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Managing Clients at the End of a Transaction

A satisfied client will pay your fees, possibly reinstruct, and recommend your services to friends and colleagues.  On the other hand, a client who is not satisfied may do none of these things!  They will instead convey their dissatisfaction to all and sundry, lodge a complaint with the Disciplinary Board, or even sue you!  Sensible practices and procedures that help satisfy your clients will save you untold time, trouble, and expense.
 
Even at the end of a transaction, you must take care to conclude it properly.  There are a couple of key aspects to this that you need to consider before anything is truly ended.
 
Closing Reports to Clients
 
In concluding your client's business, your practice procedures should deal with the following items:
 
  1. Report to the client on the conclusion of the matter. This should be completed with previous reports on court appearances and previous updates.  A written record, together with details of any final actions that the client should be undertaking (eg, payment under a court order) will further ensure there is no misunderstanding on either side. 
 
  1. Prompt account to the client for any outstanding money owing from the ledger.
 
  1. Delay in payment over monies due to a client is one of the most common causes of complaints against lawyers and can sour an otherwise satisfactory lawyer-client relationship.
 
  1. Where there is more than one client (eg, husband and wife), care should be taken to ensure that the accounting is to all parties, although your original instructions should make it clear when does one has authority to act for all.
 
  1. Payment of the final bill. The client will be all the more satisfied if:
 
  1. the account is reasonably detailed. There is no need to spell out details of correspondence and meetings with the client, but it is advisable to give more detail of matters which the client might otherwise overlook (eg, routine court attendances, local authority enquiries, etc).
 
  1. You render the account promptly. Where the lawyer wishes to settle the fees and disbursements from funds held on the client's behalf, this can only be done after a bill has been rendered to the client.
 
  1. Payment is acknowledged. Leaving the client without confirmation of payment is not only discourteous but forms a poor basis for any continuing relationship.
 
Papers and Documents
 
When it comes to filing any final papers and documents and what you should do with them, it is worth spending a little more effort and time getting it right to save time, trouble, and expenses.
 
  1. You should return any original documents or property supplied by the client.  In turn, ensure that the client acknowledges receipt of these documents.
 
  1. Both the client and the law practice should have a record of what documents are being stored by the lawyer, together with details of arrangements for storage and retrieval.  Take into account Rule 18.01 of Bar Council Rules and Rulings on guidelines for disposal of files, which recommends the following period for retention of files by solicitors before destruction: 
  1. Conveyancing files: 12 years;
  2. Litigation:
    1. General litigation: 6 years;
    2. Unenforced judgment: 12 years from date of judgment;
  3. Probate and administration: 6 years;
  4. Family matters: 6 years;
  5. General matters: 6 years.
 
Where a transaction or matter has concluded and you are unable to obtain further instructions from a client, write to them advising the file is to be closed at a specific point, unless the client provides the necessary instructions or information.
 
Closing a file may seem like the easiest step at the end of a long and arduous matter.  It may be terribly tempting to relax at this juncture and let things fall where they may when they may.  But even here, perhaps especially here, care should be taken to make sure you do not trip before crossing the finishing line.