of return.
9.1 Job description for associates
Undertake fee earning work in all designated or assigned firm practice areas, and provide a profitable contribution to the work of the firm in the work areas
Ensure the successful development of the firm in line with the overall strategic business plan of being a ‘Full service law’, and provide leadership to all staff in actualizing the firm’s vision.
Ensure the conduct of matters on behalf of clients in a diligent, thorough, responsible and cost effective manner.
Perform fee earning work accurately, reliably and in accordance with the firm’s quality and risk management procedures.
Ensure proper control of work in progress, billing, and cash collection on assigned and self initiated work.
Be effective in developing new work from existing clients and seek new clients for the firm, Endeavour to promote the firm and nurture appropriate network of contacts and referrers.
Acquire and maintain I.T. skills appropriate to modern legal practice
Attendance at all office or departmental meetings, leading by example with contributions made at and subsequent to such events
Supervise fee earning work undertaken by colleagues.
Management of support services, equipment, and resources for which he/she is responsible, including supervision of assigned administrative personnel.
Participation in marketing activities whether on a firm wide, departmental or office basis.
Acceptance of need for collective responsibility and confidentiality. Confidential practice matters must be safeguarded.
Financial control with particular reference to cash flow control through collection of monies on account and billing procedures, as well as cost management.
Undertake other legal and supervisory administrative duties as may be reasonably required from time to time.
Suggest any review to any aspect of this manual to the practice Administrator or Managing partner, who has overall supervision and implementation of the office procedure manual.
In all, there is a requirement of a high degree of responsibility to project the image and ethos of the firm at all times.
9.2 Confirmation of instructions
The general rule is that at or near the outset of every matter the client should receive confirmation of:
The name and status of the person acting, along with details of the principal partner responsible for the overall supervision of the matter
Specific advice on the costs implications of the instructions received and the advice provided;
The general terms of business under which the firm acts.
This is achieved by use of the ‘client care letter’ template. The client care letter can be tailored to the particular instructions received within the departmental precedents. Although its precise wording is not mandatory, in all cases any material variations must be approved by a partner.
It is important that the client receives, in addition to client care information, confirmation of their instructions and the action that will be taken on their behalf.
9.3 Complaint handling
None of us likes to be the subject of a complaint, but if the firm is truly committed to providing a quality service to clients it needs to pick up on client dissatisfaction when it does arise and address it as best it can. The firm therefore operates a complaints handling process that seeks to ensure that it:
Knows about client dissatisfaction if and when it does arise;
Takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the dissatisfaction is addressed and resolved wherever possible;
Reassures all clients who do complain that the firm will address their concerns without delay and that it takes all complaints seriously;
Learns from experience to lessen the risk of complaints in the future.
A complaint is any expression of client dissatisfaction which the lawyer is unable immediately to resolve.
In all cases, it is necessary to take a view on how the client is reacting to the particular circumstances. The firm’s overriding objective is to address client dissatisfaction.
10.0 CASE AND FILE MANAGEMENT
1 PRELIMINARY ISSUES
10.1 Client enquiries
Client enquiries about possible services are received:
By telephone to the office
By telephone directly to an individual known to the client potential client or referrer;
By letter, fax or e-mail
By callers to the office.
It is essential that all enquiries as to whether the firm could or would be willing to act should be dealt with as quickly, efficiently and courteously as possible. Even if declining to act on this occasion, the firm has the opportunity to make a favorable impression for the next.
The firm does not operate strict response times but would expect to deal with all enquiries within 24 hours, even if simply a ‘holding’ response.
10.2 File opening
Lawyers are responsible for opening client matter files. The following outline guidance is given on the main information to be recorded. Other information recorded is self-evident.
10.2.1 Matter opening form
The form comprises two parts. Part one records basic client information such as name, address, telephone details, etc. which are likely to remain constant and will be included in the client database. This information will also be used to support the firm’s case management systems. Part Two records information specific to the particular matter and will clearly vary matter by matter.
10.2.2 Supervising partner/lawyer
Record the initials of the supervising partner and the lawyer handling the matter.
10.2.3 Work type
The firm’s work areas have been further sub-divided under a number of specific practice groups/work types. It is the responsibility of the lawyer to allocate the correct work type some example of which are provided below.
10.2.4. Conflict check
Carry out and record that a conflict check has been carried out.
