Where conveyancing profit can motivate a breach of Solicitors’ Code

06 Aug 2015

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) demands a high level of ethical standards for Solicitor practices for the benefit of their clients, the general public.

In fact they have published them in a Handbook, currently in its twelfth version.

The Handbook includes a Code of Conduct which Solicitors must adopt since 6 October 2011, and which replaced earlier codes.

One part of that Code answers the question "Can a single Solicitor firm act for both a buyer and a seller in a conveyancing matter?"

Previous code rules were fairly relaxed, and allowed it, provided:

  • "each client is represented by two separate office in different localities and neither client has been referred to their office by another office of the firm; and
  • there is no conflict of interest and one does not arise; and
  • you have the clients' informed written consent; and
  • the seller is not selling as builder or developer; and
  • different [lawyers] and supervisors in each office deal with the matter. "

Since 6 October 2011, there has been a marked change and tightening up of the rules, so that now, the 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 over matters of substance, and there may also be inequality of bargaining power. However there may be rare instances when it is possible to conclude that there is no conflict of interests."

As a result, many Solicitor firms have simply adopted a blanket policy not to act for both buyer and seller, so as to protect their clients and ensure absolutely no conflict of interest in their clients' work.

However, this can mean law firms lose money, as when both clients want to instruct the same law firm, one client has to be turned away. This is lost revenue. Yet the SRA know this, but they go on to make it abundantly clear when they say:

"In particular your decision to act for a buyer and seller should be of benefit to both clients, rather than in your own commercial interests."

However, some Solicitor firms still act for both buyer and seller. 

Bearing in mind that the SRA also require that Solicitors "act in the best interests of clients", whenever you are faced with the same Solicitor firm acting for you and your buyer/seller, demand to know why, as your 'best interests', and that of your legal work, are at stake. Do not allow their money making to be the agenda, at your expense.