The Court of Appeal has held in a recent decision that standard form letters are not always sufficient on their own to properly advise clients. If standard form letters are issued, they need to be sufficiently clear to ensure that clients properly understand the nature of the advice, with follow up discussions with the client regarding the advice if necessary.
A firm of solicitors were instructed by a former miner in relation to a damages claim for vibration white finger. Following settlement of the claim, the miner sued the firm of solicitors in negligence for failing to advise him about an additional potential claim for compensation. At first instance, the judge found that the firm of solicitors had been negligent for failing to ensure that the miner had properly understood its advice about the potential claim, which was contained in three standard form letters.
The Court of Appeal found that the standard form letters of advice which had been issued by the firm of solicitors were misleading and that “the situation cried out for a short discussion with the client” to ensure that the miner understood the circumstances in which the additional claim could be made. The appeal was dismissed.
This case highlights the risks for professionals dealing with high volume workloads and where financial constraints lead to reliance on standard form letters. If a professional considers that the issue of standard form letters are deemed necessary and appropriate in the circumstances, they should ensure that such letters are clear enough to ensure that a client who may be “unsophisticated in the relevant field” can understand the issues involved and the options available to them. Alternatively, it may be safer to build into the fee structure a short discussion with the client to ensure that they understand the position properly. The court was critical of professionals who are reluctant to take additional steps to ensure that their clients properly understand the advice which they have received for fear of generating further cost to their client.
If you are involved in a dispute and would like advice on this or a related topic, please contact Sian Lloyd by telephone 01392 210700 or email email@example.com. Sian is a member of Stephens Scown dispute resolution team and specialises in commercial and contract litigation.