10.2.5 Risk assessment
Carry out and record that a risk assessment has been carried out.
10.2.6 Money laundering identify checks
Carry out and record that money laundering identity check has been carried out.
10.2.7 Acceptance of instruction
The firm is not obliged to act in all cases. Greater consideration will need to be given to enquiries from new clients as opposed to new matters from existing clients. The firm may not decline to act on grounds that would offend its policies on anti-discrimination. It could decline to act, however, on the following grounds;
The enquiry is for a work area that the firm does not understand or wishes to restrict;
The firm lacks the expertise or the resources to represent that client effectively, or the instructions would put at risk current commitments;
The client has a track record of not paying the firm’s bill or has threatened or assaulted personnel within the firm;
The client is engaged in business activities that the firm would not wish to be associated with;
There is, or could be, a conflict of interest professional or commercial
The client refuses to undergo identity checks as required by the anti-money laundering procedures.
In all such cases the client should be given such explanation as is appropriate in the circumstances.
10.2.8 Miscellaneous files
New matters often emerge from current matters and it is not always apparent when an issue is first raised as to whether a distinct new matter will develop. Lawyers must be aware of he need not to run separate matters under the same file and must be prepared to open a new file, perhaps transferring any papers to a colleague, as soon as it becomes clear that the issue is something other than a minor incidental issue related to the matter in hand.
Similarly, general files for commercial clients must not be used as a means of bypassing the normal file opening procedures. It is acceptable, however, for commercial fee-earners in particular to run ‘miscellaneous’ files for a particular client where a composite bill will eventually be raised or for miscellaneous enquiries from different clients where a record of the conversation or communication is needed but it is not appropriate to open specific files.
11.0 CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Conflict of interest must be considered at the earliest opportunity before accepting instructions and then throughout the mater as it progress. The evidence that this has been considered is a tick by the lawyer instructed in the conflict of interest box on the matter opening form. Any further deliberations must be the subject of an attendance note on file outlining the considerations and action taken.
It is the lawyer’s responsibility to check for conflicts of interest and to monitor the risk of conflicts arising after the matter has commenced. The accounts department will check in all matters whether a conflict of interest appears to exist by checking the name of any opponent against the computer database of existing clients. It is important that all possible variations of names and identifies aresupplied. Theaccounts department will bring any concerns to the attention of the lawyer, whose responsibility it is to take the issue up with his/her head of department.
Common-sense checking for conflicts should never be disregarded. Always having a concern that will not necessarily be highlighted by an accounts department check should consider an e-mail around the firm to see if any colleague knows of any reason why the practice should not act. It should be stressed that for the firm to act where it should not do so could be seen as a professional offence and lead to disciplinary proceedings; the firm is also open to a claim for compensation or lost fees and the risk of at least one alienated client.
Where a conflict is found or believed to exist any doubts as to the propriety of accepting instructions should be considered by the head of department, if possible or, if not, another partner. If it is felt that instructions should be declined the client should be informed of this as soon as possible and they should be informed of this as soon as possible and they should be offered such explanation and recommendation as in all the circumstances is professionally appropriate.
Lawyers must be alert to the risk that a conflict may develop after a matter has started and must bring any such concerns to the head of department as soon as possible.
Chinese walls arrangement will not be sanctioned by the firm to permit different lawyers to act where a conflict of interest does or could exist between two clients.
12.0 TAKING INSTRUCTIONS AND EARLY ACTION
12.1 Taking instructions
It is essential that all personnel act upon the client’s full, considered instructions. Instructions may be received by letter, telephone or at a meeting. If they are received other than at a meeting they should be acknowledged promptly, having regard to the sensitivity of the matter and its urgency to the client and legal process. Particular attention must be given to circumstances where instructions are received by one lawyer and passed to another for attention.
Any instructions taken by telephone must be confirmed to the client in writing. Where this is done contemporaneously with the call the copy letter/e-mail on file could function as an attendance note of the conversation. Even then the files should contain an attendance note giving details of the time and duration of the call. Any particular methods of taking instructions, as through the use of checklists, are noted in the additional departmental procedures and precedents.
It is important that instructions receive critical analysis on receipt. If there are inconsistencies or errors, or if carrying out the instructions would involve illegality by the client or the firm, unprofessional conduct by the firm, or potentially lead to undesired results for the client, any such problem must be raised with the client as soon as possible and must be resolved before the instructions can be acted upon, though it may be possible to undertake some work in the interim.
