12 SEPTEMBER 1963, Page 13


SIR,—As a practiii4 solicitor may I please offer some answer to Leslie Adrian's temperate (but unfortunately titled) comment in last week's issue.

1. The basis on which we charge our scale fees for property transactions was fixed in the nineteenth century, and such fees relate only to the work done between the date of a binding contract and final completion of the ; business. Since the scale fee system was established the character of such trans- actions has so greatly altered that the work we do before the contract usually exceeds what we do afterwards; yet invariably this additional work is thrown in free of charge, together with other ser- vices that have nothing to do with the law at all.

2. Mr. Carter accuses us of grossly overcharging for what is merely simple clerical work, but a few weeks in a solicitor's office would shown anyone how misconceived this accusation is. The form- filling is a very small part indeed of our work. Not uncommonly I will have to advise the client on the kind of mortgage that will suit him best, help him till up the application, and explain the offer when he gets it; advise him about a survey, instruct the surveyor, and 'translate the survey report into its less frightening real meaning; consider the inevitable old restrictions affecting the property and advise him whether he need worry about them; advise him Whether he can build a garage on the property and tell him how to go about it; advise him about in- suring the property, and his 'own life as well if he does not want an early widowhood to leave his family with a large mortgage debt—and then arrange the insurance; and juggle with the date he wants to move in and the date the vendor wants to move out, and arrange the best compromise. All this we solicitors do as a matter of course before there is even a binding contract for the purchase, and at no extra charge except at best a trifling insurance Commission.

3. The other hoary old charge of delay is equally unfair. Much of the time taken up in a conveyancing transaction Is nothing to do with the solicitor, but as he is the only person the client is in direct touch with he is the only person the client call vent his impatience on. (This is not necessarily a bad thing; solicitors are philosophical about this occupational hazard, and if both clients blame their solicitors instead of each other it makes for less bad feeling all round.) Consider some of the usual reasons for delay: at the outset it may take two weeks and more to arrange a mortgage; survey reports may take a fortnight; searches longer (my county council is currently taking three weeks to reply). On top of this is the most intractable problem of all, namely that there are two parties to the transaction, and what one wants the other will not or cannot always fit in with. If A is buying a house from B, ten to one B is buying another from C, and every solicitor knows the nightmare of trying to manage one of these chain-reactions so that it does not blow up in his face. And frequently enough it is the solicitor's duty to delay matters as skilfully rti he can, as for example when the client has to find a purchaser for his present house before he can commit himself to the purchase of the one he now has his eye on, but the strain of keeping the door open on these occasions is something the solicitor seldom gets any thanks for. Finally, of course, there must be an interval between the bind- ing contract and completion, because until the date of the contract no one can -make definite arrangements for moving.

To sum up, what we are doing is not collecting exorbitant fees for merely filling up forms;' it is charging a pretty fair wage for, ensuring that at the end of the business a property has changed hands with the least possible risk and inconvenience to the parties, and to do this we have to deploy a great deal of technical skill, managing ability, practical knowledge of the way to go about things, and sheer hard work, Just occasionally, perhaps twice a year, a client sees my file of papers and says 'What a lot of work you've had.' Golden words! SOLICITOR (Name and address supplied)