Initial interviews

9 May 2019

Many practices offer new clients an initial interview to discuss their legal needs, 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.

For detailed guidance see our practice note on initial interviews.

Before the interview

If you offer initial interviews to clients, you should make clear:

  • who they are for
  • the purpose and what they will cover
  • any charges for the interview

Before the interview you should check for any conflict of interest. If there is a conflict you should not go ahead with the interview.

Charging for initial interviews

You may decide to offer initial interviews free, or at a reduced rate, to attract clients. If you charge for initial interviews you must make this clear to clients.

What to cover in the interview

The client’s objectives

Clients must be able to make informed decisions about what services they need and their options. You should make sure you understand exactly what your client’s objectives are, so that you can explain their options and tailor your services to their needs.

Explaining your role

Many new clients will not have used a solicitor before so they won’t be familiar with the process. You should explain your role and the services you provide, as well as those you do not provide. You should also discuss your responsibilities and your client’s responsibilities.

Your advice

You should discuss and agree with your client:

  • the service you will provide
  • whether the outcomes will justify the risk and cost
  • what will happen - for example, the steps in buying a property or the stages in a personal injuries case
  • any complications that might come up, and the different ways things could progress
  • when they can expect their case to be completed

You should keep a record of your initial advice about risks, so that you can keep your client updated about any changes as the work progresses.

How to communicate with the client

Agree with your client how you will communicate, whether 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 the person with overall responsibility.

Details of your costs

Under the SRA Code, you must give your client the best information possible about the likely overall cost of a matter at the start, and as their matter progresses. This will help your client make an informed decision about whether to proceed.

You must 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
  • giving a forecast within a possible range, or
  • explaining why costs cannot be fixed or realistically estimated

You must explain how charges are calculated, and you should provide information at the interview on:

  • 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
  • VAT

You should explain your billing arrangements and discuss how and when the costs will be paid. Consider whether the client may be able to:

  • apply for legal aid
  • be offered a conditional fee agreement
  • use insurance to cover costs
  • seek payment of costs from someone else, such as an employer

If the matter is contentious, you must explain the circumstances where your client may have to pay other parties’ costs.

Identity checks and money laundering

You can conduct an initial interview before verifying the client’s identity if you are only providing legal advice, and not doing transactional work.

If you take on the client’s case you should verify their identity in line with the anti-money laundering regulations.

More on anti-money laundering and identity verification

After the interview

You should keep a record of your notes from the interview. If you agree to act for the client, you may wish to write to them confirming what you discussed.

> Next section: Providing information

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