As true specialists in our field, we act for clients nationwide in claims for solicitor negligence, claims for lawyer negligence, as well as in claims against other professionals.
Resolving solicitor negligence claims
From the outset, we focus not on making professional negligence claims on behalf of our clients, but on resolving them. In this way, we ensure that ours is a broader perspective and a more open mind.
Moreover, and by harnessing:
- Our wealth of experience acting in claims against a wide-range of professionals
- Our unique insight into the defence of solicitor negligence claims
- Our commitment to providing a client-centric service as part of our core values
- Our innovative and highly efficient service provision
we ensure that our clients achieve better results for substantial claims, time and again.
The legal profession
The legal profession in England and Wales is a diverse one, comprising not only solicitors, but also barristers, licensed conveyancers, chartered legal executives and patent attorneys, amongst others. Generically, we refer to these professionals as ‘lawyers’.
Of the various segments making up the legal profession, it is the solicitors’ profession that is by far the largest. With approximately 95,000 solicitors working in private practice in England and Wales across 9,340 law firms, it substantially outsizes the approximately 13,500 self-employed barristers and only 1,500 patent attorneys. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that there are more solicitor negligence claims than there are claims against any other lawyers.
Common mistakes by solicitors & lawyers
While the legal sector is extremely well regulated and strives to deliver the high standards of service rightly expected of it, sadly, mistakes are not uncommon. This is due in part to both the overall size of the sector and the sheer volume of activity it undertakes on a daily basis.
Of the different areas of legal practice, it is residential and commercial conveyancing that have consistently given rise to more claims for solicitor negligence than any other. Although the law in this area can be technical, the heavy reliance on junior lawyers as part of a commoditised approach, means that the scope for mistakes is not only wide but also frequently realised.
Some common mistakes that can give rise to claims for solicitor negligence are:
- A failure by a conveyancing solicitor to identify and/or advise as to the existence of a right of way or restriction over property
- A failure by a private client solicitor to advise on the requirements for executing a valid will
- A failure by a matrimonial solicitor to take any or any proper account of the value of assets, particularly pensions, when compromising divorce proceedings
- A failure by a conveyancing solicitor to register an interest in, or right over, development land
- A failure by a corporate solicitor to advise on adverse provisions within share and asset purchase agreements
- A failure by a conveyancing solicitor to comply with the strict time limit imposed on a conveyancing transaction
- A failure by a litigation solicitor to comply with an order or direction issued by the court
- A failure by a private client solicitor to include an intended beneficiary or specific gift within a will
- A failure by a conveyancing solicitor to advise fully on the rent provisions within a lease
- A failure by a litigation solicitor to issue court proceedings correctly or within a prescribed deadline
In our related article Examples of Solicitor Negligence, we have provided a range of case examples covering different legal practice areas and which are based on actual claims that have come before the courts.
Even where a mistake is made by a negligent solicitor or other lawyer instructed by someone else, if financial loss is suffered as a consequence, a claim for compensation may still be made in appropriate circumstances. This situation commonly occurs where gifts to beneficiaries fail under a will and is explained in more detail in our article: Third party claims for professional negligence.
Assessing the merits of claims for solicitor negligence
It is not in every case where an unexpected financial loss arises that a solicitor or lawyer will be found to be negligent and before embarking on any professional negligence claim against a solicitor or lawyer, a careful assessment will need to be undertaken of a number of important issues. These include:
- The scope of the legal duties owed by the solicitor or lawyer
- Any actions taken by the solicitor or lawyer to comply with those duties
- The nature and extent of the loss caused by any breaches of those duties
Such an assessment will often involve, and be significantly improved by, a review of the solicitors’ or lawyers’ own documents and correspondence files. Therefore, obtaining these files, or copies of them, is usually an early step in the claims process. However, this itself is not always a straightforward process and we highlight and answer many of the questions that arise in relation to it in our related article: Requesting a solicitors’ file – A client guide.
This assessment can also be a complicated process and the merits of each claim will often depend on the specific background events that give rise to it. For this reason, caution should always be exercised when relying on the reported outcome in one negligence claim, to assess the merits of another.
How to make a claim for solicitor negligence
Most professional negligence claims against solicitors and other lawyers are commenced by correspondence and by following the procedures set out in the Pre-Action Protocol for Professional Negligence.
The aim of the Protocol is to make the process of resolving professional negligence claims more open and more efficient and, by doing so, to reduce the number of claims that require judicial intervention. Happily, and since the introduction of the Protocol in July 2001, the vast majority of professional negligence claims are now resolved at the Protocol stage and without the need to initiate and pursue costly and time-consuming court proceedings.
However, it is as well to appreciate that as helpful as the Protocol is, it provides only a generic framework for resolving solicitor negligence claims. It does not identify or assess what facts, issues or evidence is relevant and irrelevant in any particular case, nor does it contain legal advice.
The advantages of instructing a solicitor
You are not obliged to instruct a solicitor to advise and represent you in a claim for solicitor negligence, but it is usually sensible to do so. Professional negligence claims against solicitors are often complicated and time consuming and a successful outcome can very much depend on the way in which a claim is prepared and pursued.
To help you decide between instructing a solicitor and pursuing a claim as a litigant in person, we identify and comment on some of the key factors to consider in our guide: Professional negligence claims – Do I need a solicitor?
If you do decide to instruct a solicitor, you would do well to instruct one who genuinely specialises in professional negligence claims. While an ever-increasing number of solicitors claim to undertake work in this niche area, in reality there are very few solicitors who are true specialists. To assist you in identifying the best solicitor to act in relation to your claim, we have highlighted seven key features to consider as part of your search in our guide: How to find the Best Professional Negligence Solicitors
Should you instruct PNC Legal on your solicitor negligence claim?
