Many practices offer new clients an initial interview to discuss their legal requirements, what the practice can offer and the likely costs. This is a good opportunity to understand what your client wants and to agree the terms and conditions for providing your services. Effective communication during this interview reduces the chances of disputes arising later.
Most initial interviews should cover six areas.
1. Client’s objectives
Clients must be able to make informed decisions about what services they need and the options available to them. Understanding exactly what your client’s objectives are will help you tailor your services to their needs, increasing efficiency and client satisfaction.
2. Explaining your role
Many new clients will have never used a solicitor before and won’t be familiar with legal processes or what working with a solicitor entails. You should take time to explain your role and the services you provide, as well as those you don’t. You should also discuss both your responsibilities and those of your client.
3. Initial advice
It is important that you:
- agree with your client the service you will provide
- discuss whether the outcomes will justify the risk and expense
- explain the process and what will happen - for example, the steps in a conveyance or the stages in a personal injuries case.
You should tell your client about any complications which commonly occur in the service they want, and the different ways things could progress. Giving your client an overview will help them understand the legal process and reassure them things are progressing normally, rather than assuming you have made a mistake when a new issue arises.
4. General timeframes
It's helpful to tell your client when they can expect completion of the transaction or resolution of the case. They will feel more involved in the process, reducing the chance of complaints about delay or a lack of information.
5. How best to communicate with each other
Agree with your client how you will communicate with each other, whether it's by email, phone call, in person or another method.
You should also tell them, in writing, the name and status of the person dealing with their case and of the person with overall responsibility.
6. Details of charges
For your client to make an informed decision about whether to proceed, they must understand the cost implications.
You are required to give clear, concise and accurate information about the likely overall costs. This may include agreeing a fixed fee, giving a realistic estimate of the overall cost or explaining why costs can’t be fixed or realistically estimated. You must make it clear how charges are calculated, and you should provide information at the interview on:
- any hourly rates and an estimate of the time to be charged
- whether rates are likely to increase
- expected disbursements and when they will be due
- potential liability for others' costs
More information from the Law Society