Thinking of suing your solicitor? Well, solicitors are no different from any other profession. Most are good, whilst a few are bad. The vast majority of legal professionals in this country perform their jobs competently – and many solicitors are true experts.
There is, however, a very small number of solicitors who do take on cases which are beyond their capabilities. Sometimes they get involved in areas of law in which they are inexperienced. Furthermore, even the best solicitors are not immune to human error.
Back in the 1960s or 1970s, solicitors were hardly ever taken to court over their mistakes. Thankfully, the world has now moved on, and if you find that your particular solicitor’s work has not come up to the reasonable standards expected from legal professionals and you have suffered a financial loss, you’re well within your rights to sue and you could be entitled to compensation.
Unlike most other professions, there are a number of safeguards in place to protect you should you be unfortunate enough to encounter one of the rogues!
Need advice on suing your solicitor? Call our specialist professional negligence team on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for FREE initial phone advice – with no strings attached.
The Solicitors Code of Conduct
All solicitors are bound by a very strict code of conduct, which is regularly updated and rigorously enforced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This sets out the ethical standards which should govern all aspects of the solicitors’ practice, eg always acting in the client’s best interests, refusing to act where there is a conflict of interest, and not doing anything to bring the profession into disrepute.
These aren’t abstract ideals – they’re the basis for compensation claims in cases of poor service or negligence.
Suing Your Solicitor – the difference between poor service and professional negligence
Poor service and negligence are two very different things.
Poor service is a problem with your experience as a client, and as such, can only be addressed by the professional body.
Negligence is quite different and far more serious – it is a serious failure of professional duty that has a direct and detrimental effect on you leading to a financial loss eg, if a solicitor fails to submit your claim in time and entirely lose your right to the compensation you deserve.
Professional negligence of this nature can be pursued through the courts by way of a compensation claim – see below.
The most common reasons for suing your solicitor
So what are the most common areas of law which result in professional negligence claims against law firms?
- Business transactions
Common negligence claims involve solicitors failing to make sure that there are appropriate indemnities and warranties in business sale and share sale agreements.
- Divorce and Family Law
Common errors made by solicitors include wrong advice on financial settlements, inadequate pension valuation and mistakes in dealing with pension sharing arrangements.
Errors in correctly drafting final settlement agreements following divorce can also give rise to professional negligence claims.
- Employment contracts
A common cause of suing a solicitor arises out of mistakes made when drafting contracts of employment – including the failure to include confidentiality clauses and appropriate and enforceable restrictive covenants
Professional negligence claims against solicitors often arise following a failure to comply with Court Orders or issue court proceedings in time; along with inadequate or incorrect advice on costs issues and the strength of a case generally
- Personal Injury Compensation Claims
Claims for professional negligence against solicitors after an accident claim are on the rise. Part of the reason for this seems to be that some of the larger claims companies are using junior staff to manage the claim, with limited supervision from experienced solicitors. Due to the juniors’ lack of experience, it seems that with increasing frequency they are under-settling claims, or recommending that a client accepts an offer for compensation which is a lot less than the sum which might be expected given the injury.
Other professional negligence claims in personal injury cases centre on missed deadlines – perhaps the claim is not started within the limitation period (see below) and the client loses out on compensation completely, or the solicitor fails to stick to court deadlines, which are increasingly tight.
Errors made with managing the estate of someone who has died include general mistakes in the administration, inco, failing to list all of the assets and distributing the assets of the estate incorrectly. Incorrectly calculating or paying the level of inheritance tax due is also sadly not unknown.
All of these can lead to professional negligence claims.
- Property Law
The most common area of the law which results in a claim for professional negligence is conveyancing – or the buying and selling of residential property. Given that the average house in England or Wales is now worth over £200k, the potential for serious financial losses here is very high.
Not only could this kind of mistake cost you cash, you could even lose the roof over your head. The amount of trauma and stress this causes cannot be overestimated.
Some of the most common conveyancing mistakes include;
- failing to spot mistakes in the title deeds;
- failing to give clients the full story about planning restrictions or rights of way on the property
- failure to inform the Land Registry about the transfer of ownership
- failure to ensure the mortgage is fully paid off on transfer
- fail to identify the right piece of land in any property purchase
- failure to inform the client about factors which could affect their new property. The list of such issues is lengthy but includes
- disused mine workings close by
- rights of way
- risk of flooding
- planning or environmental issues
Apart from buying a house, one of the most common things we ask a solicitor to do is draw up a will for us. And a will is one of the most important pieces of paper any of us will ever sign. So if our solicitor gets it wrong, the financial consequences can be severe.
Negligent solicitors sadly often make mistakes when it comes to drafting wills. Some of the most common mistakes are pretty basic – as simple as not reflecting the testator’s wishes when drafting the will.
Other common mistakes include:
- errors with the signing and witnessing of the will. Not having a will witnessed by an independent third party, for example, can invalidate it completely
- using language when drafting the will which is unclear or can be interpreted in a number of different ways
- poorly written wills which make the wishes of the deceased unclear or difficult to carry out
- delays in drafting the will and having it executed before the death of the testator. Such delays can lead to the testator dying without a proper will in place, known as intestacy.
- drafting a will when the testator did not have the required mental capacity
- neglecting to consider ways of reducing inheritance tax liability when drafting the will.
