Over the last month the Law Society has been running a ‘Choose quality advice – your solicitor qualified to help’ campaign. But are they missing the point and misleading the consumer in some areas of law?
It states that we should use a specialist and be prepared to shop around – but isn’t this the case for most services.
It mentions that if the customer has a complaint regarding a solicitor they can go to the legal ombudsman while if they go to an unregulated legal service provider, such as a non-solicitor will writer, they don’t have the same recourse. Yes, this is true and the reason why it is now accepted that will-writing will become regulated sooner rather than later. Regulation is already happening in Scotland.
The campaign further states that all solicitors must hold a practising certificate issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This “guarantees” that the solicitor is qualified to practise: herein lies the problem, qualified in What? A practising certificate confirms they have completed their solicitor training but it does not guarantee specialist knowledge in each and every area of law.
In fact in an area such as probate and wills there is no longer a mandatory examination. A solicitor can practice without their knowledge being tested.
This lack of knowledge and education in the field of will-writing is highlighted in a recent report by the Legal Services Board (LSB). The report published the results of their investigation into will-writing which found one in four of the wills examined to be inadequate. That is 25% of the wills written. It further states that “the same proportion of wills prepared by solicitors and will-writing companies were failed”.
The issue with training and education is further highlighted by a recent letter in the Law Society’s own Gazette. The letter is entitled “Legal training falls short on will drafting”.
In the area of probate and wills ‘properly’ qualified advisers are members of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP) recognised by the letters TEP after their name. Not all solicitors offering probate and will services are members of STEP. And furthermore not all members of STEP, i.e. those with the specialist knowledge in this field, are solicitors.