There are many reasons why you might choose to instruct us to act for you or your business in relation to a solicitor negligence claim and these are set out above and in our related guide: Professional Negligence Solicitors
In the context of solicitor negligence claims in particular, and through our association with Keystone Law, we also have the distinct advantage of being able to draw upon the knowledge and practitioner experience of over 450 partner-level solicitors specialising in various other areas of legal practice. These include, but are not limited to, employment solicitors, corporate solicitors, real estate solicitors, commercial solicitors, tax solicitors, insolvency solicitors, private client solicitors and matrimonial solicitors.
However, while instinctively we would like to assist with every solicitor negligence claim, there will be occasions where we will not be permitted to act, or where we will not be best placed to act. This might occur, for example, where we identify a conflict of interest, or where the value of your claim appears to be relatively low. We will always consider these possibilities with you at the outset and before we accept any instructions. In the unfortunate event that we are not able to act, we will endeavour to provide you with alternative options, based on our understanding of the nature and value of your claim, as well as any wider interests communicated to us.
Compensation for professional negligence
Where a solicitor or lawyer is found to be negligent financial compensation, usually in the form of ‘damages’, can be awarded for a wide range of losses. Using case examples, we identify and explain many of the different types of compensation awards available in our guide: Compensation for professional negligence: What can I recover?
As in other areas of litigation, the true value of any compensatory award is often dependent on the prospect of being able to successfully recover it. Fortunately, in claims for solicitor negligence, the defending party usually carries professional indemnity insurance to meet all or part of any judgment or award made against it. This represents a significant benefit to claimants, as we explain further in our guide: Professional Indemnity Insurance – A Claimant’s Guide
Even if the firm or practice at fault is no longer trading or has been dissolved, it may still be possible to make a claim and recover compensation. The support available to claimants in these circumstances is explained in our article: Claims against closed professional firms and practices
Mitigating loss in claims for solicitor negligence
As part of any professional negligence claim against solicitors or lawyers, it is important to consider what action, if any, might be taken to reduce the financial effect of any negligence. This is because all claimants who have suffered a loss are subject to a duty to take all reasonable steps to mitigate that loss and take no unreasonable steps which would exacerbate it. Where this duty is breached, the court is likely to prevent a claimant party from recovering compensation for that loss which it considers was unreasonably incurred.
The duty to mitigate can lead to much confusion and uncertainty, particularly at the outset of a claim, and further guidance on it is available in our article: The duty to mitigate in professional negligence claims
Time limits for claims against solicitors & lawyers
There are a number of important reasons for acting promptly when a mistake has been made or discovered. One of these are the time limits that apply to all professional negligence claims.
These time limits can be found in the Limitation Act 1980. In short, they require legal proceedings to be commenced within:
- 6 years of the date upon which damage or financial loss occurs – section 2
- 6 years of the date upon which the mistake occurred – section 5
- 3 years of the earliest date upon which the claimant has both the knowledge required for bringing a claim and the right to bring a claim – section 14A
- 15 years of the date on which the mistake occurred, even if the time limit prescribed by section 14A has not expired – section 14B
Therefore, where there are grounds for pursuing a claim for solicitor negligence, a claimant will generally have 6 years from the date of wrongdoing or loss, but may have 3 years from the date of discovery, if later, in which to bring any claim, subject to a long stop of 15 years.
However, while these time limits may appear straightforward in summary form, applying them in practice can be much more challenging. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of cases in which they have been misapplied, not only by lay clients acting as litigants in person but also by solicitors and other lawyers who have themselves fallen into error.
Although limitation is a complicated area of law with a large body of case law relating to it, further information about it can be found in our introductory guide: Time limits for professional negligence claims – FAQs
Funding claims for solicitor negligence
Before embarking on any professional negligence claim it is imperative to consider how it will be funded. In comparison to other more routine forms of litigation, professional negligence claims can be more complicated, more time-consuming and more costly to resolve.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to fund litigation. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and can be more or less suitable, depending on individual circumstances. Further information about these different funding options can be found in our related guide: Fund a claim
Fee disputes and service complaints
Fees are one of the most common causes of dispute between solicitors and their clients. If a mistake made by a solicitor causes significant unnecessary, additional or abortive fees to be incurred, this may well justify a professional negligence claim. However, this is not always the most appropriate means by which to challenge a solicitor’s fees, as we explain in more detail in our guide: Disputing solicitors’ fees – A client’s guide
Where disputes between lawyers and clients arise from poor service, rather than as a result of a mistake that has caused a financial loss or liability, making a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman may be more appropriate than pursing a solicitor negligence claim. This alternative course of action is explained in more detail in our guide: Legal Ombudsman Complaints Service – An independent guide
Misconduct by solicitors & lawyers
Regrettably, it is not uncommon for issues of misconduct to arise in the context of professional negligence claims against solicitors and lawyers, as they do in claims against other professionals. While in some instances the misconduct in question can also amount to negligence, this will not be so in every case.
Misconduct is often defined by a breach of the professional codes of practice that govern the professional, such as the Code of Conduct for Solicitors. Where serious, the breach should be reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, or such other regulator of the professional concerned, who may then commence disciplinary proceedings. Although such proceedings can then result in penalties and sanctions being imposed upon the professional, they do not often result in compensation. Accordingly, they are rarely a substitute for, or an alternative to, pursuing a claim for solicitor negligence where financial loss or damage is sought to be recovered.
Further legal advice
If you are contemplating making, or even currently pursuing, a professional negligence claim against a solicitor or lawyer and would like to arrange an initial consultation with us, free of charge or commitment, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 195 4983 or by email at email@example.com.