Terms of Business
These terms set out the general terms on which we provide services to you. When you instruct us to advise on a new matter we will normally send you a retainer letter confirming your instructions. The terms of that letter (if any) and these Terms of Engagement will together form the contract between us for that matter.
When you appoint us to act for you in relation to a particular piece of legal work:
- you will be authorising us to take all measures we believe appropriate to protect your interests unless you instruct us specifically to the contrary; and
Your requests to us for work to be done are called “instructions”.
Our advice is provided to you and may not, without our prior written consent, be disclosed to any other party. You will not refer to us or our advice in any public document or communication without our prior written consent.
We operate a primary contact system so that you will always have one lawyer here with an overview of all the work that we may be doing for you. That lawyer may not be directly involved in all of your work as we aim to provide the services of the most appropriate specialist lawyer or lawyers to deal with each piece of work.
We will ensure that further issues raised in your matter are explained to you and that you are kept informed of progress. From time to time and as necessary we will review, and advise you, as to whether the likely outcome of your matter will continue to justify the likely charges, expenses and risk involved.
For the sake of convenience, we are happy to communicate with you using normal, non-encrypted email. This form of email is not secure and there is a risk to you if we communicate confidential information to you in this way. We cannot accept liability for any communication which is intercepted or otherwise falls into the hands of those other than the intended recipient.
We will assume that we have your consent to communicate with you by this method, unless you advise us otherwise.
We are flexible and are willing to consider many different ways of charging fees. These include fixed fees, fees subject to a fee limit, percentage fees based on the value of the transaction, retainer fees or fees calculated by reference to hourly rates. However, unless we have specified another fee structure, we will charge fees primarily by reference to the amount of time spent by individuals at Astute Legal Solicitor & Advocates on your work.
In setting our fees and our hourly rates we take into account:
- the nature and complexity of the work;
- the amount of time spent, knowledge required and responsibility involved;
- the type and nature of the documents involved; and
- the value of the transaction, property or subject matter.
Time spent on your matter will include, but is not limited to, meetings with you and others in relation to the matter, time spent travelling and waiting, considering and preparing papers, making and receiving telephone calls, correspondence, sending and receiving e-mails, attendance at Court or Tribunal, time spent in filing documents at Court and undertaking other clerking tasks, and documenting the arrangements under which we will provide legal services to you.
The amount of time spent on a matter will also be influenced by the manner in which you respond to our requests for information. Timely provision of up to date information will help us to spend less time on your matter.
Estimates we give are a guide to assist you in budgeting, but should not be seen as a definitive quotation unless this is specifically agreed in writing.
In some types of work we may be willing to agree a fee structure which depends on the outcome. We are not generally able to do this for litigation. In probate matters we charge 2% for the value of the estate.
If a transaction or other matter does not proceed to completion, our fees will still be payable.
Any special fee (such as a fixed or capped fee) agreed for a matter will not cover additional work not identified when the arrangement was agreed.
Limits to fees
You may agree with us an upper limit for the fees and expenses that may be incurred by us without further authority in a particular case. This means that you must pay those incurred up to the agreed limit without our needing to refer to you further. Depending on the nature of the work, it may be necessary to review that upper limit with you as the case or transaction progresses.
Changes to fees
Our hourly charge-out rates are reviewed with effect from 1 June each year. We will notify you of the rates if they change and you will then be bound by them. If you do not accept the new rates after review, we reserve the right not to continue acting for you from 31 May.
Our fee estimates do not include any expenses or payments to third parties which you may incur separately. These are known as “disbursements”. Examples of disbursements are travel expenses, phone call charges, fax and photocopying charges, experts’ (including costs draftsmen) fees, Counsels’ fees, stamp duty and search fees. These will generally be billed at the same time as we invoice you for our fees, but may sometimes be billed at another time.
If we have to incur additional expenses for staff, other than lawyers, working overtime on evenings or weekends in order to provide an effective service to you, we may include these expenses as a separate item on our invoice to you.
Value Added Tax
All quotations or estimates of our fees that we give are not subject to the addition of Value Added Tax.
Unless agreed to the contrary, and to help you budget for your legal expenses, we bill monthly for the work performed to date together with any disbursements we may incur on your behalf. You must pay the bill within 14 days from its date.
You have the right to object to any of our bills and to apply for the bill to be assessed under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974. If you are unhappy with any bill which we send you please contact your lawyer in the first instance who will try to resolve your query.
Our invoices are payable no later than 14 days from the invoice date unless we have agreed with you otherwise in writing. We may change these payment terms at any time by giving at least 30 days’ notice in writing. If an account is not paid in full within that period we may charge you interest on any amount outstanding from the date of the invoice until the date the bill is paid at 8% p/a, or such percentage equivalent to the statutory rate of interest prescribed for judgments from time to time in place. In the alternative and where appropriate, we reserve the right to claim interest pursuant to the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.
If an account remains unpaid and we decide to commence legal proceedings against you in order to recover the sums you owe us then we will be entitled to recover from you the legal costs that we incur in connection with those proceedings at our standard hourly rates, together with all disbursements (including fees of Counsel and any overseas lawyers engaged by us in our attempts to recover payment from you).
Where an account is overdue we are entitled to exercise a lien over files and documents belonging to you until our account is settled. We also reserve the right to cease continuing work for you.
If instructions for a piece of work are given by more than one person or company, we may recover our fees and disbursements from any one or more of them. This includes situations where one person or company instructs on behalf of another.
If arrangements are made for a third party to pay any of our fees or disbursements, or a court orders a third party to pay any part of our fees or disbursements, you remain liable to pay them to the extent that the third party does not pay them when due.
Payments on account
There may be circumstances in which we will expect you to make payment to us on account of our fees and any expenses that are to be incurred in connection with our work. We will tell you in advance if this is the case.
