Previously, it was very rare to change your conveyancing solicitor part way through a transaction. Unless there was a major problem, if a client had simply lost faith or confidence with their solicitor, they would be strongly advised to continue with them.
However, the last 12 months in particular have seen several high profile conveyancing firms being closed down. This has left tens of thousands of home buyers or sellers abandoned. One such example is the recent case of Wolstenholmes.
These changing circumstances have led to an atmosphere of worried concern, leaving home buyers feeling that it may be prudent to change conveyancing lawyers.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will normally organise the appointment of a new solicitor to take over the existing conveyancing files. However, it may be that he/she is not a specialist conveyancer and/or may be swamped by the volume of files they have to take over. The SRA is now more likely to advise that, if your conveyancing firm has been closed down, it is best that you yourself appoint a new conveyancing firm as quickly as possible.
How easy is it to change your conveyancing solicitor?
It is simpler than you may think – however, there are one or two “pitfalls" to avoid:
- Whether the firm is regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers or the Law Society, you can always change your conveyancing solicitor or Licensed Conveyancer.
- You have the right to insist that your existing solicitor sends your conveyancing file of papers to whichever firm you choose - the file of papers belongs to you.
- Unless the firm has been shut down by the SRA or CLC, your original solicitor does, however, have the right to be paid before they release your conveyancing file (this is known as having a 'lien' on your file). This amount will depend on the terms you agreed with them at the outset - if they were offering a ‘no sale, no fee’ deal (as many conveyancers do) then you should not need to pay anything. If there was going to be a charge for work that didn't continue to completion then you will probably have to pay this in order to transfer your case. Details of this should have been agreed between you at the start of the transaction.
- In a purchase transaction the conveyancing lawyer ordinarily acts for the mortgage company as well. Therefore, if you are transferring, your new solicitors will have to do this as well. In practice this means that you need to inform your mortgage company of the change and they then send out a new mortgage offer to your new solicitor. Basically, this involves a name change on their records, rather than altering the entire mortgage offer, and should therefore happen reasonably quickly. Your new solicitor will not be able to exchange contracts until the new offer has been issued.
- Problems do not often arise in a sale situation as the title deeds master copies are held at the Land Registry. However, in certain cases (generally where the property was purchased several years earlier) the conveyancer may have obtained the title deeds from the mortgage company. They will then be holding these on an undertaking (a formal promise) not to let anyone else have them unless the mortgage is paid off. This would normally mean that the deeds would need to be sent back to the mortgage company to be re-sent out to the new solicitor. If this does apply, however, if the property has been registered with the Land Registry your new solicitor will be able to get official copies of the deeds immediately.
- The method in which your new solicitor handles the case depends really on how far the case has progressed. If it is only in the initial stages, the old file will not be of much use and it is probably best to treat it as a regular new case. If it is in the latter stages, and/or there are specific conveyancing issues that are in the process of being dealt with, they will need to view the old file before making any significant progress. Therefore, if you have decided to make the switch, please note that it is recommended to ensure that your former solicitor forwards the papers on as soon as possible.
- If and when you have decided to change solicitor, it is best to inform all the parties involved in the transaction – your mortgage broker, your estate agent, your seller/buyer (so they can tell their conveyancing solicitors) - to ensure that all letters go directly to the new solicitors. A new sales memo will be sent to your new lawyers.
- It is generally well- accepted advice that if you have already exchanged contracts, you are better off not transferring your file. This is because you are contractually bound to complete that sale or purchase. In the case of a law firm being shut down, the intervening solicitor appointed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority should be prioritising these cases.
If you wish to switch your conveyancing transaction to Fridays, we would be delighted to take you on. We have a wealth of experience in taking over pre-existing cases. Following the recent closure of Wolstenholmes, Fridaysmove took over more than 100 transactions, including cases where the transaction had exchanged