Client Care Letters

Client Care Letters

Client care letters and accompanying Terms of Business are often the first written communication a client will receive from an attorney. A well-drafted letter can provide a good opportunity to develop the relationship with the client as well as complying with the transparency rules in the Code of Conduct.  

You should draft your client care letter and terms of business with reference to IPReg’s Guidance on Transparency.  You should also give your client an opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification about your costs and services.  Your clients might find IPReg’s consumer guide useful.  It is not a requirement to provide this to your clients and prospective clients, but it does set out some of the questions around cost and service which may help them in making decisions about their choice of IP services provider.

Some key principles to consider when drafting client communications:

1. Show a clear purpose – provide a clear rationale as to the role of the letter and the importance of the client reading it immediately

2. Keep it concise – the ideal length is 1-2 pages. If this is not feasible, break information down into bite size chunks and use a short, to the point sentence structure

3. Put it in Plain English – try to avoid using legal terms, archaic or complex language. Minimise the use of vague and/or heavily caveated sentences

4. Prioritise information – focus on the information which is perceived to be most relevant to the client and ensure a logical flow

5. Personalise information – provide details on the client’s specific case, for example their estimated costs rather than general estimated costs. Tailor the letter so that irrelevant information is excluded

6. Make it easy to read – use line spacing and a large font size (minimum size 12). Use headings to make the letter easy to navigate and avoid dense paragraphs. Break down information by using tables or bullet points

7. Highlight key information – use visual tools such as bold text, headers, summary boxes, tables or diagrams, to make it easier for clients to pick out key points

8. Consider additional opportunities to engage clients – finally, while there should be a clear reference to the complaints procedure in the client care letter, consider whether more detailed coverage is better delivered separately or whether reminders could be sent later in the legal process, to ensure that this information is read and understood.

If you wish to potentially exercise a lien over client papers and other materials belonging to a client, you must make this an express term of business and your client must agree to this.  A guidance note on liens was drafted following a disciplinary matter in 2013 which you may find useful, though please note it references regulatory arrangements no longer in force. 

What are an attorney’s obligations?

Code of Conduct, paragraph 1

1.1 Clients receive the best available information about your work and costs, both at the time of engagement and, when the context applies, as work progresses.

1.2 Clients receive an appropriate explanation of any financial benefits, including but not limited to any commission, foreign exchange uplifts, discount or rebate received as a result of their instructions.

1.3 Publicity in relation to your work is accurate, fair and not misleading.

1.4 Information about any referral arrangements in place, including the payment of a referral fee and fee sharing arrangements is provided to the client.

1.5 You do not undertake work for a client where your duty to act in the best interests of that client conflicts, or there is a significant risk it may conflict, with your own interest in respect of that work or related work.

1.6 You do not act for two or more clients in relation to the same work or related work when there is a significant risk that their interests are or will be in conflict.

1.7 You do not act for a client where your duty to act in their best interests will conflict with your duty to keep another client’s affairs confidential unless there is no risk of such disclosure or the other client in respect of whom you hold confidential information has given informed consent.

1.8 You keep your client’s affairs confidential unless permitted by law or your client consents.

1.9 You exercise a lien over client papers and other materials belonging to a client only when, and to the extent that, the lien is available in law or the lien is an express term of business to which the client has agreed.