A friend of mine recently told me about her nightmare experience of hiring a minibus for her family on holiday in California. After filling up the tank, the bus broke down a block away from her accommodation. The hire company refused to provide an alternative vehicle, refused a refund and charged her credit card for picking up the minibus. I “Googled” the company whilst she was explaining her story - the company had the worst reviews I had ever seen written about a business. “Why didn’t you read the reviews?!” I asked her.
When choosing contractors or professionals, I always try to find a recommendation from someone I trust. I am often asked by family and friends to recommend a good solicitor, usually in the context of residential property work. I only recommend solicitors I know well and highly rate.
Not everyone is fortunate to know someone with a network of lawyers to recommend and one option is to search the directory of solicitors on the Law Society’s website. In theory, the directory holds a list of all qualified solicitors that are registered with the Law Society. It also details each solicitor’s area of expertise, how long the solicitor has been qualified, and where the solicitor is based. However, the directory has come under recent scrutiny because it listed a bogus residential property solicitor. An unsuspecting member of the public instructed the bogus solicitor and the bogus solicitor stole the purchase money. The Court of Appeal judgement considering the issue may be found here.
This is a unique case and I should hope that the Law Society is unlikely to list a bogus solicitor in its directory again.
I do not know what other factors the client in the above case took into consideration when choosing his solicitor. One point I always make when recommending a residential property lawyer is that it is worth paying a little more to secure the services of a senior experienced lawyer, rather than a cheaper less experienced solicitor or non-qualified lawyer. Though all junior and non-qualified lawyers (such as paralegals) dealing with any type of work should always be supervised by a more experienced colleague, I would prefer for a very experienced lawyer to be dealing day to day with the most expensive purchase I will ever make. (Often residential property clients complain about the cost of legal fees, but when you compare the cost to say, the estate agent's fees, they are extremely modest. Perhaps some clients mistakenly think that the solicitor is making money from the Stamp Duty, search fees etc.)
All that said, even experienced solicitors can get things wrong. Last year my other half came home from work saying that his colleague (let’s call him Bill) and young family were homeless because Bill’s solicitor, an experienced solicitor and partner in a firm, had exchanged contracts on Bill’s sale and purchase before checking that the bank was happy with the survey. When the bank was eventually provided with the survey after exchange, the bank was not happy with its content and refused to loan the money. Bill was legally obliged to complete his sale, which he did, but could not afford to complete the purchase without the loan. Luckily in that case, an understanding seller allowed some breathing space for Bill and the bank to come to an agreement about the issue raised in the survey and the loan was eventually made. The solicitor responsible for the mistake also worked extremely hard to put it right. If an agreement with the bank were not possible, Bill stood to lose all of his deposit plus a large amount of interest and faced the prospect of bringing a negligence claim against his solicitor.
The nature of my job as a lawyer dealing with negligence disputes, means that I have seen examples of some of the worst legal transactions and legal advice. It’s important to note that most legal transactions progress without any serious problems, especially if you use an experienced qualified lawyer. Try to use a professional who has been recommended to you if you can and, if reviews are available, take time to read them before you commit.