At the outset of the matter the lawyer will establish the following:
As full an understanding of the background facts as possible;
The client’s objectives and desired results;
What the lawyer will do ;
Whether the lawyer is the appropriate person to deal with the matter or whether it should be referred to a colleague;
Whether the client is an existing or new client;
Method of payment;
Whether the intended action would be merited on a cost benefit analysis and whether, in public funding cases, the guidance in the funding code would be satisfied.
All of the above should be confirmed to the client, usually in writing.
12.2 Terms of business
The terms of business under which the firm will act must be confirmed to the client.
12.3 Key dates
We are required to maintain a back-up system for all key dates. Key dates should be regarded as ‘any date, the missing of which could give rise to a cause of action in negligence’. It is the responsibility of all lawyers to notify the FDO of any back-up dates and to ensure that an entry is made to the central diary. The entry for any expiry of time periods such as limitation periods must be two-fold:
The date in question (e.g. the last day for issue of proceedings);
The date sufficiently in advance of the actual key date to enable appropriate action to be taken. This is a specific fee-earner responsibility (‘countdown’ dates). It is recognized that some dates do not require countdown dates, but others (e.g. limitation periods) may require several warnings. On occasions the fee-earner may wish to amend a key date after it has been entered into the back-up key date reminder system, the procedure for so doing being that:
The existing entry must be clearly crossed out and initialled and the update or correction must be clearly shown;
If approval was obtained for the change, this should also be marked and the partner approving the change identified y his or her initials;
In no circumstances should any amendment be made by correction fluid.
12.4 Case planning
As a matter of principle every matter should have a clear strategy apparent from the file. This ‘case plan’ should show that thought has been given to how each client’s needs will be acted upon. It is recognized that it will often be difficult to finalise this in detail at the outset of a case or transaction because it may be impossible to assess the likely response of any other parties. It is essential, however, that clients are presented with a strategy for meeting their instructions as soon as possible with an explanation of how and why this might need to be varied.
In most cases a case plan will simply be either a letter to the client or a separate memorandum on file. If the case plan is by memorandum steps must be taken to ensure that the client is made aware of it and their agreement is obtained. In other cases a more detailed case plan will be required. It is a matter of professional judgment for the partner or free-earner in charge of the matter to determine whether a first letter or detailed case plan is required. The following matters must be considered and dealt with:
Written description of matter and person(s)
Responsibility and supervision;
Frequency of team meetings, if any;
Issues and agreed objectives of legal action;
Main steps to be taken by firm and client;
Frequency of file review if different from the normal frequency;
Billing frequency and procedures
12.5 File maintenance
It is the responsibility of the fee-earner handling the matter to ensure that the file is well maintained and, in particular:
Notes all conversations and communications of any substance with the client or otherwise on the matter;
Is kept up to date with regular and careful filing;
Is kept tidy, with the progress readily apparent to any colleague who might need to check the position on the matter (as on holiday cover);
Is maintained in accordance with any departmental guidelines.
Well-maintained files reduce wasted time and effort for all and are likely to enable the firm to portray a more professional and organized image to clients and others.
12.6 File summary sheets
It is mandatory that a file summary sheet is used on all matter files and is kept up to date at all times by the fee-earners handling that matter. This ensures that the state of the matter will be readily apparent to anyone else checking the file.
12.7 Attendance notes
Attendance notes are vital to provide a record of advice given, instructions received, or decisions made about which there may be a dispute. Attendance notes are also the primary evidence of time expended on a matter and are therefore vital for billing. All attendance notes must be filed on the correspondence clip to date order as soon as possible. Handwritten notes must be intelligible to the writer and other.
12.8 Traceability and confidentiality
All papers, documents and items in relation to client work must be traceable within the office through their being filed or stored on the matter file at all times. The location of all items and papers which are not kept within the file must be clearly recorded on that file. Items of evidence which are in the possession of the firm, or other physical items which the firm is required to retain in pursuance of instructions, must be labeled with the appropriate matter number and the client’s name.
Deeds are to be stored in the safe and tracked in the deeds log book while files are to be stored in the appropriate cabinets and tracked y completing the forms provided and attached to the cabinet. Consideration should always be given to copying items of particular sensitivity where their loss could cause particular difficulty for the firm or the client.
