Legal professionals (such as solicitors, barristers, including direct access counsel, licensed conveyancers, legal executives, patent attorneys, trade mark attorneys, costs lawyers and notaries) are highly trained and rigorously regulated. As a result, a high level of trust is placed on such lawyers by clients. Professional Negligence Claims against solicitors and barristers tend to be complex in nature and argument. Professional indemnity insurers will often defend claims vigorously and therefore it is essential to take legal advice at the outset.
Those with complaints against solicitors or barristers should take independent legal advice before the time limits (usually six years) for such action expire. Claimants must also follow the relevant Professional Negligence Pre-action Protocol in advance of a claim. We are specialists in bringing claims against professionals and are well versed with the procedure and rules in bringing such claims with a view to obtaining the optimal financial settlement for our clients.
Can I make a negligence claim against a solicitor or barrister?
Legal professionals such as solicitors and barristers are highly trained and rigorously regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Bar Standards Board (BSB) respectively. A high level of trust is placed upon such lawyers by their clients. If a lawyer fails to deliver the service to the standard expected of a reasonable professional in that speciality field, then a client has every right to bring a complaint (and court proceedings) if financial or personal loss is suffered as a result.
How can a lawyer be negligent?
Professional negligence occurs where a professional fails to perform his responsibilities to the required standard.
A claim brought by the professional’s client may be based on one or more of the following:
- Breach of a contractual term (express or implied).
- Breach of duty of care owed in the tort of negligence.
- Breach of fiduciary duty.
- Breach of statutory duty.
Where a duty is owed in contract or tort, you must establish that there has been a breach of that duty. You must show that the professional did not comply with the requisite standard owed. Broadly speaking, negligence is established if the professional has made an error which no reasonable member of his profession, operating in similar circumstances, would have made. Where such errors cause a financial loss, claims can be pursued against the relevant lawyers.
What are the basic requirements to claim negligence?
The tort of negligence has three basic requirements. All of these must be evidentially proved on a balance of probabilities (ie that they are more likely than not):
- Duty of care – The defendant owed the claimant a duty not to cause the type of harm suffered.
- Breach of duty – The defendant breached the duty owed.
- Causation – This has two elements, both of which must be proved ie (a) factual causation in that the claimant must prove, but for the defendant’s negligence, they would not have suffered loss and (b) legal causation or remoteness in that the defendant’s negligence was the legal cause of loss.
Examples of Legal Professional Negligence Cases
The following are commonplace examples of potential claims:
- Missing a limitation date on a claim. If it can be demonstrated that the original claim had merit, then a claimant is entitled to pursue the errant law firm or counsel for their losses.
- Failure to provide sound legal advice. A claim can be brought if a solicitor or barrister has provided a negligent legal opinion, relied upon by a claimant, which has led to financial loss.
- Failure to comply with a court order or deadline. The courts have taken a stricter approach to the application of the Civil Procedure Rules and have readily struck out claims for solicitors or barristers conducting litigation in non-compliance to court orders.
- Failure to properly investigate or evidence the claim. Solicitors and direct access barristers may be negligent in not gathering all pertinent information to ensure a claimant’s case is successful e.g. by not obtaining witness statements which supports the version of events.
We have a team of Specialist Professional Negligence Solicitors and Barristers that are experienced in recovering damages for financial loss suffered after a lawyer has provided sub-standard legal advice or legal conduct. We can often take on such claims on a no win no fee basis once we have assessed and advised you on the merits of the proposed professional negligence action.
Can you make a claim againt Conveyancing Solicitors or Licensed Conveyancers?
We have acted on a number of conveyancing negligence cases and have experience of settling multiple claims at the cutting edge of the still unsettled law around breach of warranty of authority where there has been ID fraud on the part of the purported vendor (who is often a tenant faking being the property owner).
Conveyancing negligence claims can be brought for:
- Failure to adequately investigate title in a property;
- Failure to advise on Adverse rights (e.g. rights of way, easements)
- Failure to advise on missing formalities (e.g. planning permission, building regulations, listed building consents, missing consents for change of use);
- Failure to carry out property searches and enquiries;
- Failure in a leasehold purchase;
- Disregard of important provisions from a deed or contract;
- Failure to define property boundaries with due care;
- Failure to register a mortgage or charge at the Land Registry or Companies House;
- Failure to follow the mortgagees instructions; and
- Acting without authority (breach of warranty of authority).
What is the time limit for commencing a claim against a solicitor or barrister?
When it comes to ascertaining the limitation date for a particular claim, there are a number of factors to consider. In simple terms, the limitation period is six years from the accrual of the cause of action (section 2, Limitation Act 1980).
However, if the six year time limit has passed but you have only just discovered the effect of any latent damage, then the limitation period may be extended to three years from the date of knowledge (section 14A, Limitation Act 1980).
Time limits and limitation periods are essential to adhere to in litigation. Missing a limitation period is fatal to the chances of success of any claim and will leave a claim statute barred.
