The BBC’s Breakfast Show this morning presented an interesting discussion about Solicitor’s fees and the ‘hidden conveyancing charges’ that so often bedevil Conveyancing transactions.
The BBC asked Adam Sampson, the Chief Legal Ombudsman, to comment on leavened legal fees. Sampson released his report on 'Costs and customer service in a changing legal market' this week.
Sampson said that a quarter of complaints to his office raised the issue of fees
Many of the complaints, he said, were based on clients not understanding their Solicitors:
"Simply put, when you go to lawyer at an important time of your life, a lawyer very often talks lawyer at you and doesn't make it really crisp and clear what they are going to do for you and what the price is going to be at the end.
"And that ends up in huge confusion. Many of the complaints we see, actually the lawyer hasn't overcharged. It's simply that the customer hasn't understood what the nature of the bill is going to be. "
Sampson went on to highlight the important role of the ombudsman as an independent adjudicator of Conveyancing Solicitors and their legal colleagues. He said: "It's really vital that people do have somewhere independent to go. ”
The work of the ombudsman is vital to protect the sector’s credibility against unscrupulous Solicitors. BBC presenter Susanna Reid commented that it was very easy to denigrate the legal profession. In fact, it is a well-worn cliché. However, the BBC failed to invite a Solicitor to appear on the show to provide a balanced commentary.
Conveyancing misunderstandings should not require the ombudsman
If so many complaints are being found to be the result of misunderstanding on the consumer’s behalf (rather than deviousness on the Solicitor’s behalf) then surely there is a way to stop these cases coming before the ombudsman in the first place.
The wedge between the consumer and Solicitors is being driven by the market. Consumers search for the cheapest legal quotation. Legal firms comply with this behaviour by driving down their quotations and concealing additional fees until the process is under way. This leads to consumers feeling mislead and ultimately extorted.
However, there are hidden fees and ‘hidden fees’. If a Solicitor discovers a problem during the processing of a case, they would be simply negligent if they did not attend to it. If a builder was fixing a leak and discovered that a wall needed replacing, would you make them do it for free?
This is where the problems arise. Fair, judicious Solicitors who are simply being conscientious, get tarred by the same brush as the low-fare airline rip-off merchants.
Conveyancing consumers can be smarter by asking for a fixed fee
There is a responsibility for consumers to educate themselves. By becoming better informed, the public can make life impossible for dodgy Solicitors.
However, there is also a responsibility on behalf of the legal profession to speak plainly and offer consumers a level playing field.
The best way to do this is to offer, as much as is possible, a fixed quote for a standard service. This means that in the vast majority of cases there can be no misunderstandings about the service.
As a legal services provider, Fridaysmove occupies a unique space between the Conveyancing Solicitor and the consumer. Frank and open discussion between Solicitors and consumers is encouraged and facilitated by our customer service team.
By offering a fixed fee and couching the process in English (rather than lawyer), Fridaysmove cuts through the confusion and offers a straightforward Conveyancing process that does not require an ombudsman to explain.