12.9 progressing matters
12.9.1 Maintaining progress
All matters must be progressed in an appropriate manner, having regard to the importance of the matter to the client, any instructions that they have provided on desired or necessary timescale and the constraints of the process concerned. In particular, lawyers will:
Provide regular and reasonable information to clients on progress or reasons for the lack of it and any change of adviser or supervisor;
Respond to any telephone calls or communication from clients promptly;
Reply in a professional manner to solicitors acting for the opponent or other parties;
Check all matters regularly for progress.
12.9.2 Case plan and costs updates
Any changes to the case plan should be made in a full and appropriate manner, such as a letter documenting the agreed amendments and agreed with the client. Any development which would cause the lawyer to doubt the costs information already provided should be reported to the client without delay. The costs position should be reviewed and reported to the client at least every six months by way of a costs update unless they have agreed otherwise, as where the work is being done to a fixed quote. It is important to revise any estimates as soon as it appears that they will or may be exceeded.
12.10 Matter closing
12.10.1 File closing
As soon as a client matter has been fully completed, the controlling lawyer is to close the file so that it can be archived. The lawyer must ensure that all ledger balances have been reduced to nil otherwise the matter cannot be archived on the accounting system.
The file is then to be passed to the practice administrator who will ensure the accountant archives the file on the accounting system and store the file in the labeled archives box for removal to storage. Theprocess will allocate the file a sequential storage number which will be recorded in the client matter details for future reference. The archiving process prevents any further postings from being made to the client and shows the matter as being closed, but all detailed entries including the matter details will be retained permanently in the accounting database and can be printed out if required later.
12.10.2 Final review
Before a file is archived there must be a final review of it in writing to see whether the client’s objectives were met and, if not, why not.
Files storage is the responsibility of the practice administrator who will arrange an appropriate storage facility.
13.0 HEALTH AND SAFETY
13.1 Health and safety at work
The firm’s general policy is to make sure, so far as it is able, that everyone in the firm’s offices has a safe and comfortable environment in which to work. The firm is not aware of any unusual hazards to your health and safety and provided reasonable care and common sense is used in carrying out your work, there should be nothing more dangerous encountered here than in your own home.
13.2 The role of personnel in health and safety issues
A prime source of assistance for the maintenance of proper working conditions is the help of all personnel throughout the firm. This may take any of the following forms:
Personnel exercising their own judgment in taking suitable precautions to ensure not only their own health and safety, but also that of all those who may be affected by what they do, or leave undone.
Participation in consultation exercises that may be arranged with regard to health and safety matters.
Actively supporting the firm’s health and safety programme by complying with such procedures as may from time to time be laid down.
Participating in such training as the firm may arrange.
Reporting to the managing partner any relevant concerns they may have.
13.3 First Aid
First aid boxes will be kept in the general office. The practice administrator will be responsible for ensuring that they are replenished as and when needed.
No smoking is permitted anywhere on the firm’s premises. Clients and visitors who are not aware of this should have the policy politely pointed out to them. Staff is not permitted to take ‘smoking breaks’ outside the firm’s premise, as this is considered to place an unfair burden on non-smoking colleagues.
13.5 Personal security arrangements
The firm is concerned to ensure the personal safety and security of all personnel, whether in the office, or elsewhere on the firm’s business. All personnel should comply with such security precautions as the firm has provided, such as locking and access control arrangements, and burglar alarms.
13.6 Security of premises and property
When leaving the premises, all personnel should check that all windows in their area are closed, and that all electrical equipment are switched off.
All personnel are responsible for the security of their own property.
13.7 Electrical equipment
Everyone in the firm uses electrical equipment as part of their daily work. Everyone must use common sense and caution when dealing with electrical equipment as they would in their own homes. If anyone suspects that equipment, plugs or the supply may be faulty (s) he must report it at once to a partner. Maintenance checks will be carried out periodically.
13.8 Fire instructions
Immediate action to be taken
If you discover a fire
· Raise the alarm;
· Attempt to put the fire out if possible with the appliances provide but without taking personal risks;
· Once the alarm has been raised:
1. Call the fire brigade immediately;
2. Evacuate the premises. All staff are to assemble at the muster point. Do not stop to collect personal belongings. Do not re-enter the building.
13.9 Fire extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are provided and a maintenance inspection of extinguishers is carried out annually.