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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.

 

Flexible Opening and 20% NHS Discount (Covid19 Support)

Suporting our NHS –  Flexible Appointments & 20% NHS Discount

As a firm we recognise that the current Covid-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for the NHS workers and other emergency service to access legal services during our normal service hours. For that reason, we have increased the number of evening and weekend appointments available to make it easier for those on the front line to access our legal services around their increasing shift patterns.

Appointments will still have to be pre booked and can be undertaken via telephone or video call. Will writing can also be undertaken via email or postal questionnaires for those who want to put provisions in place but with greater flexibility.

As an additional thank you, we are also including a 20% discount for all new matters we are instructed on after the 13th March 2020 to NHS staff (see terms & conditions below)

At a time when the NHS has become the front line against the pandemic, it is a little way to say thankyou.

*Terms and Conditions.
  1. Discount is on new instructions from the 13th March 2020 and cannot be applied to pre existing matters.
  2. Evidence may be required as to entitlement.
  3. Discount cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.
  4. Discount is not applicable to public funded matters.

No.6 – Wiser than Online

No6 – Wiser than Online

There is a wonderful mug available to purchase “Don’t confuse my law degree with Google.” The internet is a wonderful thing and often is the first source of information for people when they have an enquiry. This may be to check a store opening time or answer a general knowledge question through to trying to find the answer to  medical or legal concern.

Whilst the internet can provide generic advice or have examples of how situations have impacted on a specific person and relate to their specific circumstances, it really cannot provide the dedicated, specific advice that your local GP or solicitor can provide.

Whilst the law is set down in statute or developed over time through cases brought before the court, it is how that law applies to the specific facts of an individuals circumstances that is key to your own legal matter. What is relevant to one person may not match your own predicament and so caution should be exercised when taking advice on the internet as gospel.

In addition, the quality of legal advice can vary greatly both online and off and whilst solicitors all have a minimum qualification level, there are further accreditations and qualifications that can be obtained in specific areas of law to ensure that those solicitors are at the forefront of their profession.

The firm as a whole has been awarded Lexcel status due to its quality in client service and care. Our Family team include solicitors who are members of Resolution, Collaborative lawyers and the Children panel and our residential property team are part of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. On the Private Client front, the team who deal in Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Trusts and Probate, include members of STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) and Solicitors for the Elderly and our Dispute Resolution team includes specialists on the Mental Health panel.

The definitive list of accreditations of the firm are too numerous to list here in full but the above is sufficient enough to demonstrate the expertise within our firm. When you need a solicitor, whether getting divorced, buying a new house or making a Will and planning for the future, you can rest  assured that you are in good hands if you speak to us.

No5 – Happiness

At Clark Willis Law Firm we take customer satisfaction extremely seriously and we are only happy lawyers when we have happy clients.

The marketplace for personal legal services is very competitive and a dissatisfied customer has a number of alternative providers to utilise the next time they require legal help. You can have the best technical knowledge but if that cannot be utilised to a client’s advantage and packaged in a service that delivers, then customers will not feel loyalty to that firm. When we engage with a new customer we have the ethos that that customer will enjoy the experience of using us compared to our competitors, coupled with our legal expertise,  that they will continue to return to us for any future legal issues.

been great and has sorted all our matters professionally and efficiently. We will be using Clark Willis for any future legal matters. Their service has always been exceptional.

Every client is sent a feedback questionnaire to complete with the opportunity to reflect on the service and a random selection are directly contacted by a member of the senior management team to gain further insights and ensure we are delivering the high service level we strive to achieve. Whilst most solicitors will seek feedback from customers, especially those that are Lexcel accredited (the Law Society’s Mark of Quality) it is the proportion of highly rated reviews, coupled with an unusually low number of complaints received from customers, that sets Clark Willis Law Firm apart from many of the competitors.