Case Study: Professional Negligence Claim Against Conveyancer
We represented a property investment company specialising in the purchase, development and rental of residential properties. The defendant professional was a conveyancing company, holding itself out as an experienced, skilled and competent law firm dealing with all conveyancing matters. Our client instructed the professional conveyancing firm to extend the lease on one property and to subsequently purchase two neighbouring properties. Due to mismanagement of our client’s case, the firm failed to progress the extension of the lease, failed to follow the claimant’s instructions and fraudulently backdated correspondence, applications and notices. As a result of the professional negligence, our client lost the opportunity to extend the lease and also paid an excessively high price to purchase a neighbouring freehold.
We established that the conveyancers owed our client a duty to exercise all reasonable care and skill to be expected of an experienced, skilled and competent conveyancer. We communicated the breaches of said duty during the pre-action stage and ensured that the law, expert evidence and documentary evidence overwhelmingly supported our client’s claim.
Our successful presentation of the merits of our client’s case combined with our detailed analysis of the weakness of the professional’s case ensured that the case was settled early and our client was awarded damages without having to go to trial. After negotiation, a settlement Tomlin Order to this effect was secured. The court action was then stayed on terms agreed in advance by both parties. We ensured our clients recovered the majority of the financial damages sought, and in addition, the defendants (who were insured) were required to pay towards our client’s legal costs.
Specialist Professional Negligence Lawyers in London
We specialise in professional negligence claims and have years of experience in handling and resolving professional negligence claims. Our lawyers have market-leading experience of providing bespoke legal advice and bringing complex professional negligence claims to settlement. As a leading law firm with a track record of success, you can be assured your negligence claim will proceed with precision and care.
We ensure that we provide the best possible outcome for our clients by conducting in depth investigation and research into the realistic prospects of a case before selecting the appropriate course of action in order to reduce time and expense. Where appropriate we encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation and without prejudice negotiation) and our negotiation skills are first-class. If early settlement at advantageous terms is not possible, we are extremely experienced and capable at navigating our clients through the court litigation process.
Clients hire us because of our extensive experience in all areas, and especially because of our litigation experience – when necessary, we know when to go to court and we know how to litigate.
What is the pre-Action Protocol for Professional Negligence?
The professional negligence pre-action protocol sets out the steps to be taken to ensure compliance, including considering alternative dispute resolution. There are a number of important procedural steps under the professional negligence PAP which should be followed.
The main two of importance early on in the professional negligence litigation process are the preliminary notice and the letter before claim or action (or notice of intention to commence legal proceedings).
Firstly, a preliminary notice should be sent to the professional setting out in writing that there is a reasonable chance of a claim. The preliminary notice should:
- Identify the claimant and any other relevant parties.
- Set out a brief outline of the claimant’s complaints and grievance.
- Provide an indication of the potential financial value of the claim, if possible.
- Request the professional informs their professional indemnity insurers.
The opponent with then likely contact his/her insurers and solicitors will then be instructed. The professional should acknowledge professional negligence preliminary notice letter within 21 days.
Once we have advised you as to the merits of the claim in-depth and have helped you fund legal action (we can often act on a no win no fee type basis or find litigation funding), we can serve a Letter of Claim on the professional. The Letter of Claim should include the following:
- The identity of any other parties involved in the dispute.
- A clear chronological summary of the facts on which the claim is based, together with copies of any key documents.
- Details of the allegations against the professional, including details of the negligent act or omission and what the professional should have done acting correctly.
- An estimate of the financial loss caused to the claimant by the alleged negligence, including details of how the loss is calculated. If details of the loss cannot be supplied in the Letter of Claim, the claimant should explain why and state when he will be in a position to provide details of the loss. Details of the loss should then be sent to the professional as soon as reasonably possible.
- Confirmation of whether or not an expert has been appointed, the date of the appointment, details of the expert’s identity and the expert’s discipline.
- A request that a copy of the Letter of Claim be forwarded immediately to the professional’s insurers, if any.
- In addition, if the claimant has sent other Letters of Claim to any other party in relation to the same dispute or a related dispute, those letters should be copied to the professional.
Book an Initial Consultation with our Professional Negligence Lawyers
If legal proceedings are to be issued, they must be brought within strict Limitation Act 1980 time limits or the defendant will aver that you are out of time to bring a claim. The limitation period in most professional negligence cases is six years from the date of the negligence.
If you have a claim against a professional and want expert legal advice, get in touch so we can assess your case. We can subsequently provide urgent help, advice or representation to clients from our expert legal team of leading Professional Negligence solicitors and barristers. Just call or email us now; our Professional Negligence legal team are waiting to help.
We can often take on such claims on a no win no fee basis (a CFA or DBA) once we have discussed the claim with you and then assessed and advised you on the merits of the proposed professional negligence action.
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LIMITATION ACT 1980 – WARNING
The Limitation Act 1980 sets out strict statutory deadlines within which you must bring litigation claims. Your legal rights will become irreversibly time-barred if you fail to take legal action (or defend a claim on time). Therefore, you should seek specific legal advice about your legal dispute at the very first opportunity so that you understand the time you have left. Failure to take advice or delay in taking action can be fatal to your prospects of success.