Family Lore Clinic: What happens if I do not respond to a solicitor's letter in the requested 14 days?

It is often the case that a solicitor will request a reply to a letter within a certain time limit, particularly when they are writing to unrepresented parties. This is especially so at the outset of the matter. However, so long as the time limit is reasonable (for example, it allows the unrepresented party time to take legal advice), the time limit should not necessarily be seen as an aggressive step - it is often intended simply to ensure that the matter is not unduly delayed.

What will happen if you do not respond within the time limit depends upon the nature of the matter and the solicitors (and the instructions they have from their client). They may do nothing, or they may write another letter. However, if their intention is to issue court proceedings if no reply is received within the time limit, they should usually make this clear in the letter setting the time limit. Thus, if you don't respond within a time limit you may then get a second letter from the solicitor informing you that court proceedings will be commenced if no reply is received within a further time limit.

Of course, some solicitors may fail to give a warning of their intention to commence court proceedings, or the matter may become urgent, so you cannot rely upon them not doing so just because they don't give a warning.

Accordingly, if you can't comply with the time limit, for example, because you are unable to obtain legal advice within it, then you should contact the solicitors and request a time extension. Such an extension should usually be given, unless the request is unreasonable, or the matter is urgent.

Of course, many time limits are set by the courts, or by procedure rules, and the solicitor's letter may refer to one of these. If this is the case, then any request for an extension of time must be made to the court.

If you have received a letter from a solicitor requesting a response within a certain time, then obviously you should seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.