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Conveyancing solicitors’ guide to taking conveyancing instructions from clients

A conveyancing solicitor takes instruction from a client so that sufficient information is obtained to carry out the transaction.  However, this does not mean that the solicitor may contact the client only once during the conveyancing process. In fact, the client should be regularly contacted by the solicitor during the transaction and instructions from his end should be obtained.  But, a professional and experienced conveyancing solicitor extracts as much information as possible in a single meeting, thereby saving time and money for the solicitor and the client. When full instructions are not received, the solicitor runs a risk of ignoring matters that may be relevant to the transaction.

Direct instructions and personal Interview with the conveyancing client

The conveyancing solicitor should conduct a personal interview of the client and seek a clear picture and also explain matters in a clear and impersonal manner.

Indirect instructions

Sometimes, a conveyancing solicitor may receive instruction from an estate agent to act for his client. These are called indirect instructions. The solicitor is required under the SRA Code of Conduct to confirm with the client/clients directly, as to the instructions and also clear misunderstanding, if any. This also applies in cases when more than one seller/buyer is involved.

The lawyer who acts for a client without proper authority shall be liable for compensation if anyone suffers loss. This principle comes under the laws of agency where the conveyancing solicitor is believed to have a warrant of authority to act on behalf of the principal or the client. The solicitor is liable for losses if any, suffered by anyone who has good reason to believe this. A conveyancing solicitor who does not have instructions to act for one co-seller is liable for compensation to the buyer’s lender who had paid an advance for the property when the co-seller had forged the signature of the other co-seller. This principle actually forms the gist of a case between Penn vs. Bristol and West Building Society and Others, [1995]2FLR938.

Preparing for the interview with clients

Preparation for an interview and interviewing techniques are a skill in itself and discussed in the book “Skills for Lawyers”. Before preparing for the interview, the conveyancing solicitor should check if his firm had acted for the client previously, and if they have acted previously for the client’s purchase of the property that he now intends to sell, the old file (relating to the purchase) should be referred, and the details of it should be studied before conducting the interview with the client. Sufficient information required to conduct the sale transaction would already be available in the old purchase file. This saves time, wherein only information is required to be confirmed as opposed to taking full instructions at every stage.

Acting for Both Parties

It is important that before conducting the interview, the conveyancing solicitor should confirm that the firm has not received any prior instructions from the other party to act on behalf of them in the same transaction. And, if the solicitor is acting for both the parties, it has to be found out whether this complies with the principles relating to conflict of interest and the SRA’s Code of Conduct.

Protocol cases

The Protocol dealing with conveyancing clearly mentions that the seller’s conveyancing solicitor must obtain all necessary details including;

  • Answers to questions mentioned in the Property Information Form (PIF).
  • All relevant documents such as guarantees, building regulation control, etc.

The conveyancing solicitor should also ask the client to fill the Fittings and Contents Form to know about the items that the seller would like to remain at the property and the ones that are to be removed after the sale. All financial charges including mortgages should be obtained and details of family members above the age of 17 should be obtained to ascertain their rights over the property.

Using checklist

Checklists do not always include all the necessary details required to be undertaken in a transaction, but they certainly help to make sure that nothing is left out during the course of the interview. A checklist helps the conveyancing solicitor to concentrate on the real issues, thereby saving time. It also helps to comfort a client, who might feel that he is being probed in an impersonal way. Such a checklist is usually printed in a distinct colour, so that it is easy for the solicitor to find the file of a client.

Evidence of identity

Conveyancing solicitors are expected to help the government in preventing fraud and money laundering. Therefore, it is common practice to ask clients to submit proof of identity of the clients involved in the transaction. In fact, such a proof should be asked as soon as possible or after the first contact with the client.

Matters on which Instructions must be obtained:

As said earlier, all information relating to the property should be obtained by the conveyancing solicitor during the first interview with a client. Although such details are almost identical when it comes to conveyancing for the buyer and seller, there are a few areas where issues are exclusive to each side. And to clear this confusion, firms usually give a clear and separate checklist for the seller and the buyer.

Photo courtesy: chicagogeek

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