Client’s best interests, law firms and advice on time limits

Paul-Bennett for Legal Futures

Paul-Bennett, partner at Aaron & Partners

When acting for clients we are always aware of any relevant time limits of their case. In common with most firms, we use our various systems to record and flag up the time limits to ourselves and advise the client of them in our initial review of their case. However, if clients need to seek alternative representation due to a conflict emerging then the time limits of the claim should be made clear.

The recent case of The Governing Body of Sheredes School v Mr B Davies UKEAT/0196/16/JOJ served as reminder of advising clients of the time limits of their claim in all circumstances including when your firm has told them to seek alternative representation.

In this case, the solicitors told the claimant on 8 October 2015 to seek new representation in relation to a claim for unfair dismissal. They failed to inform the claimant that he had until 25 October 2015 to present his claim.

On 14 October 2015 the SRA intervened at the solicitors firm. The firm was prevented from contacting any of its clients and the SRA took possession of all of its papers. The claimant was unaware of this intervention.

On 5 November 2015 the claimant visited another firm of solicitors who advised him that his claim for unfair dismissal was out of time. The claimant proceeded to present his claim without legal assistance on 10 November 2015.

The Tribunal initially extended the time limit for bringing the claim on the basis that the SRA intervention was a ‘special reason’ which made it not reasonably practicable to present the claim in time. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that it was due to the fault of the original solicitors that the claim was brought out of time because they failed to inform the claimant of the time limit. Therefore, the time limit was not extended because if the claimant had been informed of the time limit then he would have presented his claim in time regardless of the intervention.

This seemingly simple failure to advise the client breaches the SRA’s Code of Conduct (2011) and could result in disciplinary sanction being imposed against the solicitor in question. This highlights the importance of ensuring that the client is fully advised even when told to seek new representation for whatever reason.

For practical “how to” advice on working within the Code of Conduct (2011) or being a compliance officer for legal practice, contact our professional practices team for advice, training and consultancy services.

Paul Bennett
Professional practices and employment law
Aaron and Partners LLP
Direct Dial: 01743 453685

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