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Solicitors Regulation Authority publishes Residential Conveyancing thematic review

A review about the service provided by solicitors to the public

Executive summary

Buying and selling a property is often the most expensive and important financial commitment a person makes in their life. Having access to reliable and good quality legal support really matters. It not only reduces stress and uncertainty, but potentially directly impacts on whether a purchase is completed, and what the long-term financial implications may be for all involved.

While most property transactions are completed relatively seamlessly, figures from the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) show that residential conveyancing accounted for nearly a quarter of all complaints it handled over the past three years.

Our own research of consumers, conducted in 2018, also identified that up to a quarter of recent home buyers were dissatisfied with some element of the service they received from their solicitor. One common area of concern was an apparent failure to fully explain the detail and implications of contractual commitments.

What we did

We carried out this thematic review to better understand how firms are delivering residential conveyancing services, and whether they are fulfilling their obligations to their clients.

We visited a sample of 40 law firms offering residential conveyancing services and conducted a detailed review of 80 case files.

What we found

We found that most firms were fulfilling their obligations. In particular, we found that:

  • all firms proactively communicated with clients at all key stages of a purchase, with the majority meeting them face-to-face at least once
  • all firms provided clients with clear information on their complaints procedures
  • firms are increasingly embracing technology, especially regarding how they communicate with clients.

However, we did identify areas for improvement. The two most significant and widespread were:

  • inaccurate initial cost estimates – 34% of firms failed to include all the services/fees a matter could reasonably expect to attract in their initial quotes
  • not being open about the real cost of third-party disbursement and their firm’s mark-up on these – specifically telegraphic transfers. In 37% of cases firms failed to do this, with some charging up to 10 times the actual bank charge for processing the transfer.

Other areas where we identified potential concerns included:

  • not processing paperwork efficiently – especially in relation to requisitions raised by HM Land Registry
  • not explaining the difference between freehold and leasehold ownership
  • failing to double-check that a client understands the long-term implications of contractual obligations and fees.

Conclusions

This review clearly found that in the majority of cases, conveyancing firms actively engage with their clients and fulfil their obligations to them. Property deals progress in a timely and efficient manner and clients feel informed and supported throughout.

But sadly, this is not always the case.

Whether its providing unrealistic or incomplete quotes, or failing to make sure contractual information has been fully understood, solicitors are potentially leaving their clients exposed to significant risk or potential financial hardship.

Next steps

This thematic review took place during 2018. In December the same year, we introduced new transparency rules which require firms offering conveyancing services to publish detailed price and services information, and their complaints procedures online.

The requirement to provide clear pricing information was not new. However, these rules, and associated guidance, now provide the profession with absolute clarity on our expectations for how they should be publishing price information.

These requirements include:

  • outlining all known and potential costs a transaction may attract from the outset
  • specifying all charges being added to the actual cost of any third-party disbursements.

As part of our ongoing work, we will continue to review compliance with these rules and will consider further action where necessary to make sure they are being followed.

On the specific subject of making sure solicitors explain contractual details to clients, especially in relation to leaseholds, we urge all firms to make sure that their clients understand their obligations. If we find evidence that people were not made aware of onerous clauses in their leasehold contracts, such as the regular doubling of ground rents, we will take robust action.

Following this review, we referred six firms onto our internal disciplinary processes. Five of these referrals included concerns about failing to declare that the stated telegraphic transfers fees included an additional charge/mark-up.

Read the full report here

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High Court Sends Back Bar Membership Row

The U.S. Supreme Court sent back a case challenging a nearly 30-year-old precedent allowing mandatory bar membership.

The case took aim at the county’s first mandatory bar, North Dakota’s, which required membership in the state’s bar association as a condition to practice law as early as 1921, according to the American Bar Association.

Although the state with the most lawyers as of 2017—New York—still has voluntary membership, 37 other U.S. jurisdictions have “unified” or “integrated” bars, which require bar membership, according to ABA statistics.

Arnold Fleck, a North Dakota lawyer, says the requirement violates his First Amendment rights. He asked the court to overturn a nearly 30-year-old precedent holding otherwise.

The Supreme Court said in 1990 that mandatory membership schemes pass constitutional muster so long as they don’t require members to “finance political and ideological activities with which” an attorney disagrees.

