MTA chief executive David Green points out that some conveyancers run the risk of breaching rule seven of the Law Society’s code of conduct, which specifies that solicitors must be clear and upfront about fees and must not breach the British Code of Advertising Practice.
His concern is that apparently cut-price fixed fee deals advertised for as little as £99 may hide a multitude of extra costs which only become apparent to unsuspecting house buyers when the final bills land on their doormats.
The problem with legal fees is that most consumers would prefer not to pay them. Some wonder why if they don’t have to pay fees for the services of brokers they have to pay for conveyancers. And when they reluctantly accept that they do have to part with their cash, they want to pay the least amount possible. No wonder cheap deals appeal.
So Green raises a valid point and the old saying that if something seems too good to be true it probably is applies. A promotion that advertises fixed conveyancing fees is likely to be underpinned by caveats because there are inevitably elements of housing transactions that vary in price. Ideally, these deals should not be described as fixed price and should emphasise that final bills may vary from the prices advertised. Burying the details in the small print is not good enough.
Such offers endanger the reputation not only of the legal profession but also the brokers who be recommend them to their clients.
It’s worth remembering that when advising clients about mortgages and associated insurances, brokers are bound by the provisions of the Financial Services Authority’s Treating Customers Fairly regime. Although TCF does not encompass legal services, most clients do not know this and expect the same clear, honest and unambiguous information about conveyancing as they do about financial products.
If their final legal bills give them a nasty shock, there’s a good chance they will be banging on the door of the brokers who recommended the solicitors in the first place.
Of course, you should try to find competitively priced deals for your clients but you must consider all the elements of the packages on offer, not just the headline prices.
I suspect that most clients know there is no such thing as a free lunch. If they want a fast and reliable service they accept they will have to pay someone a reasonable price for it.