We have brakes to stop progress in Britain. They’re called solicitors.
Of all the people who get in the way of things getting better in Britain – the civil servants, bankers, bean-counters, legislators and media gargoyles – none can top the lawyer for sheer destructive, bp-raising self-interest and pedantic idiocy. The problem is that they remain an immovable object in the way of progress: self-regulated by the dubious Law Society, allowed to encourage litigation using advertising, charging by the hour when they can, and an absolutely dominant influence in the legislature.
Now however, things have become even worse purely because it’s slightly easier to sue them for incompetence and malpractice than it used to be. New rules from the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority (SRA) spell out why and how the legals can be held accountable for mistakes, financial fiddles, and overly aggressive pursuit of libel claims. Some of the rules look very grand in writing, but they’re largely ignored in practice….as we have seen with Lord McAlpine and his best friend Andrew Reid. However, the lawyer being by nature paranoid, to incompetence and criminality we can now add anal caution as their normal mode of procedure.
When I bought our current house, the lawyer completely failed to spot a planning permission in the adjoining field. A large suburban house duly appeared there, and so we decided to sue the solicitor for dereliction. The next lawyer we approached agreed that it was an open and shut case, but told us “They will deny it for a few months and send a lot of letters back and forth, all of which will cost you money. Then they’ll hand the case over to their liability insurers, and they in turn will run you round the houses for several years, until a Court case finally takes place and you win. The damages will be laughably inadequate, and you’ll be out of pocket to the tune of around ten grand. Do you still want to sue them?” Of course, we didn’t.
Yesterday afternoon, after a marathon process lasting over three months, I finally exchanged contracts on the very same house, because I need to raise cash and fund some life changes. Last October, once a price had been agreed, I told everyone involved that I wanted to exchange before Christmas and then have a long completion by the end of February.
The first thing that happened was nothing. This always seems to be the case when you instruct solicitors and give them the name of the purchaser’s solicitors: nothing occurs beyond an exchange of archaically worded letters.
After a fortnight of this, I got a letter from my solicitor with a long list of things I needed to find out, and then supply to him. I ran around like a demented duckling and gave them all to him.
The next thing that happened was nothing. So I rang to say hi, it’s mid November, the goose is getting fat, are we in shape? The other solicitors had not yet replied to his letter about a longer completion. I asked him to email them. They said they were busy studying the deeds and the land registry documents.
The next thing that happened was pre-Christmas shopping and office parties, with no sign of an exchange of contracts. However, I’d intervened again to remind everyone about the schedule. This seemed to occasion a very brief flurry of activity producing a list of questions from the other side. They were all answered and then everyone got drunk for two weeks.
In the New Year – eight days into the New Year to be precise – the other side replied to say we hadn’t answered their questions properly and here are some more questions. I instructed my chap to ask was the longer completion OK. What we got back was a long and concerned letter asking did we have planning permission for the satellite dish on our chimney pot.
The next thing that happened was something all about nothing. You have a skylight facing East, said their solicitor, and we can’t see anything about it in the conversion permission documents. I suggested this might be because they were looking at the South-facing elevation plans. Yes that’s all well and good they countered, but we can’t see one and yet you have one. This is worrying.
So my Estate Agent and the original developer shlepped down to the Council’s planning office, pulled out all the relevant plans and sent them off, having first taken the precaution of circling all the sketches and prose and stamps of Council approval showing and talking about skylights. But the purchasers’ solicitor was still not satisfied: he wanted a written statement from the Council saying they’d approved the skylight.
It then fell to people who weren’t solicitors to ring up my purchaser and ask whether this was a deal-breaker, and if so why. No, he said, it wasn’t a deal-breaker. My solicitor sent another letter asking his solicitor to stick the skylight up his bottom, with yet another request to confirm the longer completion date.
There followed another period of nothing. By now, the completion question had been rendered largely redundant by the fact that we were well past the original exchange date, but hadn’t actually exchanged as such. But then, yesterday morning, we finally got a reply about completion: the other side wanted it by February 4th….just 13 days away. Fuck off, I gently suggested. It’s February 4th or the deal’s off they replied.
