Can solicitor firms act for both seller and buyer in a residential property transaction? Effectively, no.
A conveyancing solicitor can only act for both a buyer and seller in rare circumstances.
Since October 2011, when the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published their Code of Conduct for solicitors ensuring better protection for conveyancing clients through more independent legal advice, the SRA now provide that a conveyancing solicitor can only act for both a buyer and seller in rare circumstances.
NEVER where there is a conflict of interest, or a significant risk of conflict, UNLESS it is in the best interests of the clients for a solicitor firm to act for both and the benefits outweigh the risks.
That is a very high threshold to overcome.
SRA state “Acting for a buyer and seller is an area which carries a high risk of conflict of interests and we would not expect firms routinely to act for a buyer and seller. This is because acting for a buyer and seller often involves some form of negotiation [e.g. law, search and survey results, title defects etc] over matters of substance, and there may also be inequality of bargaining power. [Acting]…should be of benefit to both clients, rather than in your own commercial interests.”
In the Law Society's view it would even wise for a solicitor firm to record it’s decision still to act and their reason for it. Not least as the SRA have powers to investigate, as do the Law Society and Lexcel.
Consequently, as a matter of policy and to ensure clients received the benefits of the new restrictions, Trethowans no longer act for both buyer and seller in a residential transaction, nor are we yet aware of any solicitor firm taking the risk of so doing. I suspect some will purely for commercial reasons. Regrettably for clients, only solicitor firms have this rule to ensure they receive the truly independent legal advice, and so other legal businesses may well continue to act for both buyer and seller.