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No.12 – The Right Track

Those of you reading this who have followed our series of monochrome images highlighting some of the elements of our legal services may appreciate that we are ending the series with an image that perhaps is most associated with Darlington – a steam locomotion.  It was natural that the series ended with this image with our heritage of providing legal services to the people of Darlington going back nearly 50 years.

12 months ago the series started with our ‘Zebra’ who has now become synonymous with the firm. We embarked upon the 12 months series of black and white images to utilise our firms black and white colour scheme, also the colour scheme of Darlington. This choice was not incidental all those years ago but rather to reflect that as a firm we are proud to be headquartered in the heart of Darlington town center.

Whilst the railway is a clear part of Darlington’s history, it is also important to look to the future and the Council and associated organizations have some exciting plans for the development of the town  to continue to make the town a destination where people want to live and visit. As a business we must also look to continue to develop how we provide legal services so that we can continue to serve the community of Darlington from our offices in the town centre. The recent pandemic has highlighted the relevance of flexible IT and telecoms and our prior investment in these elements has meant that we have been able to continue to provide a full range of services throughout, albeit at a distance. We continue to recruit our future talent, whether legal or operational, and invest in training and developing existing staff as part of our clear strategic vision to ensure we remain  at the forefront of legal services in Darlington, across the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire for the next 50 years.

As we set out on this series of images, we highlighted that black and white also represents clarity which is one of the core focuses of our service – making legal issues easy to understand. The legal world, legislation and terminology can often be confusing to members of the public and cause frustration as to what the legal position may be. We believe that the legal world should be made simple. As a firm we explain options clearly, in plain English to ensure our clients fully understand their position to make informed choices. As a firm we are Lexcel accredited by the Law Society as a quality mark for our practice management and client care and our individual team members hold additional qualifications and accreditations relevant to their area of law meaning their is also substance and experience to our advice.

‘The Right Track’ is the final image in our series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over the last 12 months across our social media channels. Whilst you may not have a legal issues today, why not follow us  on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn to keep up to date with legal developments and know who to turn to the next time you may need a local, trusted solicitor to keep you on the right track. Whenever you have a need for personals legal advice, whether it is buying your first home, appointing guardians for young children as you start a family, needing Divorce advice, making a Will or other, our approachable and friendly team are here to help.

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

Increase in scams and frauds during property boom.

The lifting of lock down restrictions coupled with the stamp duty changes has seen a boom in the property market. As a result fraudsters are trying to take advantage of that situation. This has meant that there has been a huge increase in fraud attempts on Solicitors firm and their clients. This can range from email interception to firm impersonation. Fraudsters create email addresses to look very similar to firm email addresses and can try and dupe people into transferring money to bogus accounts.  It is therefore important to be absolutely vigilant with the following steps:

  • Check emails you receive carefully and in particular check email addresses
  • Look at the content of the email – does it look right?
  • Check any emails you receive asking for money- call the firm and speak to the team to check it is genuine
  • If you receive changed bank details – do not sent money and check
  • If in doubt    – check BEFORE sending any money.

 

We are all in the fightback together against the ever increasing and sophisticated fraudsters.  By following the above steps you will reduce your chances of being the victim of a fraud.

Coles Solicitors Closure – SRA Intervention Advice & Support

As a former Director and Head of the Wills & Probate team at Coles Solicitors for many years, it is extremely saddening to see that Kingly Solicitors Ltd, trading as Coles Solicitors, have been intervened by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

This is a deeply distressing time for clients and the staff at Coles, many of whom I have worked alongside for a number of years and, through no fault of their own, find the firm they work for shut down with immediate effect. I have spoken to a number of my former colleagues and it is testament to their integrity as individuals that their main concern at this time is the wellbeing of their clients. Naturally they will be worried over what is happening to their matters and the safety of Wills and other documents stored with Coles.

Having acted for a number of these clients personally over the years, some have contacted me directly to ask what an SRA Intervention means, worried over what is happening to their matters and the safety of Wills and other documents stored with Coles.  Given my historic involvement with the firm and to assist my former colleagues, I wanted to put some information out to support those affected.

What is an Intervention?

In an intervention, the SRA closes a solicitor’s practice immediately to protect clients. This means that Coles can no longer act for its clients and the SRA takes all ongoing matters, stored documents and clients money to keep safe and return them to clients. The offices are all closed and normally the telephone numbers will be diverted towards the Intervention Agents.

Anyone currently instructing Coles does not have to worry that their papers and money are secure.

Intervention Agents have been appointed and they have taken all of the files and documents for safe keeping. They will then start the process of reviewing what they have and contact clients in priority of urgency. Due to the sheer scale of the firm and number of client matters this may take several weeks before people are contacted.

I wish to stress that the SRA Intervention is due to the investigated actions of a small number of the new Kingly Solicitors Ltd owners and that the solicitors, support staff and former owners of Coles Solicitors have not been involved in any activities subject to the intervention and are now actively seeking new roles.

What do I need to do?

If you have an ongoing matter or Wills and other documents stored with Coles, you will need to appoint new solicitors to finalise your matter or to store those documents on your behalf. That firm will need to acquire your current file or documents from the agents.  If you would like our assistance in retrieving your matter or documents then please do not hesitate to contact me.

You can contact the Intervention Agents directly to provide your instructions and authority to them to transfer your file or documents to your new chosen law firm. You will need to write or email them with copies of relevant identification documents. Once they have located your file or documents they will then send these to you or your new solicitors.

Gordons LLP, 1 New Augustus Street, Bradford, BD1 5LL. Email: kingly@gordonsllp.com, Tel: 0113 227 0360.

How long will it take to get my file or documents?

I have been speaking with Gordons LLP about urgent matters and have been advised that approaching court hearings and property transactions that have exchanged contracts will be prioritised over other matters. It is likely to take several weeks before files and documents can be located and transferred to new firms to continue acting.

Due to these timescales it may be possible to undertake some work whilst the file is obtained and we would recommend clients engage a new law firm as soon as possible to understand their options.

Where can I get more advice & support?

Whilst I fully appreciate that this is a stressful time for Coles clients, I do wish to reassure people that safety of client matters and documents is the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s prime concern and that documents are safe. I also take the opportunity to extend the invitation to anyone affected by the intervention, who may be worried to contact me and the Clark Willis team for advice and reassurance.

 If you are a client and are worried, please call me on 01325 281111 or email a.spurr@clarkwillis.co.uk.

For more information on a SRA intervention, please see the SRA website https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/faqs/faqs-for-consumers/#solicitorsclosed

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.