When knowing your customer can really help!

It is important that you double-check the identity and capacity of the person or company that you are dealing with before concluding a transaction. Trading names are not legal entities in their own right and unless you make sure who you are actually dealing with it may turn out to be a false economy.
A recent case of Muneer Hamid v Francis Bradshaw Partnership [2013] highlights the difficulties that a Company can experience when contracting with a party. In this recent case The Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether Dr Hamid had contracted with the Claimant in a personal capacity or as a Director of the Limited Company Chad Furniture Store Limited t/a Moon Furniture.(Chad)
Dr Hamid was the sole director of, and sole shareholder in Chad.
Dr Hamid had recently taken a 999 year lease of a site in Rochdale in his own name. Once the property had been renovated he was going to relocate his existing furniture showroom to the new building. Francis Bradshaw Partnership (FBP) was the construction firm which would carry out the building works.
The contract appointing FBP was made by way of two conversations with, and one letter addressed to, FBP. The letter was signed as follows: "Yours sincerely, with a hand written signature of Dr Hamid, “Dr M Hamid, Moon Furniture".
The partner at FBP who received the letter assumed that Moon Furniture was the trading name of a company, but he did not consider the issue any further.
The works did not go well and Dr Hamid sought damages from FBP. The question before the Court of Appeal was whether the contract for the building works was made by FBP with Dr Hamid personally, or with Chad. If FBP could successfully defend the action on the grounds that the contract was with Chad and not Dr Hamid personally no damages would be payable because Chad did not have an interest in the new site and therefore had suffered no loss.
The Court of Appeal held that enquiries which could have been made - but which were not - were irrelevant.
If the facts were reversed and FBP was seeking to rely on the fact that Dr Hamid had contracted in a personal capacity they would point out that the letter was not headed up with the Limited Company’s name and he had not put Director after his signature.
In essence it is not up to a contracting party to have to make detailed enquiries to find out if they are contracting with a Limited Company or not.
Things to consider
If you are a limited company make sure that you comply with the Companies Act 2006 which requires you to make sure that you include any company numbers, registered office addresses etc on websites, emails, letters and invoices etc. If you don’t you are at risk of a claim being made against you in a personal capacity.
When you are contracting with new clients/customers, make sure you know exactly who you are contracting with to avoid any problems should the matter result in litigation.

Perfect storm or planned revolution?
There has been a lot of commentary lately about the perfect storm now facing the legal services industry, an analogy that I feel is misplaced.
The vision of an approaching tempest, an uncontrollable and unpredictable force of nature suggests that law firms and their representatives are merely passive observers to an event in which they have no active role to play.
There is no doubt that partial deregulation of the legal services industry brought about by the Legal Services Act 2007, offers the opportunity for wholesale changes to the manner in which law firms operate, how they structure themselves, how they engage with their target audiences and how they deliver their products and services. However, the inference that the industry as a whole is battening down the hatches, stocking up on provisions and looking for a safe harbour to berth in until the storm abates is more than a little insulting to those firms and individuals who welcome the changes and relish the opportunity to take the evolutionary process by the horns and drive it in a direction of their own design.
There will undoubtedly be casualties along the way. Many law firms lack the commercial expertise, financial resources and the vision to change their business models and practises entrenched over many years, where the consumer was not a considered element in their thinking or planning. The beauty (or the devil, depending on your point of view) of a free market economy is that ultimately the market will tell you if what you are doing is right and desirable. If it’s not, the market finds an alternative. It’s all about choice.
For far too long consumers have had little choice in how they accessed legal services and products, how those products and services were delivered, how they were costed and how their quality could be measured. As an industry we now have the opportunity to address all of these issues, to find answers to the questions and to be measured in a similar manner to any other business that provides products and services to businesses and individuals, to change the way that our industry operates and is perceived by its market.
At Breeze and Wyles, we see this as a time to mount the barricades and ensure that the revolution is planned. We expect winds and choppy seas but we intend to face them head on. We will continue to use innovative IT technology to automate processes, increase efficiencies and reduce costs. We will strive to fix prices for as many services and products as we can, removing the opacity that surrounds pricing strategy within our industry. We are constantly seeking new routes to market and increasing accessibility to our services for our clients. We seek to find new ways in which to engage with our market and place excellent customer service as a core foundation of our reputation and modus operandi.

Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP: A Modern Law Firm

Breeze and Wyles is an award winning firm focussed on giving the best quality of service to all of our customers all of the time. We aim to provide our clients with the very best legal advice available, clear and understandable pricing and clarity of process in order to achieve a successful outcome. We treat each of our clients as if they are our only client, not like cases or files.
Breeze and Wyles Solicitors can trace its history back to 1914. Notwithstanding the age of the practice, the firm has evolved to meet the current challenges faced by the legal profession.
Breeze & Wyles has where possible, moved away from the traditional pricing structure applied by Solicitors (charged with reference to a Solicitors hourly rate) to a transparent fixed fee pricing structure, including in defended work.
In 2003, we created our Volume Legal Services department Breezeplus+. Breezeplus provides innovative legal solutions for lending institutions, businesses, housing associations and their clients. This service is delivered through innovative technology which enables the firm to streamline its processes and deliver more cost effective, customer focussed legal solutions to its clients. Use of our innovative technology ensures that our Solicitors can focus on the law and not unnecessary administration common in legal practices.
We have continued to use the developments in this technology to offer new packaged legal services to our clients and to meet the modern demands of our clients, yet maintaining the traditions developed over a century by the firm. The latest of our services, utilising this technology to delivery excellent customer service and a cost effective fixed fee legal solutions, is our debt recovery service, which sits in the firms Business Services Department.
Since inception and launch of our debt recovery service in October 2011, the firm has been awarded UK Debt Recovery Firm of the Year 2013 by Acquisition International, a magazine produced for Global Legal Counsel. The service, which was launched less than two years ago, has gone from strength to strength. Our focus on customer service delivery, combined with our transparent fixed fees and expert legal team, has helped us grow our client base over the past two years.

Pre nups like Nigella’s can take the pain out of divorce settlements

High-speed divorce is back on the discussion boards following the breakdown of the marriage between art collector Charles Saatchi and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, with the news that their divorce is expected within the month.
And whilst the pre-nup between Saatchi and Lawson looks set to shape the swift progress of their divorce through the courts, with neither making any claim on the other, it’s not just celebrities or the super-rich who can benefit from such agreements.
According to legal experts, the lesson is one that’s useful for everyone, particularly on remarriage, where there are children from a previous relationship or where anyone has a significant inheritance.
Until recently, pre-nuptial agreements setting out how property was to be divided in the event of a couple divorcing were regarded as void under English law because they were considered to be contrary to public policy. Since the Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 landmark case of Radmacher v Granatino, the Courts have looked more favourably on pre nuptial agreements if “freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement”.
The Courts are more likely to uphold prenuptial agreements if it appears fair and if both parties disclose all aspects of their financial situation at the time the agreement is entered into. It also needs to be clear that no pressure is exerted by one on the other to sign the agreement.
By setting out what each thought was reasonable at the time they got married, pre nuptial agreements can help couples avoid having to negotiate a settlement in difficult circumstances after the relationship breakdown or through the Courts with expensive and emotionally draining litigation.
“There has been a significant shift in the weight attached to prenuptial agreements giving support to the autonomy of the parties and the choices that they make. The existence of such an agreement properly entered into can result in a different award to one that would have been made without it. Where a couple think the best of each other and appreciate their respective financial needs, this is the time to agree what should happen in the event of divorce or separation. Without the benefit of a prenuptial agreement and when the relationship has broken down, in absence of a negotiated settlement; the parties are left to the often long drawn out and expensive litigation route”. explained family law expert and Arbitrator Olive McCarthy from Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP.
She added: “A pre-nuptial agreement may not always be appropriate for young couples without children because it is hard to forecast what the future holds for them, but for a couple entering into a second marriage, those with significant assets and with adult or nearly-adult children, the case for pre-nuptials is clearly compelling and frequently being requested almost as part of the preparation for the wedding.
“It may seem unromantic to discuss such matters in the flush of love and the prospect of a shared future, but this is when a couple wants to be fair to each other, marriage breakdown is difficult and upsetting enough without the prospect of having to argue about a settlement as well.”
Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.