Excellent customer care, professional service and they kept me fully informed throughout the process of buying and selling my properties

Despite the rave reviews we are modest, we know we can do better occasionally and that no matter what we do, sometimes 3rd parties we work with mean that we can’t keep everyone happy, or we simply get it wrong. We are human. We would love a perfect 5* average rating across our review platforms but let’s be honest, that would be exceptionally rare and perhaps a little too good to be true. In the world of fake reviews 5* across the board would be miraculous so we will settle for a range of 4.6/5 to 5/5 averages across our review sites but we will always look for areas where we can improve.

Using a law firm, especially at a time of distress or crisis, such as divorce, personal injury or following a death, can be a daunting experience and sharing your experiences can help people make an informed choice.

other solicitors were not confident they could get the land registry to split our deeds. Excellent communication throughout. Will be using them again. A*

We are only happy lawyers when we have happy clients.

If you have a problem and no one else can help I know sounds like the A team right? Well your not wrong these people have helped me out before and helped me again so if you have a problem see these people. 5 Star

For those of our clients reading this who haven’t yet left us feedback, either positive or constructive, on Google Reviews then please do so as not only can we reflect, adapt and improve where necessary, you can also help other legal service users appreciate the service we provide to our customers.

Thank You

My Life as an Apprentice – National Apprenticeship Week

As a firm we actively support the Apprenticeship programme and currently have three apprentices with us under Business Administration. As it is National Apprenticeship Week, we thought we would ask one of our recent graduates from the apprenticeship programme, Jaspreet Gill, about her time as an apprentice and how she feels this route had benefited her.

Jaspreet successfully completed her Apprenticeship in Business Administration in January 2020 and works within the firms Residential Property team at our Darlington office.

Why did you choose to take the Apprentice route?

I chose to do an apprenticeship as I didn’t think that carrying on school life would be the best choice for my career development. I wanted to try something a bit more ‘hands on’ and gain real experience as to what working life would be like. I thought that an apprenticeship would enable me to gain more skills and knowledge than just going to college would as I would be working full time whilst also gaining a qualification.

How have you found your time as Apprentice?

I have found my time as an apprentice enjoyable as the working environment itself has been enjoyable to be in. I have never felt as if I have been treated differently for being an apprentice and from the day I first started I have felt welcome and a valuable member of the team. I was always given as much support as possible with regards to college work and the time I was taking out to attend college and i do not think this impacted on my role.

What sort of things have you been doing for the firm as an Apprentice?

Initially I carried out general administration duties, such as working on reception, post collection, scanning documents into the firm’s case management system and other basic functions required to keep a business functioning. As I progressed through my apprenticeship I moved into audio typing for two or three solicitors within the firm and ultimately moved towards becoming a Legal Secretary ending my apprenticeship  in the Conveyancing department which is what I am currently doing now.

Do you feel the Apprenticeship has developed you as a person?

I do feel like this apprenticeship has made me a lot more mature.I have continually gained experience throughout my apprenticeship as I have had exposure to different tasks and worked within different departments.  This has given me more confidence in being able to do my job unaided without fear of mistakes.

My communication skills have significantly developed as I have daily contact with clients, both on the telephone and via email or writing. This of course includes technology and working  with IT programmes and computer systems in an office environment has exposed me to more experience in the standard Microsoft office programmes and other 3rd party software applications used by a law firm.

By carrying out the administration duties at the start of my apprenticeship I have gained a valuable insight into the importance of these tasks and how they impact on the firm’s overall operation. There is a great team spirit in the firm and every member is valued as everyone understands that each persons work is vital to our continued success.

Due to working in a law firm I have also gained a greater understanding of legal processes and how the law impacts on everyday life. The legal process for dealing with property sale or purchase for example is more complex than some members of the public are aware of and the extend that solicitors go to safeguard clients in their biggest capital purchase is not always appreciated.

At the end of the Apprenticeship do you feel like an integral part of the team?

I absolutely feel like an integral part of my team and following my apprenticeship I was really happy to remain with the firm in Conveyancing Department.  The work itself is interesting, I am continuing to learn and work with a great bunch of people.

I have also recently been a made one of the First Aid members in the firm and have had the opportunity to attend courses to continue my development in this role.

Any other advice for people considering doing an Apprenticeship.

