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No. 9 – Fashion

No. 9 ‘Fashion’

With nearly 50 years of providing legal services we have seen a wide range of fashion trends come and go across the high street. From the bell bottoms of the 70s, the shoulder pads of the 80s, 90’s Britpop through to the fast fashion of the millennium they have all had, or will have had, their day and will be replaced by the next new trend. Whilst clothing fashion is seasonable and short term, trusted legal advice never goes out of fashion and for our clients we are there when they need us with practical advice.

At Clark Willis we believe in being a law firm for life, in being there for our clients and their families when life events mean that they require a solicitor and to help them plan for the future. Whatever the season, whatever the weather we have a range of experience solicitors to support them for their personal legal needs. We invest in this ethos in four main ways:

  1. Ensuring we have a core of personal legal services to ensure we can meet an individual’s legal requirements throughout their lifetime. Some of our core services include buying or selling Property, Will writing and estate planning, Divorce and Childcare, Personal Injury, Dispute Resolution and then finally assisting in sorting our matters through Probate when a person passes away. This cradle to grave mentality means we can genuinely be a law firm for life.
  2. Focus on delivering excellent customer service levels to ensure that our client’s experience of a law firm is positive. We are highly rated for customer satisfaction and seek feedback off every client as we strive to constantly seek new ways to improve our customer journey with us. Instructing solicitors can be daunting and often at emotional times, where aspects as basic as being able to speak to your solicitor on the phone, being made to feel at ease and emotionally supported can make a real difference to the experience and challenge the traditional reputation of solicitors appearing aloof.
  3. Rewarding loyalty. Existing clients receive discounts on our standard rates for future work and those people utilising our residential conveyancing service or family team services also qualify for discounts on writing our updating Wills to reflect their new circumstances. We also offer complimentary storage of key documents as standard.
  4. Like a fashion brand, we continually look ahead to the future and invest in future talent, recruit to retain and provide a positive working environment for our team. Many of the current team have trained with us and we have even had several team members who have left to explore life outside of firm and who have returned back to the fold. The longest serving employee has been with us for over 40 years. We believe this internal ethos flows through positively into our service.

So, whilst fashion trends on the high street may change seasonally, we remain true to our aim of providing clear legal advice, with clear costs making us the clear choice for legal advice regardless of the latest trends. Whether you need a solicitor because you are getting Divorced, moving home, need probate help or have suffered a personal injury, our team are here for you.

‘Fashion’ is the 9th image in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

The Right Age To Make A Will?

If you are reading this based on the heading, the chances are you will have thought to yourself – “Do I need a Will?”

The answer to the question is very subjective as there is no specific time that you should make a Will and it will vary from each individual but in general, if you answer yes to ANY of the following questions, regardless of your age, then you should make a Will.

  1. Do you own, or part own a property?
  2. Do you have young children?
  3. Do you have savings over £1,000?
  4. Do you have specific items you would like to leave to people?

For most adults, one or more of the above will apply, certainly by mid to late twenties, which would mean that it would be sensible to start thinking about a Will.

Clearly thinking about and actually doing are two very different things and the attitude of “I’m too young to need a Will – they are for the elderly” often means that although you should have a Will, people do not get around to writing one.

If you are reading this and have a mortgage, chances are that you have life insurance to pay off the mortgage if you die during the mortgage term. This is planning for an accidental death, but people view this very differently to writing a Will, which is protecting your family and loved ones from exactly the same thing.

A Will is the only way to specify how you would like your estate to be distributed on your death, accidental or otherwise, and also allows you to tailor instructions to your requirements, from appointing guardians for your children, building in some protection from care home fees, protect inheritance for children of previous marriages through to looking at business or farm succession.

Whilst hopefully you will pass away peacefully after a long and successful life, the world does not always turn out like that. That is why, if you answered Yes to any of those 4 questions above, now is the right time to make a Will. It is better to be prepared and hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Whilst the world has slowed down for many during the pandemic, now is the perfect time to reflect on your wishes and to put a Will in place so that once restrictions are lifted and the world speeds up to its normal pace, its one more job done during lockdown.

