Once upon a time, lawyers were professionals. They worked from an office with oak panels and went to work wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. There were strict guidelines as to what was expected of them. They sent you a bill and you paid it. You met your lawyer across a desk. How times have changed!
There are some lawyers who retain some of the above characteristics, but not many. The advent of conditional fee (no win no fee to the uninitiated) agreements and online conveyancing have led to a dilution of the standards that are delivered – but not those that are expected.
A lawyer has a contractual and tortious duty to provide his client with a reasonably proficient service. That duty may be enhanced by particular express contractual terms, but never reduced.
The fact that lawyers do not always meet their client face to face, or that they are driven to expedite settlements of injury claims by their own commercial demands, do not water down these standards either.
The judiciary has recently suggested that firms that want to sit in a business park and deal by telephone alone do so at their peril.
There is a multiplicity of examples of where these arrangements have led to clients being undersold.
In conveyancing it is almost impossible to ensure the accuracy of a deed plan depicting boundaries without looking at it with your client across a desk, or even sometimes at the site of the boundary.
Making sure that a property enjoys the access that it should have is a similar problem.
There is more to conveyancing than just making sure that the Land Registry has your name on the deeds once you have paid. Many clients do not understand that buying a house is not like buying a car. You cannot give it back if it doesn’t work.
Many clients think that they are protected by the benevolent valuation from the Building Society. Whilst there may be a limited redress against a valuer that fails to deal with problems at the property, the best form of security for buying a house is to have your own survey carried out. How many firms that are cost cutting to deal with the house transfer will take time to advise on such matters? Not many. If when you move in the house is riddled with dry rot, will the fact that you saved £75 on dealing with the conveyancing online seem a bargain? I think not.
The dreaded “claims management company” will happily sell your claim to a no win no fee lawyer. The lawyer then is driven to settle the claim as soon as possible to recoup his outlay. The fact that you are still suffering, or that the offer is too low, will not deter them from settling your claim at little benefit to you.
These failures driven by finance and fee cutting are fine if you are not the loser. If you are the loser, what is your remedy?
It may be that you won’t want to trust another lawyer, but these firms can be brought to book by you. If the steps taken are not such as would have been taken by a reasonably competent lawyer, then you can seek redress through the Courts. The claims are not usually too complex but you have six years from the agreement with the lawyer, or three years from when you found out that you had been let down.
The only way that standards can be rolled back to the days of oak panelled offices and lawyers wearing suits, is to take action against these firms. Too many clients have known the heartache of putting their trust in cost-cutting firms to allow it to continue.