Any money that you pay to us on account will be held in our client account at National Westminster Bank Plc and unless agreed to the contrary you will be entitled to interest on it (if any). We will offset that money on account, and any interest which accrues on it, against your bills, although our total fees and expenses may be greater than any advance payments.
Monies held subject to an undertaking
Any monies that we hold subject to an undertaking on your behalf will be held in our client account at National Westminster Bank Plc and you will be entitled to interest on them unless agreed to the contrary.
Monies held in our client account
We will not be liable to repay any money that we hold for you in our client account at National Westminster Bank Plc which is lost as a result of a failure of the bank.
We are not able to carry out legally aided work.
It is our policy to store files and papers relating to your matter for a minimum of seven years from the date the matter was completed. This does not apply to any papers that you ask to be returned to you.
After seven years, we may dispose of them in accordance with the procedures recommended by the Law Society. This policy does not apply to the storage of title documents, title deeds and other valuable documents which you specifically ask us to keep in safe custody.
If we retrieve papers or documents from storage in relation to continuing or new instructions to act in connection with your affairs, we will normally charge you for the cost to us of that retrieval. We may also make a charge based on time spent retrieving and copying stored papers or documents to you or another at your request.
Confidentiality and disclosure
We have a duty to keep the affairs of our clients and former clients confidential except where disclosure is required or permitted by law or by the clients or former clients concerned. In certain circumstances, such as in order to comply with Money Laundering Regulations and the law relating to terrorist financing from time to time in force, we may be required to provide information relating to a client or former client to regulators, including the National Crime Agency. We may also be prevented from informing such clients or former clients that a disclosure has been made or of the reasons for it because the law prevents “tipping off”.
Should we receive requests, either directly from you, or from your accountants and/or auditors, for confirmation as to whether we are instructed on your behalf, our response shall always be addressed directly to you for onward transmission. Such requests may require us to confirm whether any matters are of a litigious nature, whether any deeds or documents are retained by us on your behalf and also whether there are any outstanding bills owed by you to us or any work in progress at any given point in time.
You also agree that we may, when required by our insurers or other advisers, provide details to them of a matter or matters on which we have acted for you.
We reserve the right to charge on a time basis for work undertaken in responding to such requests.
Conflicts and confidentiality
Conflicts between your interests and those of another client may arise. If there is a conflict of interest, we might have to cease acting for you.
All fees and disbursements up to the date of termination will be charged and become due.
You agree that we will not be under any obligation to disclose to you, or use on your behalf, any documents or other information in respect of which we owe a duty of confidentiality to another client, former client or third party.
Data Protection Act 1998
As a controller of personal data we are under an obligation to comply with data protection law set out in the Data Protection Act 1998 and any other regulations made under that Act. By giving us your personal information you consent to us processing and storing your information so that we may provide you with legal services and generally administer and take care of our relationship with you. We may disclose your information to our third-party service providers or agents for these purposes.
In addition, we may contact you from time to time to let you know about our services which may include sending you newsletters and news on training events or changes in the law which may affect you. Please remember that you can elect not to receive such marketing material at any time by writing to our Marketing Manager or to the lawyer responsible for your work.
We can send you our full data protection policy on request.
You may, except as set out in “Restrictions to Termination” below, terminate our engagement at any time on reasonable notice. To do so you should notify the lawyer with responsibility for your matter and confirm the position in writing.
We reserve the right to terminate our engagement by you which we will confirm in writing. However, we will only decide to stop acting for you with good reason, for example, if you do not pay a bill or comply with our request for a payment on account or you fail to give us the co-operation which we are reasonably entitled to expect. We must give you reasonable notice that we will stop acting for you.
All fees and disbursements and VAT up to the date of termination will be charged and become due.
Restrictions to termination
Where the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply to the work we undertake for you (for example if you have instructed us over the telephone or by email), you acknowledge that on our commencing that work you will be incurring fees attributable to that work. Because we will have commenced work at your request, you may not cancel your contract with us in relation to the work that has been done (or expenses and charges incurred) and our fees for that work will be payable by you.
With respect to contentious matters, if we are on record at Court as acting for you in any proceedings the consent of the Court may be required before we can be removed. To that extent your right to terminate our engagement may be restricted and you will be liable for our fees and charges until such date as we are no longer on the record as acting for you.
Unless specifically agreed with you in writing in our retainer letter our advice to you will not extend to advice on the tax or pensions’ implications of the work on which we are advising you.
Unless specifically agreed with you in writing in our retainer letter, we will not keep under review, or re-visit in the future, any advice which we give to you in relation to any instruction.
All of our advice is given on the basis of the laws of England and Wales. To the extent we advise on documents governed by the laws of other jurisdictions, we will not be advising on any specific implications of the laws of those jurisdictions.
We shall not be liable to you if we are unable to perform our services as a result of any cause beyond our reasonable control. In the event of any such occurrence affecting us we shall notify you as soon as reasonably practicable.
Application of these terms and amendments
These Terms of Engagement supersede any earlier terms of business we may have agreed with you and, in the absence of express agreement to the contrary, will apply to the services referred to in any retainer letter accompanying these Terms of Engagement and all subsequent services we provide to you.
Rights of third parties
Our agreement with you is personal as between you and us and is not intended to confer any rights of enforcement on any third parties pursuant to the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.
Governing law and jurisdiction
This agreement and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with it or its subject matter or formation (including non-contractual disputes or claims) shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the law of England and Wales. The parties irrevocably agree that the Courts of England and Wales shall have exclusive jurisdiction to settle any dispute or claim that arises out of or in connection with this agreement or its subject matter or formation (including non-contractual disputes or claims).
We are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority SRA Number: 632641