This is what had transpired. Two buyers back down the chain, a solicitor had waited until now to say his client wanted to register his son for a school in the area, and early February was the last chance to do so for the next academic year. It seems the client had made this clear to his solicitor, but nobody else involved had been informed.
Thus a deal involving some £4million in real estate was about to be scuppered (after vast expenditures by all those involved who weren’t solicitors) because one solicitor had spent a fortnight fretting about an eight-inch wide skylight, and another had failed to mention probably the most important timing factor in the entire deal. But this didn’t faze the legals in any way. They dug in their heels and said February 4th or else.
By now it was 10.30 in the morning. I was a little upset. I asked my solicitor to agree to the terms on one condition: exchange of contracts today, or the deal’s off. What followed was an extraordinary conversation in which I was informed of how silly I’d look when I had to back down. I said “But I’m not going to.” Did I really mean it? I was asked. Yes, I said. I’m reluctant to take those instructions, he said. You want I should ring them, I asked. He rang them. Oooooh no, they said, there was no chance of exchange today, don’t be ridiculous. Then you’re not buying my house, I said. Ha-ha they said. Exchange by 5.30 tonight or I will take it off the market at 5.31, I said. This is the last you’ll hear from me until my solicitor confirms exchange has taken place.
The exchange took place at 3.15.
If solicitors ran the economy, nothing would ever be approved, made, delivered or sold. No takeovers would ever achieve closure (I’ve never in 35 years closed such a deal before three in the morning or without somebody threatening to take at least one legal hostage) and nobody would ever do anything differently. If solicitors ran the world, we’d all be driving steamrollers – and one of the most important jobs in the country would be walking in front of vehicles with a red flag.
But the problem is, although solicitors don’t run anything, they can stop everything. They will hold up any transaction in order to rack up more hours and send more letters. They will filibuster out any legislation designed to make them efficient or accountable. They will demand written indemnification for anything involving them taking responsibility. And they will strangle at birth any idea designed to reduce their ability to intervene in every activity we undertake.
During the previous Labour Administration, lawyers were 670% over-represented in the House of Commons. In the second Blair Cabinet, they were 3800% over-represented. Lawyers rarely make the laws, but they always monitor and frame them. This means that more laws happen all the time (37,400 between 1997 and 2010) because more laws mean more lawyers. It also means that most tax and legal bills are incompetently drafted, and so more lawyers are then called in as consultants to discuss ways to put right laws they got wrong in the first place. And all at an hourly rate to make your mouth water.
At the moment, it is too expensive for most people to sue lawyers, impossible to do deals without lawyers, and impossible to die without lawyers. In Lawyerworld, there are five-lane highways everywhere, but they all lead to a tiny toll-bridge somewhere in North Wales, and the toll-bridge is owned, manned and administered by lawyers. According to the Guardian, the number of solicitors is growing at 3.6 times the rate of the population in England and Wales, and there are over a third more lawyers than there were a decade ago. You can’t avoid the buggers, and you can’t get any law changed in a way that will mean less work for them.
If we had a sealed-bids system of property purchase throughout the UK, it is estimated that at least three weeks could be shaved off the time it takes to buy a house. So we don’t have a sealed bids system. The overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens think lawyers advertising on TV is unhealthy and exacerbates the litigious nature of our society. So more and more lawyers are advertising on television. “If you and your spouse hate each other like poison and want to get out of the hellhole you call a marriage, you’ve come to the right place,” begins the commercial from Steve Miller of DivorceEZ, a Florida law firm, concluding 30 seconds later, “You’re on your way to getting rid of that vermin you call a spouse.” Somewhere – everywhere – there are lawyers willing to argue that this sort of thing is good for the economy and healthy for society.
The truth is that a majority of lawyers are cautious, self-serving stuffed shirts who contribute little or nothing to our culture beyond discouragement of personal responsibility and the philosophical approach to unhappy events: shit happens, get on with your life. Everything lawyers do dwells on the past with no thought for the future, and no grasp of the bigger picture beyond their fees. A level of complexity and factory-fitted incompetence is added to every situation to ensure the continuity of work-supply. The net result of all this is a society terrified to move anything forward or make anything with nuts in it.
Lawyers have to introduce new laws and encourage blame, because without that they’d have to start eating each other. You think that’s just me being silly don’t you? Well read this from a simple Google query about suing lawyers:
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