I have been a proud member of the legal profession for in excess of 20 years. When a consumer, or indeed a business, uses the services of a solicitor or barrister, they have the assurance of three important factors: i) they are dealing with a professionally trained expert ii) they are dealing with an expert who is highly regulated; and iii) if they are provided with bad/negligent advice, there will be an indemnity insurance policy in place to cover any claim they make. However, over the past five years the legal advice market has changed greatly and a breed of non-regulated ‘legal advice’ companies and self-claimed ‘consumer experts’ has evolved. In some cases, this has opened the doors to cheap legal advice but, as the following readers have told me, it has also created a market of cowboys dispensing second rate and often incorrect advice:
Sue from Banbury was served with a County Court claim for an alleged debt that she disputed. She searched the internet for advice and came across a company which had the words ‘Legal Services’ in its name which stated it could offer fixed fees. She called them and ended up agreeing a fixed fee for the matter. Sue tells me that she believed she was dealing with a firm of solicitors. On the day of the hearing, the solicitor representing the Claimant questioned whether the company representing Sue was regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It transpired that it was not, and the judge effectively threw them out of the court leaving Sue with no choice but to represent herself. Inevitably, Sue then lost her case.
I have advised Sue to report this company as what they have done is illegal. In this respect the law, the Legal Services Act 2007, provides that only a solicitor or barrister can conduct litigation and attend court to represent someone.
Mr P from Bournemouth issued a claim in the small claims court against a retailer after reading about his ‘consumer rights’ on a so-called consumer expert’s website. The principal point that he relied upon was that the burden of proof (that is, the party that must prove its case) was on the retailer. He felt confident with this as despite the fact that he had no evidence to prove his case, neither did the retailer, and so he considered that in these circumstances the court would find in his favour. The advice was totally wrong and luckily I was able to inform Simon of this before the matter reached the hearing stage. He was also lucky that the retailer agreed for the case to be withdrawn from court without him paying their costs, which in these circumstances is unusual.
Non-lawyers dispensing legal advice, and writing legal advice articles is dangerous and consumers should be very careful about where they obtain such advice. You should only rely on advice dispensed by qualified lawyers or provided by good reliable websites, such as Which? and Moneysavingexpert.