A Solicitor’s Duty of Care: Fixed Fee matters

Solicitors duty of care

| “Conveyancer on fixed fee had limited duties to the client, courts find.”

The existence of a solicitor’s duty of care, the scope of and the extent to which they owe that duty are topics which do not often arise as Law Firm’s tend to be both clear and concise when defining the scope of work to the client.

Minimal controversy and inquiries tend to arise in relation to a solicitor’s scope of duty, as it is common for firms to thoroughly outline the scope of their work both in initial correspondence, such as the client care letter to the client, and generally as the file progresses.

Recent case law in Harry v Curtis Law LLP provides an anomaly to the above. The County Court had dismissed a negligence claim brought by the client against Solicitors after the Solicitors successfully argued that the retainer and scope of work limited what they were expected to do.

| Background

Victoria Harry (“the Claimant”) instructed Curtis Law LLP (“the Defendant”) to act in the conveyance of purchasing a New Build Property within a period of 28 days. The Claimant agreed to pay the Defendant a fixed fee for the works carried out involved in the conveyance in the sum of £695 plus VAT.

Curtis Law LLP carried out the transaction on behalf of the Claimant. After completion, it arose that a link road was subsequently constructed close to the Claimant’s house which she was unaware of. The Claimant then brought a claim against the Defendant for Professional Negligence. The Claimant stated that she should have been made aware of the pending development scheme and if the Defendant had informed her of this, then she would not have purchased the property.

| The Claim

The crux of this case ultimately came down to two points. First and foremost, that the retainer and scope of the solicitor’s duty to the Claimant was in fact limited. The Hearing was dismissed by His Honour Judge Mitchell as the Defendants successfully argued that the fixed fee circumscribed the work that had to be done. Simply meaning that the Solicitors successfully argued that a reasonably competent solicitor would not be expected to have advised their client in relation to the development.

Secondly, the issue surrounding the reference of the development had not been accessible within the Local search and as this was the case, the Defendants advised the Claimant based on the information they had obtained. It was argued that the Defendants owed no obligation to extend their scope based on what they had already provided to the Claimant.

| Conclusion

The above case can be seen as somewhat of an anomaly in terms of Solicitors effectively arguing that their duties are limited. It is important that you read through all documents provided to you by your Solicitor as these documents should clarify the duty that is owed to you as a client.

When you instruct a solicitor, it is important that you ensure you understand the scope of the retainer in relation to the works to be provided by your Solicitor.  If you have any queries relating to the transaction or the extent of your Solicitor’s instruction, always contact your Solicitor and do not hesitate to ask questions.

The ruling of the above case does not necessarily limit the scope of future firms – a solicitor will always be reasonably expected to perform to a certain standard. If you believe that a professional owed you a duty of care and this was breached, our professional negligence team can advise you on any claims against that professional.

If you have any queries regarding professional negligence, we can help. Contact our professional negligence team today on 0800 988 7756.

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