Make sure you choose an apprenticeship within a sector you would be happy working in and to stick at it no matter how hard it may seem or if you feel like you aren’t making a significant impact to your workplace. An apprenticeship is a great way of starting a career without going through higher education and sets you up for working life after school.

House Buying – What Solicitors Do When You Are Buying A House.

What is a Solicitors role when I am buying a house?

You instruct a solicitor to handle the legal process of buying your property. This includes reviewing the Contract documents that you will be required to sign and the information provided by the sellers solicitors, also known as the “Contract Pack”. This will include a copy of the title deeds for the property, property information forms that have been completed by the seller and other property documents that may available, for example guarantees.

Your solicitors will provide advice on the information provided  by the seller and will conduct property searches on your behalf. The standard property searches that are conducted are a Council Search, Water Search and Environment search. There are other searches available that may be applicable to your area or that you may wish to have carried out and your solicitor will advise you of this. these searches check that your property will be connected to essential services, highlight any development work happening nearby and check other matters relating to the property.

If you are obtaining a mortgage to fund your purchase, your solicitor will provide advice on your mortgage offer and will arrange for you to sign the mortgage deed. It is worth noting that when you are obtaining a mortgage, your solicitor will not only act for you in the purchase of the property but also the mortgage lender. Your solicitor will need to comply with any requirements by your mortgage company before your lender will allow your mortgage funds to be released.

It is usual for some enquiries to be raised from the information provided by your seller and from the result of your property searches. For example, this may to be to clarify the information provided and/or you may have some queries about the property yourself that your may wish  your solicitors to raise.

Once the investigations have been concluded, you will now be asked to sign the legal documentation which is the Contract of Sale, Transfer and is applicable Mortgage Deed. The documents can be sent to you for your signature or if you prefer an appointment can be made. Once the documents are signed and you are happy to proceed, you will discuss a moving day, also known as “completion day”.

Once a date has been agreed, your solicitor will request your authority to “exchange contracts” which is the formal step which makes the agreement between you and the seller legally binding and confirms the moving day. On the moving day, your solicitor will arrange to transfer the monies to the sellers solicitors and once the sellers solicitors have confirmed receipt of the same, you will be able to collect the keys for your new home. These are usually collected from the estate agent.

After completion, your solicitor will take steps to inform HMRC of your purchase and pay any stamp duty land tax that may be required and also to formally register you as the new owner of your property at the Land Registry.

Do I need to obtain property searches?

If you are obtaining a mortgage, your solicitor is acting for both you and your lender in the purchase. It is a standard requirement of mortgage lenders that property searches are obtained. The standard searches that should be obtained are a Council Search, Water Search and Environment Search.

Other searches may be required by your lender for example, a Coal Mining Search if you are buying a property in a coal mining area.

If you are a cash buyer, purchasing the property without the aid of a mortgage, it is entirely your decision whether you obtain the searches.  But it should be noted that when you are buying the property, the caveat is “buyer beware” and the onus is on the buyer to obtain as much information about the property before exchanging contracts. Unless, you know the area and the property well, we would recommend that a prudent buyer would  obtain the property searches. You should discuss this option with your solicitor before making a decision and if you decide to proceed without obtaining the property searches, you will be required to sign a disclaimer confirming your decision.

How long does it take?

Giving a timescale is difficult, as each purchase is different. However as a guide, your matter should complete in about 6-12 weeks from receipt of the contracts and initial information about the property from the sellers solicitors.

Do I get documents to say I own the house?

You will receive  a copy of the Title Information Document which is the main deed that confirms your ownership of the property. You may also  receive some documents that are applicable for the property that were provided in the contract pack. It is rare today that you will get a large bundle of old documents, unless the property is quite old.

Any documents that you do receive, should be kept in a safe place as you will be required to provide the documents to your prospective buyer if you were to sell the property.

What costs are involved?

The standard costs that you are required to pay are your solicitor fees and the disbursements. Disbursements are third party payments that your solicitor will make on your behalf; these are your property searches, stamp duty land tax and registration fees. For an instant, detailed quotation of all the costs associated with buying a house use our online quotation tool.

