Beware of sharks offering alternative legal services

Published: 04/09/2013

The legal ombudsman is warning consumers to be ‘wary’ of the ‘alternative legal market’ and has recommended the checking of any DIY documents provided by on-line start-ups as well as verifying that any such provider is regulated by appropriate official bodies like the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority.

‘Understandably most people aren’t aware that there are few areas of reserved activity which can only be undertaken by lawyers, such as litigation, preparing conveyancing documents or taking action in court,’ explained Eddie Goldsmith, Senior Partner at property solicitors Goldsmith Williams. ‘This means that opportunists, and amongst these con-men, can set themselves up to offer legal services in this alternative legal market without any safeguards.

The alternative market has expanded recently to include on-line start-ups offering advice and documents but has also historically included many unregulated will-writers for example.

Properly established legal services firms will employ qualified professionals, will be regulated by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and they will have Professional Indemnity cover to protect the interests of their clients. Additionally, where clients have an unresolved complaint, they will be able to rely upon the Legal Ombudsman to scrutinise this and offer redress where such complaints are upheld.

Brokers have a valuable role to play as fellow professionals both in educating clients about the value of mainstream legal services and in leveraging their networks to recommend legal services providers of the highest calibre.

When selecting and recommending conveyancers, brokers should consider the quality accreditations the firm has earned – look for a firm who hold the Law Society’s prestigious Conveyancing Quality Scheme and take a note of any other accreditations for quality such as the ISO 9001 accreditation that the shortlisted firm’s hold. Brokers should also recommend established, stable firms who enjoy a good reputation in their field giving clients’ the confidence to go on to instruct.

In an age when many are looking to economise there remain some areas where it is still beneficial to pay for quality. My message to brokers and their clients is simply this – beware of circling sharks in the pool of alternative legal services. And whilst not all practitioners are unscrupulous the lack of regulation means it’s difficult to identify the con-men.’

Content correct at time of publication

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