Read the full article from Bloomberg Here

Case: Fleck vs. Wetch

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Indiana professional rules limit lawyers’ speech about judges

The Indiana Lawyer has released an article tackling one of the legal sector’s most contentious issues – Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), which governs lawyers’ speech about judges. Lawyers, it seems, don’t want to address the topic for fear of being perceived as speaking critically of the judiciary, while judges seemingly don’t want to discuss situations where they feel they have been unfairly criticized. According to an Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor, the unease surrounding Rule 8.2(a) is not a matter of respect, but rather a matter of lawyer fear. Professor Margaret Tarkington takes a deep dive into caselaw surrounding lawyer speech and related discipline and concludes that rules similar to 8.2(a) can cause attorneys to stay tight-lipped even in the face of judicial misconduct.

Read the full article from Indiana Lawyer Here

A wave of violence against lawyers is crippling the Philippines’ justice system

The slaying earlier this month of a prominent human rights lawyer in the Philippines who worked on behalf of poor suspects accused of drug-related crimes has sparked a renewed outcry over President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, was gunned down by two unidentified assailants on Nov. 6—the 34th lawyer to be killed since Duterte took office in 2016. In an interview with WPR, Imelda Deinla, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s School of Regulation and Global Governance, explains why Philippine lawyers are being targeted and how this wave of violence is affecting the country’s legal institutions.

Read the full story from World Politics Review 

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NEW! ICLR Digital Content Group on ICLR.net

ICLR.net is excited to announce our new membership group for Digital Content. Join our group and post your legal regulation & legal profession news, events, research publications, consultations and announcements. Sharing your digital content with the ICLR.net community is best way to reach a truly diverse and international audience of regulators. Get involved today!

Visit the new Digital Content Group

Regulating Law Firms from the Inside: The Role of Compliance Officers for Legal Practice in England and Wales

Following the Legal Services Act 2007, which permitted the delivery of legal services through Alternative Business Structures (ABS), the Solicitors Regulation Authority required all regulated legal service firms to appoint Compliance Officers for Legal Practice (COLPs). COLPs are charged with taking reasonable steps to ensure that firms comply with their obligations, which entails interpreting what outcomes‐focused regulation (OFR) requires of the firm. Yet despite their importance, little is known about how compliance roles operate within legal service firms. We addressed this gap through a series of qualitative interviews that explored COLPs’ views of their roles, their attitudes to regulation, in particular to OFR, and to achieving compliance. We found that COLPs are a key regulatory mechanism in the context of firm‐based regulation and OFR and have a critical role to play in protecting and promoting professional values in both ABS and non‐ABS entities.

Full Paper Available Here

Sundeep Aulakh, University of Leeds – Work and Employment Relations & Joan Loughrey, University of Leeds

Regulation Tomorrow: What Happens When Technology is Faster than the Law?

In an age of constant, complex and disruptive technological innovation, knowing what, when, and how to structure regulatory interventions has become more difficult. Regulators find themselves in a situation where they believe they must opt for either reckless action (regulation without sufficient facts) or paralysis (doing nothing). Inevitably in such a case, caution tends to trump risk. But such caution merely functions to reinforce the status quo and makes it harder for new technologies to reach the market in a timely or efficient manner. The solution: lawmaking and regulatory design needs to become more proactive, dynamic, and responsive. So how can regulators actually achieve these goals? What can regulators do to promote innovation and offer better opportunities to people wanting to build a new business around a disruptive technology or simply enjoy the benefits of a disruptive new technology as a consumer?

Full Paper Available Here

Mark Fenwick, Kyushu University – Graduate School of Law; Wulf A. Kaal, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota – School of Law; Erik P. M. Vermeulen, Tilburg University – Department of Business Law

Call for Publications: Journal for the Professional Lawyer

The American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility Publications Board is seeking submissions for publication in Journal of the Professional Lawyer, a peer-reviewed annual publication which typically features longer articles than the Center’s magazine, covering topics in greater depth, in law review format.

The deadline for articles for the 2018 edition of Journal of the Professional Lawyer is November 14, 2018.

Please submit articles to Mary McDermott, Senior Counsel, and staff to the Center Publications Board at:

Mary.mcdermott@americanbar.org