It is starting to become clearer that the choice of property lawyer has an impact on the success or otherwise of a housing transaction. Unfortunately, it is still very difficult for consumers to gauge the quality of the service that they will receive from a lawyer.
Obviously, recommendations are always the best option, but the source of these can often influence choice. Indeed, sometimes recommendations are made purely because the person will receive a referral fee payment, rather than on merit. Which is wrong for so many reasons that we’ll not go into here.
But the problem is; if you are looking for a lawyer to help with your house move, how do you choose? We’ve come up with a shortlist of five questions to ask.
You know what they say, and these really DO count. We recommend always calling a lawyer because you’ll find out very quickly how much emphasis they put on having people available to take your call. There will be times during the case that you will need to get an immediate answer, so a lawyer that doesn’t answer the telephone is definitely going to increase your stress levels. If you cannot speak to someone when you are trying to give them business, then the chances of being able to do so during the case are slim.
Use of technology
Always ask a prospective lawyer how they manage their cases. Do they have an online system or do they use paper files? Do they use email for communication with you or do they have a secure portal?
If a company doesn’t use technology effectively, then it is likely to cause stress further into the process. Technology speeds up the process and makes information sharing far easier. For example if your lawyer goes on holiday, who is going to deal with the transaction in their absence and keep you up to date If they still use email, this puts you at risk of fraud as you will not be protected against fake emails pretending to come from them.
One of the main causes of delay in the conveyancing process is the sheer volume of cases that lawyers have to manage. It is not uncommon for lawyers to be responsible for over 100 cases, if you are just one of these, then don’t expect to be able to speak to the lawyer easily. It’s always worth asking a lawyer how many cases they are running and whether they have an assistant to help them. Obviously the more people that are working on a case the better, as long as you have direct access to the person doing the work.
According to the government, the average amount of time on a case is over 19 weeks. You should ask any prospective lawyer how long it is taking them to get deals through, bearing in mind, of course, that many may be delayed by chains in transactions. A lawyer should be able to give their average case time, which, reasonably, in the current market should be around 10-12 weeks. Anything more than that should be questioned.
Who is running the case
Finally, it’s always worth asking about the experience of the person who will be responsible for running the case. Whilst some people do think that the more experience the better, there are diminishing returns on this. All too often, someone with decades of experience can also work in very traditional ways which may not always be the quickest. While such experience can be extremely valuable, having a qualified person doing the work does not mean that you would always get a more effective service.
Picking the right lawyer to manage your conveyancing transaction is not easy. Just remember, when you do get a recommendation, check where this is coming from and make sure you ask pertinent questions before jumping to any conclusions about the quality of the lawyer. And finally, don’t be fooled by smart looking websites – these are very easy to build.
As Shakespeare said, when it comes to picking lawyers, all that glisters definitely isn’t always gold.