Performance data on schools, hospitals, the energy efficiency of fridges and the carbon output per mile of cars is readily available to consumers. Surely, some basic information on the quality and track record of conveyancers, lawyers and solicitors should also be so readily available?
Currently, provision for members of the public to trace the professional conduct history of individual conveyancing lawyers and firms is almost non-existent. This makes it very difficult to make an informed decision when choosing a conveyancer. This problem needs to be addressed in order to improve the quality of conveyancing in the future. I do encourage the various regulators in the legal sector to obligate conveyancing practices and solicitors to open up their negligence claims history – on both a firm and an individual basis- and this should cover previous firms and past employees.
Until now, regulators have taken a light touch, risk-based approach similar to the model previously adopted by the FSA. Though the approach I suggest may appear heavy handed, it is supported by the fact that the FSA are indeed currently reviewing their model.
My concern regarding poor quality legal work and the commoditisation of conveyancing may appear unusual but is certainly not isolated. The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), the representative trade body for the mortgage industry in the UK, recently stated:
“We believe that the competitive pricing that had been offered in the conveyancing market has partly contributed to the reduction in quality. ”
The term ‘competitive’ tends to mean cheap, which is not necessarily synonymous with quality. Access to high quality and good value legal services is dependent on effective regulation. It is highly likely that light-touch regulation is inappropriate for many firms, whilst the difficulty with adopting a risk-based approach to regulation is correctly identifying the risks. Therefore, very strong effective regulation with appropriate sanctions, redress and full and effective use of regulatory power is vital.
Though competitive pricing is healthy for the conveyancing industry, competition between firms will have an increased effect if clients are able to make well-informed choices between different conveyancing providers. A consumer’s final decision should not be based purely around costs, and my earlier suggestion that clear regulatory records of firms and staff should be made available to home buyers supports this view.