Should I use the “Free Legal” service with my Mortgage?

A number of mortgage lenders may offer this incentive to you as part of your mortgage product and you should consider this option carefully.

If you are minded to proceed with the “Free Legal” solicitor, you should bear in mind that it is likely the solicitor will not be local to you or the property that you are buying. Therefore, you will only be in contact with your solicitor via email and telephone. This may be suitable for some people but it does not work for everybody.

The “Free Legal” solicitor will likely have a large number of cases and it may be that they are not able to progress matters in a timely manner. This is an important consideration as your mortgage offer will have a deadline date before it will expire and then you will be reliant on whether your lender will agree to extend that deadline.

It is recommended that whilst considering this option, you should  consider the other mortgage products on offer to you  to see if they are more suitable  i.e. a cashback incentive. Depending on the offer available to you, you may find that a cashback incentive may cover some or all of the costs required by your solicitor. It is therefore recommend, that you do some research and obtain some quotations from different solicitors to determine the costs and consider the mortgage products available to your carefully.

What are the benefits of using a local firm?

If you are buying a property locally, a local firm as they will have the local knowledge and understand the possible quirks of the area, for example whether mining was carried out in the area or if shale is known to be present in the area.

Another benefit, is that  you can arrange an appointment to see the solicitor handling your purchase to discuss it in detail rather than just dealing with your matter by email and telephone.

At Clark Willis we have specialist property solicitors at both our Darlington and Catterick Garrison offices and have experience in Forces Help to Buy funding*. Whether you are a first time buyer, moving up the property ladder or are a landlord with a buy to let portfolio, our solicitor led service means that you can trust us to get you and your property transaction moving.

*Defence Discount Service Card holder discounts applicable.

No4 – Clear Pricing

“No4 – We Don’t Mask Our Prices”

Those have been following our series of monochrome images will understand that our fundamental aim is Clarity. This flows through delivering our technical legal expertise with clear advice at clear pricing, meaning we are the clear choice for personal legal services.

‘Clear Pricing’ means just that – You know what you will pay and when.

Work we undertake on a fixed fee basis, such as Will writing or Residential Property Sales & Purchases, is as the name suggests fixed. You know exactly what you will pay at the outset and additional costs won’t come out of the woodwork after you have signed up to use us.

Those matters that we operate under an hourly rate charge, such as private Divorce or Dispute Resolution (Court Litigation)  incorporate an accurate estimate at the outset based upon your circumstances and those costs are then regularly reviewed to ensure we can advise you of any change in circumstances.

Our regulatory body, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, include certain legal services that law firms must display prices for on their website to assist client to make an informed choice over who to use. Think Go Compare for Lawyers.

Whilst fundamentally this is a good thing for people searching for a solicitor, it makes no allowance for value, which is wholly different from price, but also allows room to list a base price or exclude certain items that may make that quote seem more competitive but leads to all those dreaded extras in the small print once you have decided to go ahead.

Take Residential Property Sales or Purchases (Conveyancing)  for example. Some firms provide online quotes, 24/7, like we do. You can see a price after putting in you details and make the decision to instruct that firm only to find that additional fees are then suddenly added for bank transfer fees, identity checks, because you are buying a leasehold property etc etc – and the list goes on.

At Clark Willis we believe in clarity of fees, being upfront and honest, and our online conveyancing quote is clear. It is fully inclusive of everything that you have told us and is the price you will pay unless anything on the property changes. We believe that clarity of our prices is part of our value – alongside great service and legal expertise of course!

If you are reading this and you are in the market for buying a new home then do get a quote from us online to see how competitive we are, but do remember that you can always contact us directly to speak to one of our property team.

The same applies across our entire service range. We are happy to speak to people directly about our prices and a number of our matters include initial complimentary  appointments in order that we can fully understand your needs before advising you of your options, with clear costs.

So whether you are moving home, wanting a new Will, thinking of Divorce or have any other legal need, get in touch with us to find out what the cost may be, but more importantly – what the value is.