Reasons to be crotchety – part 1

Maybe it is a sign of age, but I do find myself becoming quite crotchety with the way things are going in my parts of the legal profession.By the way, I think “crotchety” [irritable], rather than “grumpy” [bad-tempered and sulky], is right: I feel I have reason to be irritated, but it’s not a nice outlook, all the same.

Anyway, why am I “crotchety”? Let me tell you.

Conveyancers (at least, residential conveyancers) do not seem to advise their clients any more – they just act as postboxes.

One firm recently accidentally emailed us an email that was intended for their purchaser client, “reporting” on pre-contract search results. In fact, they did not report at all: there was no attempt to summarise, analyse or contextualise. They (literally) said, “We attach the results of the local, water, chancel and environmental searches made by us on your behalf. Please contact the writer if you have any queries.”  Ignoring the impersonal nature of the email in what should be a personal relationship, the solicitors were simply not doing what is a large part of their role, which is explaining the results of the searches and highlighting any issues that might arise from them. They had presumably satisfied themselves there were no obvious problems, but did nothing at all to satisfy their client there were no problems, nor to involve them in the conveyancing process, even though they were the ones paying for it.

Another firm became so hung up on minor typing errors in the Land Registry title registers, insisting we correct them before they would report to their clients with the contract, that they completely overlooked the fact that their clients were buying a share of the freehold of the building that contained the leasehold flat their clients were to move into: we had to prepare the paperwork for the transfer of the freehold title,as they had overlooked it, but could not complete without it.

Other clients of ours were buying a house to rebuild it. Our searches showed that the garage was built over a public sewer, with no “building over agreement” in place. Instead of advising their client to contribute the £900 cost of applying for a building over agreement – so that our clients would know they could safely rebuild – the seller’s conveyancers allowed the agents (who wanted exchange of contracts at any cost, so they could get their commission) to try bully the seller into agreeing a £10,000 price reduction “to avoid delay”. Not in the best interests of either buyer or seller, but apparently that is not what those conveyancers thought was part of their job.

All-in-all, it is a series of examples of “dumbing down” by conveyancers (though these examples all involved solicitors, licensed conveyancers are not exempt). Instead of seeking to provide a “value added” service, and demonstrating their usefulness, many firms seem fixated by the need to commodify and speed up the transactions as much as possible.

More and more, it seems, solicitors in particular (this does not apply, I think, to licensed conveyancers) behave as though clients are there for the solicitors’ benefit, rather than the other way around, and try to force clients to accept the process that suits the solicitors, instead to trying to provide value to their clients.

I believe we at Nelsons do not fall into that trap – if any clients disagree, please tell me – but it does make me crotchety.

– Justin


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