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Watch out for unregulated legal services: you have no protection

Anyone considering using a will writing firm or a claims management company should take notice of a warning from the Legal Ombudsman.

 
Watch out for unregulated legal services: you have no protection

Anyone considering using a will writing firm or a claims management company should take notice of a warning from the Legal Ombudsman.

Confusion about which services the Legal Ombudsman can adjudicate on and which ones are not covered risks leaving consumers without protection when things go wrong.

‘Some of the stories we hear are shocking, and all have a heavy impact on the people involved.’ said Adam Sampson, Chief Legal Ombudsman.

No redress

Many of the complaints which come before the Legal Ombudsman concern will writing services, says Sampson. Many firms are unqualified and totally unregulated. 

‘Because of this customers are left with little means of redress when things go wrong. We’ve seen similar confusion about claims management companies, with lots of consumers believing they’re getting a legal service even though most of the work is carried out by a non-authorised person. Again, we can’t help.’

The Legal Ombudsman has just published his first annual report following the launch of the organisation in October 2010. More than 38,000 people contacted the Legal Ombudsman during its first six months in operation, with the organisation launching some 4,000 investigations into the service provided by lawyers, and resolving 1,450 cases.

The previous system where consumers complained to the lawyers involved and then finally to the Law Society was widely criticised for being biased in favour of lawyers and was outrageously slow – with some cases taking years to investigate. 

‘For the most part, the quality of legal services being provided is reasonable,’ the report says. This smacks of lawyers being damned with faint praise.

Unregulated cowboys

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society for England and Wales, said: ‘The gap in regulation which allows unregulated cowboys to operate in areas like will writing does not just cause unfair competition to solicitors, who provide a regulated, professional service. It is also damaging to consumers because the unregulated providers are not insured, do not provide a compensation fund and are not covered by the Legal Ombudsman’s scheme for consumer redress.’

The Law Society has long been lobbying for will writing to become a ‘reserved activity’ – effectively restricting it to firms of solicitors.

Not everyone would agree that lawyers provide the ‘excellent advice’ that Hudson claimed in his response last week to the publication of the Legal Services Consumer Panel report on the will-writing market. 

Research carried out by the Consumer Panel with a small sample of 101 ‘mystery shoppers’ found that as many solicitors produced poor-quality wills as unregulated will-writers. One in four wills produced by each group was criticised as not up to standard by a panel of experts.

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12 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Snotter

Jul 19, 2011 at 13:52

Do your own simple straightforward will for probate purposes and add to it a text guide clarification the detail of your wishes. Keep lawyers out of it , they screw everything up. In a recent will I had to deal with the lawyer forgot to mention in the will who covers funeral cost ... that caused no end of problems for executors.

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The Wills Man

Jul 19, 2011 at 16:14

Members of the Institute of Professional Will Writers have to pass a qualifying exam to become a member, have to have a minimum £2m PI cover and are approved by Trading Standards.

Lorna - get your facts right or don't write at all!

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Lorna Bourke

Jul 19, 2011 at 17:34

The report warned about the many thousands of will writing services which still remain unregulated. Clearly members of the Institute of Professional Will Writers are regulated by their institute.

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Robert Morfee

Jul 19, 2011 at 21:01

Of course solicitors sometimes get it badly wrong, as can all professionals. I have sued enough of my fellow solicitors to know that I would only trust my will to a properly qualified solicitor who has also passed the STEP exams,

I don't know how rigorous the exams of the institute of Will Writers are, but I doubt if they are in the same league.

Robert Morfee

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Chris Clark

Jul 19, 2011 at 23:26

And anyone who wants to invested in fully regulated fully autorised funds like Arch cru are seemingly in the same position as listening to advice from unregulated will writers when listening to the cowboys at FSA and Capita.

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The Wills Man

Jul 20, 2011 at 09:23

Thank you Lorna for what I presume is an apology...

It is a shame that a respected site such as Citywire has to wait for a complaint before an article is corrected.

It is worth noting that solicitors do not have to study succession Law and yet the Law Society still wants them to have a protected status! Many solicitor drafted wills that I have seen are so badly written that it would be laughable if it were a matter to laugh at.

Will writing should be regulated, but that would also mean that people would not be able to write their own Wills and the whole aspect of succession Law would have to be reviewed - a mammoth task that no Government would consider during these austere times.

