Third parties should be given right to complain about lawyers
Monday 11th June 2012
Home buyers and sellers whose transactions are messed up or delayed by someone else’s solicitor could be given rights to complain to the Legal Ombudsman.
It is not yet clear whether estate agents would also be allowed to complain about sloppy conveyancing, or whether the right to complain about an obstructive solicitor could extend up and down the entire chain.
The proposal comes from the Legal Services Consumer Panel, which says that non-clients should have a general right to complain about solicitors.
At the moment, you can only complain about your own solicitor – not, for example, the other party’s conveyancer who may have lost information or dragged their heels.
But the Legal Services Consumer Panel says that the current exclusion of almost all third-party complaints from the jurisdiction of the Legal Ombudsman does not incentivise lawyers to treat third parties fairly.
The Legal Ombudsman is currently consulting on specifying circumstances in which third parties should be allowed to complain, but the panel recommends making all third-party complaints eligible, unless it would impair the proper pursuit and administration of justice.
The panel specifically picks out conveyancing as an area where a non-client could complain.
Panel chairwoman Elisabeth Davies said: “If you’ve experienced poor legal services and suffered detriment, then you should be able to obtain a remedy. It’s wrong that some consumers cannot currently complain to the Legal Ombudsman.
“Denying third parties access to redress also creates weak incentives for firms to behave fairly and is a missed opportunity for lawyers to learn from their mistakes.”
Rob Hailstone, of the Bold Group, said the move could ‘open a can of worms’.
He said: “Will this mean that buyers and sellers up and down a chain could complain? How about potential tenants waiting to move into a property being purchased by the would-be landlord? What about estate agents and financial advisers, etc?
“Even if this only goes as far as letting third-party buyers and sellers complain, it could open up a whole can of worms for the Legal Ombudsman. As most conveyancers and estate agents are only too aware, there is nothing like a lengthy conveyancing chain for the parties involved to play the blame game.”
However, Hailstone added: “Over my 25 years as a residential conveyancer I have been involved in hundreds of conveyancing transactions where a number of conveyancers have repeatedly provided a bad service.
“Losing documents, not returning phone calls, taking time off without proper delegation taking place or, in the case of one particular large volume conveyancer, sending out the same computerised letter time and time again. The additional stress caused by those few is felt up and down a conveyancing chain.
“If this proposal, once properly thought through, puts a stop to that, it can only be good for all of the other parties involved and the reputation of the profession.”
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