Thursday, 2 February 2012

When do you, or don't you act for a client?

I received a grand of funding from the Legal Services Commission to provide an 'advise and report' last week.  What this means is that we interview the client, and provide the LSC with an outline of the facts and an opinion of the best way to progress the matter.  We discuss with the client what their next step will be, and if the LSC provides funding, we take them on as a client and deal with their matter.

Unfortunately, this particular client didn't want to engage in the normal sorts of mediation that are required to deal with a Family Law matter.  What she WANTED was for the father to have as little to do with the children as possible.  To facilitate that, she didn't want to father to be pushed into getting legal advice, because then he would 'just want everything.'  (By this I interpreted that once he knew what he was entitled to, he would try to get it.)  She asked us to write him a letter from us saying that the children would stay with her only.

The only problem is that we don't act for her.  Yet.  The funding we received was not to write letters for her, but to advise and report to the LSC.

I took the liberty of preparing a letter for HER to send to the other party FROM HER.  I put HER name on the bottom, and made it clear in my instructions that this was a POSSIBLE letter that would convey her terms.  I explained in great detail that we did NOT act for her.  Since then, I have received numerous phone calls (the letter is currently in the mail) asking me to email the letter to her.

I have lots of reservations about this. For one thing, because we don't act for her, we will not send letters to the other side for her. If I email it to her, she can forward the email straight on to the other side and say 'This is a letter from my lawyers.'

The problem with this whole matter is that I did not manage the client's expectations well enough.  I didn't make it clear enough when I was giving her advice about the course of the matter than until she retained us, we couldn't do anything for her.  Since she didn't want to participate in mediation, it was unlikely that the LSC will fund her, and she can't afford to pay privately.  Thus, she can't get her 'letter of demand' unless she agrees to mediate.  But she is CONVINCED (even after being refused several times) that I should prepare a letter.

I think I have learned a lesson from this.  Just don't talk to clients.  That way you can't get anything wrong.

This client later caused all sorts of problems. She retyped our letter, put our firm's letterhead on it, put my name at the bottom of it, changed all sorts of things, and sent it to the father. We got a confused call from him a week or two later, asking about this letter!

Honestly, that amounts to dishonest dealing with documents!

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