Hiding one’s light under a bushel?

Why would a firm of solicitors that is part of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) want to hide that fact?

Over the past few weeks we have dealt with a number of firms who (according to the Law Society) are members of CQS, but they don’t indicate that on their letterhead or on their website or in their correspondence this seems tantamount to hiding their CQS membership. As the scheme (again, according to the Law Society)-

“provides a recognised quality standard for residential conveyancing practices. Membership achievement establishes a level of credibility for member firms with stakeholders (regulators, lenders, insurers and consumers) based upon:

  • the integrity of the Senior Responsible Officer and other key conveyancing staff
  • the firm’s adherence to good practice management standards
  • adherence to prudent and efficient conveyancing procedures through the scheme protocol

This scheme creates a trusted community which will deter fraud – year on year we will drive up standards.”

Yet more and more CQS members seem to want to hide the fact of their membership.

So why join?

Simple answer – to get (or stay) on lenders’ conveyancing panels: more and more lenders are, it seems, sold on the Law Society’s marketing spiel that membership of this scheme somehow helps combat mortgage fraud – though in truth it cannot do any more than the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the anti-money laundering legislation already does in this connection – or helps prevent negigence – when it does nothing at all in that respect.  As a result, more and more lenders are insisting that solicitors who are to act for them in handling mortgage work must be CQS members, as though that were some magic bullet against fraud or negligence.  Please note that licensed conveyancers are not allowed to be CQS members, yet lenders are happy to use them despite this, so CQS membership is (logically) irrelevant.

However, the Law Society promotes CQS to lenders as somehow protecting them (and thereby keeping Law Society staff in employment) and the lenders, who are not daft, are happy to appear to go along with this, presumably for reasons of their own.

So why hide your CQS membership?

This is speculation, as no firm that hides its CQS membership has admitted this is deliberate – presumably this is just dreadful marketing on their part, then.  However, I speculate that the CQS scheme, which requires compliance with the Law Society Conveyancing Protocol which in turn requires the use of the Law Society’s conveyancing forms (including property information forms) and forbids the use of standard additional enquiries, is simply too restrictive. To take property information as an example, making the use of the Law Society’s forms compulsory and prohibiting the use of standard additional enquiries means that, until the Law Society’s forms are updated, buyers solicitors who are CQS members should not (strictly) be raising standard enquiries about, for instance –

  • whether the seller knows of any Japanese Knotweed at the property
  • whether there are solar panels installed and, if so, whether they belong to a third party
  • whether there have been drainage problems in the past
  • whether the seller has signed up to the Green Deal, which the buyer would inherit with the property

All these are perfectly reasonable questions to raise – but CQS members should not raise them

Having their cake and eating it

The result seems to be that some firms want it both ways: they want the practical benefit of being CQS Members – the ability to do more work for more lenders – but without accepting the burdens. So they confirm to the lenders they are CQS members, but don’t tell their opposite numbers in the transaction, so they can get away with breaking the CQS rules.

Does it matter?

I think it does. First, it is somewhat dishonest, and who wants that with a solicitor?  Second, it is hypocritical: if they don’t like the restrictions of CQS membership, they should say so, and either get the scheme improved or get it abolished. Either would, I think, be better than the current situation, where an ineffective scheme costs firms money without delivering them or anyone else any real benefit, and is used as a figleaf, preventing the problems that do exist being properly addressed.

As is probably obvious from the above, I have not joined CQS. I think it is a waste of time and money, but I do resent being sometimes treated as an inferior solicitor because I am not a CQS member. The truth is that I thought about it more carefully than most CQS members seem to have done and decided it was not a good scheme – a view that those who are now hiding their membership seem now to be taking, too.

– Justin Nelson

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