The Danger of Precedent Letters
The Danger Of Precedent Letters & Forms
We've all done it haven't we?
We've been along to that new training course, where we listened to a specialist or expert talk about their subject. We've read the course notes, and if we think the talk and notes are good, we want more information.
Sometimes the trainer at the course will produce "accessories" that enhance what they have talked about. These "accessories" can sound very tempting as well, as they can be items that should make the course attendees lives easier by saving them time or providing reassurance.
One type of accessory that can do this is the Precedent Letter. You know, the ones that have been designed by someone else to be compliant with all the relevant rules and regulations of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The best ones have also been written in plain, jargon free English, so that your clients can easily understand them.
The trainer at your course can normally provide these letters at a price, usually on a CD ROM, sometimes with guidance documentation.
So, being impressed by the trainer, and thinking you can save yourself some time and compliance headaches, you decide to purchase these letters, and get them installed on your documentation system when you get back to the firm.
To all intents and purposes, you seem to be on a winner, don't you?
We visited a client in March this year to carry out a Practice MoT, a comprehensive review of systems, processes, policies and procedures, which included checks on items such as file management, client care letters etc.
At this particular client, we observed and reported to them that their client care and terms of business letters were not up to date with changes made by the SRA in October 2009 and again in March 2010.
The Senior Partner was very unhappy with this, and pointed out that all their client documentation came from a CD ROM that he had purchased in November of 2009 when he attended a course on client care and compliance.
So how could they possibly be wrong?
The answer should be obvious, but often isn't until it's been pointed out.
The Precedent Letters are time restricted. In other words, they are only correct for a limited window of time between regulatory changes. In this case, they were already out of date by November 2009, as they'd been written sometime before October 2009. This meant they missed the new requirements for both October 2009 and March 2010.
It is important to note that at the time of writing the letters were probably correct. The problem is the ever changing regulatory requirements the 21st century legal practice has to deal with.
And it's not restricted just to the SRA. The Legal Services Commission also change their regulations and rules frequently, sometimes to reflect regulatory changes, but often to reflect new fee structures under the franchise.
So what can a firm do about all this?
Well, there are no easy answers, but you could try the following;
Register or subscribe to any update services by the SRA, LSC or Law Society. These often take the form of a monthly update via email to web links that deal with specific changes. They don't always provide wording for the actual letters, but they will at least detail the information that is required within them.
In summary, you need to stay abreast of what is changing, and if buying precedents, see if the provider has a service that regularly updates them - it could make all the difference.