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 20, 2011 at 20:19

The Wills Man

I cannot comment on the position in England,but succession law is a fundamental part of a Solicitor's training and qualification in Scotland.

Solicitors in Scotland,under pain of a charge of professional misconduct are forbidden from making it a condition of preparing a Will that the solicitor or his/her firm act in the ultimate adminstration of the estate..I understand that this is not the position with non-solicitor Will Writers.

Also Solicitors in Scotland do not charge for the retention of a Will in safe keeping-once again something I understand is common in the case of non-solicitor Will Writers.

Finally there is nothing in Scotland to prevent someone preparing his/her own Will and if the much needed regulation of Will Writers was intrduced in Scotland was introduced,this would not change so I do not understand the point in the last paragraph.

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whitegates

Jul 25, 2011 at 17:26

Unlike doctors who bury their mistakes or if their mistakes live they get a "tut tut" from the GMC which seems intent on the fiction that if the incompetent medic is struck off it will be to the detriment of society, solicitors who make mistakes have to contend with the SRA. Clients of Solicitors also benefit from compulsory indemnity insurance and a compensation fund. They also have to complete 5/6 years of professional training both theoretical and practical and many have additional qualifications as well. A so called will writer has....?qualifications, charges a teaser rate for a document which may or may not be a valid will and theres no recompense if it all goes wrong and/or he/she disappears. Meanwhile they try and sell the punter other services eg financial advisers ( and we know all about their so called expertise) insurance and will storage fees etc. I can't understand why people don't consult a qualified chartered accountant if they require financial advice and a solicitor if they need legal advice - go to the professionals not the under or barely or non qualified, its madness to do otherwise. And in case you are wondering I am neither an accountant nor a solicitor.

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The Wills Man

Jul 25, 2011 at 20:52

whitegates. Have you STILL not learnt to say nothing about things you know nothing about?

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 25, 2011 at 21:37

In my experience whitegates' comments are in the main well founded.To say that solicitors are not required to study succession law,as The Wills Man says is totally wrong at least so far as Scotland is concerned.

Solicitors as with any profession are not all perfect,but in Scotland clients are protected both from negligence and dishonesty by respectively a compulsory Master Policy and an Indemnity Fund,to which all Solicitors are required to contribute.

Clients also have a remedy if they are overcharged.

In my admittedly limited experince of non-solicitor will writers,I have unfortunately encountered both incompetence and overcharging and I am aware of one,who was struck off as a solicitor by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal for various misdemeanors,who is now advertising in the press and on the web as an experienced will writer and boasting of a previous distinguished legal career!

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The Wills Man

Jul 26, 2011 at 09:15

Anonymous 1 You are quite right about the Law in Scotland, and it is also correct to say that there are rogue Will writers - as there are rogues in every profession. I have witnessed many, many cases where solicitors have drafted Wills and Deeds of Gift that are blatantly contrary to Succession Law and have even had Wills I have drafted dismissed as "too complicated" or even "invalid" by solicitors whose ignorance beggars belief - including "Senior Partners".

If you and whitegates would take a few minutes to visit the IPW website (www.ipw.org.uk) you will see for yourselves why you can trust IPW members. The OFT would not sanction us if we were the cowboys that whitegates and others wish to portray us as.

Regulation of this profession is needed and would be welcomed - but not on the terms of the self-seeking Law Society who do little or nothing to protect the public from their own ignorant members who have neither studied the Law nor care about the consequences of their ignorance - "Dead people cannot sue"

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Jul 28, 2011 at 14:55

Thanks for the reference to the website,which I have been through with interest.It is clear that there are appropriate procedures in place for IPW members to adhere to.

However I found the possibilty of fees being charged for the simple storage of wills and in advance for the administration of an estate at the time of the execution of a will somewhat disappointing,as I have not previously not encountered this.

Also,while I obviously cannot speak for the Law Society in England,I feel your last paragraph borders on the defamatory and significantly overstates your case against solicitors.

I am a member of a Client Relations and Complaints Committee of the Law Society of Scotland and I can assure you that the CPD requirements and the procedures regarding inadequate professional services and professional misconduct in this country would ensure that anyone who has "neither studied the Law nor care about the consequences of their ignorance" would never be able to become a solicitor in the first place.

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