Our specialist Wills team are still able to assist you to prepare a Will during the current pandemic. Advice and instructions can be provided over the phone, via videocalls or through email or postal instruction packs and special arrangements for signing have been put in place. With prices stating at only £150 plus VAT and NHS discounts available, contact Darlington on 01325 281111 or Catterick Garrison 01748 830000, email wills@clarkwillis.co.uk or visit our website for more information.

Equity Release During Covid 19

When undertaking Equity Release work it has always been important to discuss the product in detail with our clients given the need to ensure they fully understand the implications of the borrowing and to rule out any financial pressures from others.

During the lockdown is has become much harder to undertake meetings in person, especially for vulnerable clients. Some of our clients have been self isolating due to their health or their age whilst others have simply been worried about how they stay safe whilst still moving forward with something which is really important and necessary for financial reasons.

At Clark Willis we have continued to support our equity release clients however we can. From face to face appointments in the garden (weather permitting!) to video conference appointments under the Equity Release Council’s ‘Stay at Home’ protocol. In all cases we have still been able to go from offer to completion in around 2 weeks.

Following the change in the government guidance for England from ‘Stay at Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’, we have now obtained up to date clarification from the Equity Release Council as to whether their Stay at Home Protocol should still be followed in all cases when solicitors provide legal advice to their clients.

The ERC have confirmed that if clients are happy to meet face to face, whilst still strictly following social distancing measures of course, the ERC have no objections.

If clients are not comfortable to have their solicitor visit them at home, then it may still be possible to complete the legal advice section of the equity release process by video conference, using the Stay at Home Protocol which can be viewed at https://www.equityreleasecouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Stay-at-Home-Solicitor-Appointment-flowchart.pdf

It is not clear how long the protocol will be available as an option when giving legal advice. Whilst we have always protected vulnerable clients who want to enter into equity release, it seems to me that having another option available whilst there is a chance that clients could place themselves in danger by being forced to meet their solicitors face to face, is the right thing for all concerned.

If clients or professional advisors require any help with equity release, don’t hesitate to contact the Residential Property team at your local Clark Willis office Alister, email property@clarkwillis.co.uk. or visit our website www.clarkwillis.com

The Housing Market returns?

It is great news for conveyancers, estate agents and removal firms that the government have now updated their guidance in relation to buying and selling houses in England.

The changes to the regulations now allow people to leave their home to:

  • visit estate agents or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes;
  • view a residential property to buy or rent;
  • prepare a residential property to move into;
  • move house;
  • visit a residential property to carry out tasks needed to rent or sell that property

 

I have been in touch with a number of local estate agents today and they have all indicated they are aiming to open their doors again in the coming days, to help get the property market back up and running.

It will remain to be seen whether the housing market resumes to post lockdown levels and a straw poll by us would suggest that there is still some hesitation on the part of house hunters to return to their pre Covid-19 search. 58% indicated that they would wait and see how the pandemic progresses against 25% who said they would actively start looking again, whilst 17% remained unsure.

There is expected to be an immediate flurry of activity on those transactions on hold during the lockdown, which are now able to complete.

Throughout the lockdown period Clark Willis have continued to help our clients to buy and sell their properties, within the boundaries of the Corona Virus guidance given by the government. We have remained available and open by phone and video for all of our property clients and this continues to be the case as we make our way, hopefully, out of lockdown.

For those who have actively started hunting for their next home, you can call your nearest Clark Willis office to speak to us or  alternatively, you can obtain an instant, online quote for our legal fees HERE

 

Love Thy Neighbour? Not During Covid-19 Necessarily

Neighbours. Everybody needs, or would like, good neighbours.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, we have seen a noticeable increase in enquiries from clients in dispute with their neighbours.

It stands to reason that a large of amount spent at home coupled with feelings of unease or anxiety about the pandemic could magnify an otherwise minor issue or irritation.

Neighbour disputes can encompass a wide range of issues from overhanging bushes, parking wars, boundary disputes or access issues, through to anti-social behaviour and harassment.

How to Resolve Disputes

First and foremost, we would recommend that you speak to your neighbours informally in an effort to resolve any potential issues at an early stage. You may achieve more with a cup of tea and a biscuit than you can with a legal letter!

It should be remembered that you still have to live next door to each other whilst disputes are ongoing. This can be incredibly stressful for both parties. Selling your home or moving may be an option, however you would have to declare any neighbour dispute, access or boundary dispute to a potential buyer as this is a standard enquiry in conveyancing transaction.

