Conveyancers and the Legal Ombudsman: a Factory in the Desert?

The Legal Ombudsman has published their, “second thematic report, which looks at residential conveyancing complaints and their causes.” The narrative likely to build around this report is that conveyancing factories risk damaging service (Legal Futures).

In truth the report is a weak piece  of work. It does not identify the causes of residential complaints in any meaningful sense.  We get a few stories (case studies) from actual complaints and some speculation from the Legal Ombudsman as to causes.  This does not amount to an evidence based analysis of the causes of the quality problems in the conveyancing market.  I’d expect to see some breakdown of the prevalance of problems by factories and ‘non-factories’ and a comparison of that prevalance against some analysis of the relative dominance of both sectors in the market.  We get neither and are entitled to have a better undertsanding of what the basis of this speculation is.

Nor are the case studies particularly plausible indicators that volume is a problem.  The case studies tend to relate to problems around charging fixed fees which turn out not to be fixed at all.  This could just as easily be a problem in ‘non-factory’ providers.  For it to be related to the high volume providers would suggest that they systematically misell their conveyancing services, intentionally or negligently; a very serious allegation potentially of fraud which would merit concerted action.  It will be interesting to hear what plans the LeO and/or the SRA/CLC has to deal with this.

That’s not to say the Ombudsman is wrong about factories. He may be right.  We are just no further forward on the published information.  Equally, pressure on fees is likely to impact on quality but that pressure is felt across all conveyancing firms, not just factories.

LeO is crucially placed to collect and monitor data which would show which sectors give rise to problems and what the causes are.  I look forward to the day when they do that.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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5 Responses to Conveyancers and the Legal Ombudsman: a Factory in the Desert?

  1. Hi Richard,
    Following our Twitter conversation… The report is based on our Chief Ombudsman’s experience of complaints regarding residential conveyancing and the fact that he has seen an increasing amount of complaints relating to ‘fixed fee’ and ‘no move no fee’ agreements. It is therefore evidence based as a result of being informed by first-hand experience, even if this not necessarily statistically demonstrated.

    The report tries to convey a sense of scale by figuratively describing ‘conveyancing factories’ when referring to volume conveyancers i.e. larger firms that tend to provide automated services like those described above. Essentially, they focus on offering services cheaply and conveniently and often online rather than face to face as was traditionally the case.

    Comparing traditional firms with this new breed of firm wouldn’t necessarily bring any clarity to the argument we are putting forward as such large scale entities are still only just entering the market. Additionally, deciding what constitutes small, large, traditional, new etc is no easy task. Our research budget is limited.

    We are also not saying that traditional firms aren’t guilty of reneging on fixed fee agreements , just that since many large scale firms will tend to offer this pricing model, and there are many more automated, commodity based firms entering the market as alternative business structures – there’s a risk that many more complaints like those shown in the case studies could occur in the future.

    Ultimately, it’s a report (and not a research project) which aims to highlight risks to consumers and show lawyers the consequences of poor service. We’ve also attempted to make a balanced argument by highlighting instances where no poor service was found.

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  5. Rebecca says:

    The SRA/CLC will identify the organization whose conveyancer involved in fraud and the licences will me rejected too.

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