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No.11 – ‘Legal Problems – We Are All Ears’

The penultimate black and white image in our series of monthly images, entitled ‘Legal Problems? – We Are All Ears’, highlights a number of important elements of our legal service.

  1. Firstly, a timely reminder that during the Corona virus pandemic we have remained open and available to our clients to assist them with their ongoing and new legal matters across all our departments. Whilst we have had to deploy our advice in a remote manner, via telephone, video calls, emails and external appointments maintaining social distancing, we have continued to be available around the clock where necessary and ready to listen to our clients legal issues. Whilst some legal firms have temporarily closed their doors for some services, we have risen to the challenge of providing a full range of services during a pandemic. As we continue to evolve through the pandemic our team will continue to adapt to be available.

 

  1. Listening is often more important than talking. Only by listening to you fully can we then provide you with the correct advice and options available to you. We do not steer you towards a pre packaged product nor presume to tell you what you need rather listen to understand you, your concerns and priorities and then provide our professional legal advice.

 

  1. As with any service, the experience of instructing a legal firm can vary greatly, especially in the sale and purchase of residential property (conveyancing) which is often the first contact many people have with legal services. It can be frustrating when there is no direct person responsible for your matter and so we provide a dedicated specialist to deal with your matter so that you have a direct point of contact. We are rated 4.7/5 for customer satisfaction and appreciate that 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 can make a real difference and challenge the traditional reputation of solicitors appearing aloof.

 

  1. We also provide 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 core of services ensures that whatever your legal problem, we have the specialists to advise you or, in the rare instances where your requirements exceed those offered by your local high street legal practice, can point you in the right direction.

 

‘Legal Problems? We Are All Ears’ is the latest 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

Witnessing Wills by Video Link Legalised

The Government is introducing legislation to allow people to use video-conferencing technology for the witnessing of Wills being made during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ordinarily, a Will is required to be signed in the physical presence (or at least line of sight) of two witnesses which has caused a number of problems during the pandemic, especially with those self isolating. Largely, this is due to ensuring the person creating the Will fully understands its contents, has capacity and that there is no influence being exerted on them to dispose of their estate in that way. Whilst solicitors have been taking extra steps to ensure the formalities can still be complied with to protect clients, a number of providers have utilised video signing in a  desperate attempt to get Wills signed.

In response to this the law (the Wills Act 1837) will be amended to state that whilst this legislation is in force, the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing wills includes a virtual presence, via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence. The legislation will apply to wills made since 31 January 2020 and will apply for Wills made up to two years from when the legislation comes into force (so until 31 January 2022), however this can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary.

Alex Spurr, head of our Wills team and member of the Society of trust & Estate Practitioners (www.step.org) and Solicitors for the Elderly welcomes the news, however urges caution.

“It will still be necessary to ensure that all the usual checks are carried out, that the video calls are accurately recorded and should only be used as a means of last resort.  Throughout the pandemic our team have been able to assist all clients except those hospitalised with signing Wills correctly and will continue to do so in preference to video signing. Where we move to execute a Will via video link under the legislation, we will then re sign the Will under normal protocols once we are able to do so for security purposes”

Full guidance is yet to be issued by industry bodies as to the exact recommended process for signing Wills by video link and once these have been issued we can provide further guidance to our clients on the availability of video link witnessing. It has been suggested that the following steps will be included.

  • The will maker should hold the front page of the will document up to the camera to show the witnesses, and then to turn to the page they will be signing and hold this up as well.
  • The will-maker should ensure that the witnesses can see them actually writing their signature on the will, not just their head and shoulders.
  • The same, original Will document should then be taken to the two witnesses for them to sign, ideally within 24 hours.
  • A second video call will then be required with the witnesses should hold up the will to the will maker to show them that they are signing it and should then sign it.

 

The same Will document is required to be signed by all the parties which may cause some issue for the Wills already witnessed remotely and cause them to be excluded form the legislation and remain invalid. our advice is to have your Wills resigned in a compliant manner to ensure that they are valid and anyone who has signed a Will remotely should speak to their provider and ask for written confirmation that their signature is in compliance with the new legislation. If you are aware that the above process was not followed, for example counter part documents were signed, then we would advise you to insist on it being now done so correctly. Anyone encountering problems with this from their provider should seek legal advice.

The signing section of the Will should also be amended to make reference to the fact the Will has been signed via video link.

For anyone wishing to make or update  a Will during the pandemic, our specialist team remain operational and ready to assist you.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.