Mediation can also be a very effective method of short circuiting a dispute, particularly if the right mediator is selected, one who is able to think outside of the box and focus the minds of the parties on achieving a mutually acceptable solution.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which the parties are either unwilling or unable to agree a solution and the input of lawyers becomes necessary. It should be said that the potential cost of pursuing a neighbour dispute through the courts can be eyewatering and the potential financial risk to the parties could be significant, particularly if you are the unsuccessful party!

If you are intent on pursuing legal action against your neighbours, it is crucial that evidence gathering is carried out an early stage. The type of evidence required will vary according to the nature of the dispute. A firm of solicitors with strong experience in such cases, together with expert counsel, can advise fully to what evidence will be required and also in respect of the strengths and weaknesses of the respective cases.

Costs and Funding

In terms of funding, unfortunately the vast majority of neighbour disputes are excluded from legal aid funding and would therefore have to be funded privately. It is certainly worth checking any policy of home insurance to see whether there is Legal Expense Insurance (LEI) within the home insurance policy, which may provide cover to you for you depending on the disputes. Charges are normally on a  time spent dealing with your dispute, although a fixed fee may be agreed at the outset or for initial stages to seek a resolution swiftly.

It is essential to understand the possible costs of any dispute and factor this into any decision to pursue or defend a dispute as it is easy for costs to mount up over points of principle when a compromise could solve the dispute sooner.

An Englishmen’s (and Englishwomen) home is his castle and should be a place of sanctuary, but where neighbours actions or inactions are a cause of action, we would recommend that you contact a solicitor an early stage to discuss the merits of the case, strategies for early resolution and the potential cost to enable you to make an informed decision.

Contact our trusted Dispute Resolution team at your local office today (Darlington 01325 281111 | Catterick 01748 830000) email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk or visit www.clarkwillis.com for more information.

No8 – Dispute Resolution

No8 – Dispute Resolution

 

Some disputes cannot be resolved just like which came first – the chicken or the egg? but for the majority of people or business there can be a resolution.

We understand that disputes can arise over all matter of personal issues, ranging from neighbourly boundary disagreements through to contractual business disputes and debt recovery. There are always two sides to a dispute and what may appear a clear issue to one party may be viewed differently by the other leaving most disputes not always as clear as black and white.

Unfortunately, it is easy for minor problems to escalate into major disputes as opposing sides become entrenched in their views, dialogue turns to silence, action becomes impasse. Often disputes can have a personal element as well as a financial or performance issue and this can add an extra layer of complexity.

The right approach is essential and instructing a lawyer early can often be more effective than waiting until things get worse and can help to resolve disputes through a variety of means. This may simply be writing to the other side of the dispute, through alternative dispute resolution and we regularly assist our clients to take part in mediation meetings and explore alternative ways of resolving disputes to minimize costs, and in those matters that simply cannot be resolved in any other way, through the Courts.

As a firm we have been assisting the people of County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire with their legal disputes for nearly 50 years. Our longest serving solicitor and Partner, Peter Furness, has over 30 years specialising in Dispute Resolution and together with his team, are available to provide you with advice on your dispute, the options available to you and the likely costs so that you can make an informed decision.

We are also happy to assist in matters that the Court system define as small claims as we appreciate that the claim itself can have a greater value above their financial worth and for members of the public who are intimidated by going to Court, we are willing to assist on a fixed fee basis to ensure we can support all our clients, regardless of their dispute.

‘Dispute Resolution’ is a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

Accidents at Work – Employers legal obligations remain during Covid-19

The Covid-19 outbreak has brought unprecedented challenges to our lives, both at home and at work.

Many industries have shutdown operations and/or furloughed their staff whilst lockdown is in place, whereas a great many other businesses remain operational and have increased recruitment to cope with increased demand. Retail and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) production are good examples of businesses which have seen increases in profit and headcount during this crisis.

