Choosing a conveyancing solicitor to lead you through probably the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make can be very difficult and for very good reasons.
According to the Office for National Statistics the average person moves home once every 17.3 years which means that you may not remember who your solicitor was, they have closed down or even that the conveyancing process has changed or you are a first time buyer which mean you need to choose a new solicitor to help you.
There are over 10,000 conveyancing solicitors registered with the Law Society and hundreds more conveyancers registered with the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. However with such choice has come a wide variation on the quality of service you get and the conveyancing costs charged. There are some offering conveyancing fees as low as £99, but that come with a price list of extras that make your choice of solicitor more like a budget airline. Other solicitors offer fees that start north of £1,000 and come with a trusted reference from the estate agent – sadly though you’ll find that this referral is normally paid for by the solicitor to the estate agent at a cost ranging from £150 to £300.
Whether you search online, use a referral from a family member or use the estate agent’s own solicitor, this article examines some of the tell-tale signs of what you should expect from your conveyancer for the money that you are spending.
Solicitors or Conveyancers?
There is a perception that solicitors are better than conveyancers and provide a better service which justifies their greater expense. The actual difference is that a solicitor is registered with the Law Society after a minimum of 7 years of training which will have covered a number of areas of law other than conveyancing. A conveyancer is registered with the Council of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) after a minimum of 2 years (often taking 3 to 4 years) of training solely in conveyancing.
A solicitor and a conveyancer can work in both a Solicitor Firm and a Conveyancing Company. They both are trained to the same standard of conveyancing and their work is indemnified and regulated; for solicitors it is the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and for Conveyancers it is the CLC).
There shouldn’t be a difference in the practical knowledge of conveyancing, however a solicitor may have more knowledge in other areas of law, or have connections within the same solicitor firm to a specialist. A conveyancing firm will only provide services for conveyancing and wills (if there is an appropriately trained conveyancer).
You may find that solicitors charge more than conveyancers, however this may not mean that the service would be any different.
A focus on communication
Good communication with your property lawyer is one of the most important things to look for but is one of the hardest things to find out before you employ their services. The reason you need good communication is that the conveyancing process is full of twists and turns which can cause you stress and anxiety. Being able to speak to your lawyer and having the process clearly explained will help overcome this.
You should expect to have regular emails and it should be easy to call your lawyer if you want to get an update. If you are finding that it is difficult to get an update or that your solicitor prefers post to email for everyday communication, then this is not acceptable and you should make a complaint; either to them or to the practice manager.
Complaining should not be seen as a negative thing, it should be used to ensure that your solicitor knows that the service standards they are providing aren’t supportive enough for what you are expecting – remember that the conveyancing sector is a service industry requiring good customer service.
To test the service you’ll get from a solicitor you are thinking of using you should get a quote, see how long it takes to come through, then call to speak to the person who is going to be acting for you. A quote should be emailed within an hour and you should be able to speak to your solicitor or get a call back within the hour. Anything less than this then you should look for another lawyer to act.
Good online reviews
Online reviews have made service providers more aware of their service standards – a trend of 1 star reviews can be very telling. You should, however, be selective in the reviews you trust. On site reviews can be selected and managed by the law firm to only display their very best comments. You should look to other off-site review websites for feedback which include Google Business Reviews, Yell, Free Index or online blogging websites.
When looking at reviews you should look for the very worst as these are normally real. Don’t write off a law firm based on one bad review if they have a number of 5 star reviews because everyone can have a bad day. What you should look for is the online reply which the lawyer can leave in response to the bad review – sometimes this can expand on what steps were taken to remedy the issue.
The conveyancing process has a number of challenges that are outside of a solicitors control, however they must support in leading you through these. Choosing a lawyer who’ll be able to guarantee that there’ll be no challenges along the way will be impossible, however choosing one based on their experience, communication levels and client testimonials will ensure you have someone to help you when challenges pop up.
By Marcus Simpson