Legal incompetence meant clients went through hell

From K Furlong

I have provided financial advice to a client for many years. Recently, she converted a four-storey traditional building into four one-bed flats, observing all the regulations regarding noise and fire at great expense.

The tradespeople employed, from architect to builders, roofers, plumbers and painters, did their jobs well – until we got to the lawyers. Then it all went to hell. It’s not rocket science to draft leases for four leasehold flats together with a management company, with freehold reverting to the ground floor flat on completion. It has happened before.

A local firm of solicitors was retained and it drew up leases which it assured my client were “bog standard” and observed all the recent amendments. They were approved by the Land Registry. Four quick sales were agreed, with each buyer having different solicitors and four mortgages were offered following valuations. So far so good.

The four solicitors acting for the purchasers did nothing at all after four weeks, then one stated the lease was a mess and would have to be redrafted. They promptly proceeded to do just that without any conversation with the drafting lawyer.

A second lawyer wheedled the names of other lawyers acting for buyers in the block out of an estate agency junior, then rang them seeking their opinion rather than using his single brain cell to best effect.

This produced a trio of legal incompetents waiting for a fourth to redraft a lease for properties for which they were not retained to act as solicitor.

Five more weeks of nothing elapsed, and then it was the holiday season.

“Mr Incompetent is away for two weeks and nothing will happen until he returns.”

Whatever happened to treating customers fairly and what about case ownership and treating clients professionally?

Some 13 weeks on an incomplete redrafted lease appears from the buyer’s solicitor and is immediately rejected by the seller’s solicitor as incomplete and not containing recent legislation changes. It never went near the Land Registry. Impasse.

One buyer, frustrated beyond belief, went with their parent who is providing the deposit, to see one of the other stalling briefs and spent time with them clarifying matters until the lawyer was happy. In five days that sale proceeded to simultaneous exchange and completion. Hurrah.

Another buyer, equally desperate, changed solicitor who proceeded with the alacrity of an arthritic snail, eventually approving the lease without question. That has now exchanged as the client pressed for completion before mid-August. Two cheers.

A third buyer pulled out and got a bill from his lawyer who took 14 weeks to produce zilch – it hasn’t even done the searches.

The fourth and final buyer has now pulled out and told the lawyer who tried redrafting the lease that he was going elsewhere.

He was informed that he should not do that as the property will never have clean title in the lawyer’s opinion – remember they never spoke to, emailed or wrote to the seller’s lawyer – and they were informing the lender of this.

Do I detect a hint of spite? In 32 years in this business I have never seen such incompetence. The original lease has been used on a large local development of 16 flats of which 11 have exchanged and seven completed to date. My client cannot communicate with the buyers’ solicitors to ascertain progress or redress as she has been caused extra expense because of interest charges by legal incompetence cloaked in obstinacy and driven by egos which deny logic.

The Law Society is a useless, flaccid organ designed to protect lawyers from the great unwashed fee-paying public.

We tried getting the estate agent to suggest to buyers they change lawyers and use one of the firms which app-roved the leases and completed on them, but being first-time buyers they are dazzled by the assumed professional competence of their appointed firms who refuse even to use email to communicate between themselves.

My client now has another leasehold property to sell and has told her estate agent not to put forward offers from buyers if they intend to use one of the two local firms that have been so unprofessional in the present matter, no matter how good the offers are. She plans to let the buyers know this.

Does any reader have a clue about how to proceed when solicitors act in such unprofessional ways? All I can suggest is the phone number of the local arsonist.

As they are acting ‘for the other side’ we are advised we cannot sue for ensuing loss. I am of the opinion that a TV crew filming in front of their offices after giving them due warning and an invitation to contribute to the programme is the only way to drag these sluggards into the daylight, through the 20th century and into the 21st century where they deserve to be sacrificed on the altar of client confidence. Comments please.

K Furlong
West Yorkshire
By email