The fact that there is an ongoing public health emergency does not override the legal obligations placed upon in respect of employee safety. Employers continue to be placed under a number of statutory duties, including:-

  • Ensure the safety of the workplace and equipment within it.
  • Produce an assessment of the risk(s) posed to the health and safety of employees and make employees aware of those risk and how they should be reduced or avoided.
  • Provide appropriate lifting aids to eliminate the need for manual handling, if possible.
  • Implement measures to reduce the amount of manual handling carried out by employees
  • Provide PPE where required
  • Provide training and comprehensible instructions in respect of the work required and any potential risk to the employee’s health and safety
  • Provide suitable access equipment and safety measures where the work is carried out at height
  • Implement suitable safety measures to reduce risk to employees dealing with hazardous substances
  • Keep records of accidents occurring within the workplace
  • Report accidents to the HSE where the same meets the reporting criteria.

 

There is perhaps a temptation on the part of employers to put temporary employees to work as soon as possible, without providing the level of training, work equipment or PPE given to a permanent employee, however the law precludes this and requires the same standard of care be given to temporary employees as their permanent counterparts.

Furthermore, an employee who has not received proper training and instruction can be a danger to their colleagues and a potential liability to their employer. Would you allow an employee to use a piece of equipment such as a baler or fork lift truck if they have not been properly trained to use it?

It is also in the national interest for employers to ensure that they meet their legal obligations to take care of key workers in order to ensure that increased demand for their goods and/or services can be met and secondly, to reduce further potential strain upon the NHS caused by injuries to employees requiring treatment.

Whilst on the one hand, it is positive that businesses are recruiting to meet demand and help with the extraordinary national effort to overcome the current crisis, however it must also be remembered that key workers should be looked after and treated with the standards of care set out by the law.

Will Signing Solutions During Covid-19

Following a nationwide rise in people wishing to make sure their affairs are in order by writing Wills during the current Covid-19 pandemic, the Wills team at Clark Willis have been busy adapting how clients can both provide instructions, and more importantly sign Wills, whilst safeguarding clients and meeting the strict formalities for execution in the presence of two witnesses. Will signing made the BBC news headlines yesterday with reports that Wills were being signed on the bonnets of cars as solicitors sought to ensure Wills are executed correctly.

It is a legal requirement that a Will must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) are currently considering whether to temporarily adjust these requirements in light of the current pandemic, especially where people are self isolating or are in intensive care with Corona virus, but at present the current rules prevail, meaning that solicitors are having become much more creative on how Wills can be signed.

For those who are still attending work places with colleagues who may be prepared to act as witnesses means some Wills can be signed remotely with relatively few issues however in all other circumstances, unusual solutions are having to be deployed by the team to ensure that Wills can still be executed correctly whilst observing social distancing requirements for the health and safety of our customers and staff.

Our Darlington office has a secluded, rear yard where the team have erected a Will Signing Station to enable Wills to be signed on site and in the fresh air for those who are able to attend the town centre. Parking is available at the entrance to the Will Signing Station meaning clients are able to drive up,  sign their Wills in the presence of two staff members, and then drive away.

Where it may not be possible for clients to attend the office, for example due to those under self isolation, we are able to attend client’s homes and witness the documentation either externally, maintaining social distancing, or by observing signing through a window or patio door where a suitable viewing location is accessible. Whilst this later method may seem comical at first, enabling witnesses to be in the presence of the person signing and visually see them sign, means the formalities of executing a Will can be met.

Alex Spurr, a Partner of the firm, specializing in Will writing said:

“As a member of STEP and Solicitors for the Elderly who have both been lobbying the MoJ, I hope that they consider the validity of Wills during the current pandemic where there is simply no option to have a Will witnessed correctly, but until restriction are lifted, with a bit of ingenuity, we are able to adapt how we do things to get the job done.”

The team are still able to assist people to put Wills in place and have been holding virtual meetings via video call, over the telephone and through email and postal questionnaires.  The firm as a whole has also become much more flexible with appointment times to work around shift patterns of those on the front lines with availability on evenings and weekends. In addition, the firm have also introducesd a 20% discount for all NHS staff across its range of services to say thank you to those keeping the country safe.

If you wish to ensure your affairs are in order, contact our team on 01325 28111 or email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk.

 

No.7 – Dinosaurs

No.7 – Dinosaurs

Whilst longevity can bring experience, solicitors are often criticized for their failure to adapt to modern times, retaining a pompous attitude and a failure to recognise legal practices are a business offering services like any other, albeit of a legal nature, and cannot rest on their historic reputations to acquire new customers.