Suing your solicitor – the need for specialist legal advice
Whatever the circumstances of the error made by your solicitor, it’s vitally important that you work with a specialist professional negligence solicitor to make your claim for compensation.
Professional negligence in the legal profession is a highly complex area of law and there are not many solicitors who are true experts in this field. It might be difficult to find a local solicitor who has a proven track record of managing this sort of case successfully, and if that is the case, it’s always better to work with an expert who is based further afield.
Apart from complexity, there is another reason why you are going to need a specialist professional negligence solicitor if you’re thinking of suing your own solicitor .That’s because these type of compensation claims are usually very hard fought – especially by the insurers of professional sevices firms. You can almost guarantee that insurers always instruct solicitors with plenty of experience of running these kind of claims – so you don’t want to put your own case in jeopardy by appointing a solicitor without plenty of experience of this kind of work.
Begin your search by looking for law firms who specialise in professional negligence and the legal profession and check whether they are members of the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association (PNLA). This is the only organisation for Negligence Lawyers in England and Wales. Needless to say we are PNLA members.
Alternatively – simply give us a ring. Our specialist team have many years of experience in recovering compensation from negligent solicitors.
Suing Your Solicitor – Funding your professional negligence claim
Our solicitors will discuss with you the different funding options:
- Paying privately
- No win no fee schemes (also called conditional fee arrangements)
- Legal expenses insurance
No win no fee schemes are pretty self explanatory – if you lose your case you don’t have to pay any legal costs. If you win your no win no fee professional negligence claim, the losing side pays your legal costs.
Because of the potential large legal bills involved in suing your solicitor, most of the professional negligence claims we take on are under no win no fee arrangements.
However we can also discuss with you availability of any legal expenses insurance cover you may have to pay your lega bills. You may be surprised to find how many people actually have legal expense insurance to cover these kind of claims.
Will my solicitor be able to pay any compensation I’m awarded?
Each and every law firm in England and Wales must have a comprehensive insurance policy that covers negligent advice. This compulsory insurance policy covers an absolute minimum of £2,000,000 – and many firms have much higher insurance cover.
How to pursue a claim for professional negligence
If you feel you have a claim for professional negligence against a solicitor, you must take specialist legal advice from a law firm who handle this sort of litigation. Remember there is a time limit for bringing actions of this sort, so you need to act as quickly as possible.
Time Limits for Suing Your Solicitor
In general terms, you have six years from the date of the negligent act or advice, or the date from which your financial loss started, to start your claim.
Claims against after this six-year period may still be possible. Regardless of the time limit, claims are often significantly easier to prove while they are still relatively recent.
So don’t delay – get the right specialist legal advice as soon as possible.
What exactly is professional negligence?
Essentially, professional negligence on the part of the solicitor can be defined as a mistake which no proficient legal adviser should make
Proving Your Professional Negligence Claim
You can claim for professional negligenceif you have suffered damage as a result of the failings of their solicitor.
To prove that you have been a victim of professional negligence, you must be able to show 3 things;
1. that your solicitor owed you a duty of care and
2. there was a failure or breach in that duty of care
3. you have suffered loss as a result
• Your solicitor should have advised you with reasonable skill and care; the standard that they are expected to meet is normally that of the reasonably competent solicitor
• If your solicitor put themselves forward as having greater expertise than usual, then the Court will require them to be held to that higher standard
• To win your case you must prove that the level of service or standard of work you received drops below the standards that would reasonably be expected from a solicitor in the circumstances
• You must have incurred some kind of loss as a result of a breach in the duty of care, eg lost money because of poor legal advice from a law firm which resulted in a negligent will, failed litigation or incorrect conveyancing advice in relation to the purchase of a property
Complaints procedure and the Legal Ombudsman
If you feel you’ve received poor service from your solicitor [as distinct from losing noney through professional negligence], your first course of action should be to put your complaint in writing to them.
All law firms should have internal complaints procedures. Most will be able to resolve your complaint without the need to take the matter any further.
However, if the law firm cannot resolve your complaint, you might consider taking your case to the Legal Ombudsman (the LeO) – which is a free, independent and impartial scheme set up to help resolve legal service disputes.
Please note that there are time limits with regard to making a complaint to the Ombudsman. The LeO does expect complaints to be made to them within six years from the date of poor service, or three years from when you should have known about the complaint. Furthermore, the Ombudsman will normally only look at any complaint against a law practice if you have already exhausted the internal complaints procedure in the last six months.
You can contact the Legal Ombudsman as follows:
Phone: 0300 555 0333
NB Although the LeO is responsible for the vast majority of complaints against solicitors, a small but increasing number of property lawyers are regulated by The Council for Licensed Conveyancers, who are also responsible for considering complaints against them. The CLC are are open Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm and can be contacted as follows.
Tel: 020 3859 0904
Thinking of Suing Your Solicitor? Call Us Now
Negligent legal work can have very serious financial consequences. If you have been the victim of legal negligence and you are considering suing negligent solicitors, you’re going to need the help of professional negligence claim specialists.
Our team specializes in suing negligent solicitors – contact us for a review of your potential claim today. For a FREE Initial phone consultation;
- call us now on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 or
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Comments or questions are welcome.