The Law Society’s Practice Management Standards insist that firms of solicitors adopt a culture of risk management both for their clients’ and their own benefit. This paper sets out the policies that Brookes & Co. has put into place in order to comply with these standards.
The Practice Management Standards insist that the firm must adopt a culture of risk management both for its clients’ and its own benefit.
The firm has appointed a Risk Manager, a senior member of the management team, who is responsible for monitoring, recording and reporting all aspects of risk within the firm.
There are also procedures in place to minimise and control risk, these include:
Assessing, monitoring and reporting risk
When instructions are first received, and at regular intervals thereafter, a review is carried out to identify and report to the client any specific areas of risk which may be, or may become associated with the matter. Such aspects include financial risks to the client, risks to the firm and, in litigious matters, the likelihood of success and the client’s potential exposure to the other side’s costs.
We also identify the generic risks associated with particular types of work (including the giving of undertakings and placing of caveats against arrest) and have policies in place to handle the increased risk associated with those types of work.
The firm has adopted file management procedures which are followed throughout the course of each case, from the outset, when new instructions are taken from the client, to the conclusion. The procedures on opening a new file ensure that we obtain all of the necessary factual information relating to the client and the matter in hand and ascertain the client’s objectives. The initial procedures include conflict of interest checks, checks for money laundering, drafting of a client care letter and terms of engagement, making checks on time limits and jurisdictional issues and drawing up likely timescales and budgets. Once the case is in progress there are procedures to ensure that the matter is being handled effectively, key dates are being met, and that the client is being given regular reports. At the conclusion of the case we make a final risk assessment, draft a final letter to the client setting out the outcome of the matter and any further action the client should take, or any likely risk the client may yet face, and explain how the client’s documents will be dealt with.
Having taken initial instructions, and once the fee-earner is satisfied that he or she has all the information required and has a clear idea of the client’s requirements, a letter of advice and a letter of engagement will be drafted and sent to the client. The letter of engagement sets out who the client is, the intended outcome, the purposes for which the firm has been instructed, the scope of services to be provided, the fee-earner responsible for the conduct of the case and the status of that person (and, if a team is to be employed, the structure of the team), the supervisor (if appropriate), information relating to the firm’s complaints procedure, information on the basis of our charges and, wherever possible, an estimate of the quantum of our fees, the content and frequency of bills and interim bills, the likely risk to the client, the circumstances under which the retainer may be terminated, how documents and papers will be handled and stored upon completion and whether third parties such as Counsel or Experts are likely to be instructed.
Letter of advice
The letter of advice is normally drafted after the fee-earner has had an opportunity to review thoroughly the documents relating to the case, review related caselaw and, if necessary, clarify the instructions with the client. The letter will set out our understanding of the case, our understanding of the client’s objectives or requirements and any variations to or limitations of the client’s original instructions which it might be necessary to impose, any unusual level of risk involved, details of proposed initial action to be taken, steps to be take to complete the work and the anticipated time-frame, any potential conflicts of interest and any issues of client confidentiality.
Regular reports on progress, costs and risk
We ensure that the client is given regular progress reports (the minimum interval is once a fortnight, even if nothing is happening) so that the client is informed about any changes to the case and the way it is being handled, changes in costs, changes in the level of risk and any adverse costs orders.
Awareness of our own capabilities
This involves understanding and monitoring our own capabilities, defining the types of cases which are likely to fall within and outside acceptable risk levels, considering whether there are unusual degrees of risk associated with any particular matter or any particular client and, where necessary, implementing procedures to manage cases which fall outside acceptable risk levels.
Supervision of staff
It is often necessary, and indeed, cost-effective, to delegate work. The firm maintains procedures to ensure that the client is made aware, at the outset, that some aspects of the work will be delegated and to whom. Work which has been delegated is supervised by the principal and there are procedures in place to ensure that the matter has been delegated to the appropriate individual, is being run effectively, within budget, and that risk levels are being monitored and reported properly.
Selection of staff with the appropriate skills
We generally only recruit legal staff who have proven experience in those areas of maritime law in which the firm specialises. Each member of staff has a job description and a record is kept of work carried out, training courses attended and particular specialisms, interests and successes. Each member of staff, including the principal, has regular six-monthly appraisals at which his or her performance is assessed, training and development requirements are agreed and future prospects are discussed.
The majority of errors made by solicitors (and therefore the highest risks to the client and the solicitor) arise from timing issues, e.g. missing or misinterpreting limitation dates. It therefore essential that a diary system is established. This firm operates a system by which all key dates are entered on a file summary sheet in the file itself and also in a separate backup diary which is available to the whole firm. The key dates are checked and updated, where necessary, every time the file is reviewed by the fee-earner.
Appointment of Counsel and Expert Witnesses
It is frequently necessary to instruct Counsel and Expert Witnesses. The firm maintains a register of such experts which is updated regularly. We ensure that choice of Counsel and Expert is always discussed with the client. We ensure that Instructions to Counsel and Experts clearly describe the scope of their involvement and what is required of them. We also ensure that Counsel’s advice or Expert’s reports are communicated promptly to the client.
Handling of complaints
Many complaints are not about the solicitor’s legal knowledge or the quality of advice they give to their client. They are about client care. We operate a complaints handling procedure whereby every attempt is made to address and rectify complaints as soon as they arise.