As a firm we are fortunate enough to have a long history and we have been assisting customers with their legal needs across Darlington, the Tees Valley , County Durham and North Yorkshire for nearly 50 years. Our stability means our customers can have peace of mind that we have the experience to handle their matter, but we recognise that continuously need to evolve in how we operate as a business and deliver our legal services in a modern, professional manner.

We have invested heavily in updating our IT infrastructure to make us more robust, increase our digital capabilities and allow greater flexibility in our working capabilities. This has placed us in a much stronger position to continue to operate during the current Covid-19 pandemic where our solicitors are able to continue to work remotely. In April, the next part of our flexible working programme arrives with the deployment of a  new phone system across providing us with a suite of features for flexibility.

In the summer of 2019 we introduced a strategy to recruit the legal talent of the future across our management and core areas of law, Family & Divorce, Residential Property, Private Client and Dispute Resolution.  Two new Partners joined us in 2019. Alister Jones in the Property team bringing significant experience in property sale & purchases, but also one of the few solicitors in the region experienced in equity release. Alex Spurr returned to Darlington from one of North Yorkshires leading regional firms bringing a wealth of experience in Will writing, Lasting Powers of Attorney and estate administration and increases our capabilities to undertake complex trust work and inheritance tax planning for business and agricultural clients.  We have recruited into our Property and Family team and also have one of the rising stars of  Family law joining us later this month as we continue to cement ourselves as the largest Family law team in Darlington.

Some of our readers may have also noticed a change in our marketing at the end of 2019, commencing with the introduction of our Zebra and continued use of our black and white colour scheme emphasising ‘clarity.’ We have a new website in development that will continue to enhance our brand and more importantly, enable clients to access digital resources and have increased capability to instruct us online.

Whilst we have a strong history as a legal firm, we are continually seeking to improve our services and take on board the feedback from our clients to ensure that avoid becoming legal dinosaurs and remain the first choice of legal provider for our customers.

To find out how we can help you during the Covid-19 pandemic, please call your local office, email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk or visit us at www.clarkwillis.com.

Corona Virus (COVID-19) Service Update

COVID-19 Statement – Clark Willis Law Firm

(Updated 2nd April)

In light of the latest Government guidance to combat Corona virus, including restrictions on movement and self-isolation, we wish to re assure our clients that we remain open for business and so please do contact us in relation to your existing matters or indeed any new matters we can assist with. We will continue to operate a range of legal services during this period with sensible adjustments inline with Government guidance.

We fully appreciate that certain clients, especially those elderly and vulnerable, may be rightly concerned about accessing legal services given the magnitude of the COVID-19 virus and its consequential impact on personal interaction. As a business we have therefore implemented a number of practical measures to ensure you will have a continued service, whilst safeguarding your health and safety, and that of our team: 

  1. As of the 24th March 2020 we have closed our receptions to the public and so customers will not be able to visit our reception areas as normal. This applies to both Darlington and Catterick Garrison.
  2. To protect our employees, a number of our team are working remotely.
  3. Customers are asked to email documents to us rather than post to assist the provision of services due to postal delivery restrictions and remote working employees. We are however, still accepting and sending post where email is not possible but are mindful of Post office service disruption. 
  4. Appointments are being undertaken by alternative means of communication, such as telephone or video call, where their matter is able to be dealt with in such manner. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
  5. We have increased our flexibility with appointments to assist those on the front line in accessing our services. Pre arranged appointments on an evening and weekend are available with priority being given to NHS and emergency services for these times.
  6. Our Wills team have put in place special provisions to provide an effective service, especially to those at high risk or required to self-isolate in order that they can still instruct us. This includes instructions via telephone, video call, email, post. We have also put in special arrangements for signing at our office and off site to manage risks to our staff and clients.

We are confident that we are able to continue to progress matters appropriately and have support and systems in place to ensure that, should members of our team be required to self-isolate, your matter will not be adversely affected but please be aware that timescales for completion of matters may be increased where government restrictions advance.

We are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of COVID19 and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other UK public bodies.

If you have any concerns please feel free to contact us via telephone at your local office or email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk.