Solicitors, what has happened to the profession?
Up until my need for a legal representative for the Employment Tribunal, I had only used solicitors specializing in house conveyance, which generally speaking had been uneventful, and did nothing to prepare me for the events that were to ensue. I will be as brief as possible, only covering ground I feel will be of use to the reader.
At the first meeting, my case, an Employment Tribunal issue, was discussed. I had documented everything that had happened, kept all letters and notes, all in keeping with my job which had been a senior professional in a large international company, and a high level project manager.
I was provided with a verbal estimate, being given a likely figure, and a maximum figure, assuming the Tribunal went 3 days. I was covered by an insurance for such events, but I decided I would get an idea of cost from a more local firm, and if costs seemed reasonable, thought I might pay privately, and perhaps get a higher level of care and attention to my case, how wrong I was.
I accepted his oral estimate, and was sold on his assurances and self accolades.
When I received his written confirmation of our meeting, I was dismayed to see he had
already upped his estimate by about 25%, and his letter already veering away from the
statements so glibly made at our meeting. The alarm bells tingled, but I stupidly ignored them, and as this was the first time I had encountered this kind of situation, decided to allow him the benefit of my trust.
Over the weeks that followed, I was aware there were strict time limits in which to lodge the required papers with the Tribunal Offices, and that time was quickly going by.
I waited for some form of communication from the solicitor, but when it got to a week or so before the closing date, I rang the office. It was a good job I did, it seemed to me I had been forgotten.
There followed a flurry of activity, in which he faxed through to the tribunal what turned out to be a generic and unacceptable submission.
With input from myself, many amendments were made, and the document resubmitted.
I started to worry!
The next step is the preliminary hearing, at which the basics are discussed such as the number of witnesses to be called, evidence to be submitted such as doctors reports, and what points can be agreed between the parties.
The solicitor who was sent to represent me at this hearing, was not the one I had secured
the services of, apparently he was a part time judge at tribunals, and it would not be considered proper to be represented by him.
I again was worried by this turn of events. The process involved in the preliminary hearing itself is very fair, just you and your representative, as well as the representative of the respondent, sit in front of the chairman and discuss the case.
In the few weeks that followed, I was staggered by the events to come. The solicitor who had represented me at the hearing had left the firm and was now worked for the opposition! As well as this, the Judge had mixed up his notes, and had sent wrong directions to both parties. It was decided, much against my own wishes, to accept the notes made by the other parties solicitor. This meant that whatever the other parties notes had said regarding witnesses, evidence etc. was taken as read and used.
When I voiced concerns, (which I also put in writing), I was verbally assured there was "no problem, and the fact that the solicitor who represented me at the hearing now worked for the other side, was also not a problem. Trust the ethics of the profession I was told!!!
Over the months that followed, it was a similar pattern to the hearing. I wrote numerous times to try to get things moving, all ignored, but charges levied for reading them which is the solicitors right!
I eventually met with the solicitor, who increased his estimates as to costs by a further 50% or so. He said I could help to keep the cost down by preparing the bundle.
This is all the evidence and documents to be used at the Tribunal, by both sides, including an index, a massive task.
I realized at this stage I had made a huge mistake in trusting this solicitor, but by this time I was too far down the road to turn back, and he knew it.
During the three months prior to the Tribunal, letters, emails and phone calls from me were seldom answered. I had written my own statement as requested, and I wanted it read.
I had been told that he would go through it with me, coaching me he said to make sure it supported
the evidence. He never did.
I completed the bundles as best I could with the almost zero feedback from him, most fraught with concern, I felt I had no choice but to continue.
Two weeks before the tribunal, the case still had not been valued, in spite of my writing expressing concern months before, also providing the necessary information for him to be able to make an
accurate assessment of losses, used to negotiate with the other party, and guide the judges.
It is normal in a case such as this for all losses to be taken into account, loss of pay, loss of pension, loss of bonus etc. the idea being to provide a total figure which is used in negotiating when the usual discussions on settlement start.
In the file, which I eventually obtained when I paid his invoice in full, (NB, it is yours by right, so ask for it when you pay), there was evidence that both ACAS, and the defendants solicitors, had been attempting to negotiate for months, all ignored by my solicitor.
As well as this, he had opted to go on a business trip two weeks before the Tribunal, leaving
me in the hands of an article clerk who was just starting his first week in employment law. Also, the Barrister who had been booked many months before, had found herself double booked, and could not represent me. Another Barrister agreed to step in, but admitted later that employment law was not his speciality.
The net result of all of this fiasco, was that the solicitor I had engaged was not contactable for the two weeks prior to the Tribunal, I was in the hands of an article clerk who very obviously did not know whether he was coming or going, and a Barrister who could not believe the lack of preparation for the case.
He deemed I did not have key witnesses, evidence had not been gathered, the case was not valued, the list goes on.
The result of all this was the week before the Tribunal an offer of settlement was made by the other party, which the barrister advised me to take. I was unable to weigh this offer against the official value of the case as I had never been given one, but I had roughly worked one out myself based on the figures I had supplied, and the offer was about one tenth of the value. I refused it. and then wrote a formal letter of complaint and sent it to the firm, listing my complaints and grave concerns.
The day of the tribunal arrived, and put simply, on the second day, after much pressure from the Barrister, in the realization that the case preparation had been a fiasco, I accepted an offer of settlement. It was an increased offer, and represented only about a quarter of the losses I had suffered, as calculated by myself, as I still was not given a formal assessment by my representatives.
I had documented everything. I had noted the considerable disparity between what was said and what was written, I had listened to incredible amounts of bull, and felt I now understood how someone felt who had been badly let down by those who had been trusted, and charged large sums of money for the experience.
It should be noted that in settlements like this, at that time, everything over £30,000 was taxed before you receive the money. This is something I was not aware of when initially accepting the offer, but was told just afterwards, so be aware, and ask!
Weeks later, I received the bill, it had gone up yet again, and was now about three times the original estimate, and well over double what I had originally been given as the top upper limit. This was in spite of an appalling service, my letter of complaint, and a verbal discussion in which I clearly pointed out the numerous flaws and negligence in the disgraceful level of service I had received.
The matter was put in the hands of the Law Society, the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors as it was called at the time. You can read about this in the appropriate link, but I am afraid it is another horror story.
The level of bias in favour of their members is blatant, a taster being, when presented with the view from another firm of solicitors that the service had been in fact clearly negligent, and a list of examples
given, the investigator at the OSS stated, (the name they are called changes often), “just because a service is negligent, does not mean it was a poor service”.
I rest my case!
For the record, I did enlist the aid of another firm of solicitors under my insurance cover. They found that I had been the recipient of a negligent service, but they said a loss could not be proven. This means that even though it could be shown the service was negligent, it could not be proven that this had caused an actual loss.
The lack of ability to display that loss by the second solicitor was a clear case of one firm protecting another!
This second solicitor proved to be in many respects equally as bad as the one they were investigating. They refused to consider evidence that supported my case, the solicitor I was assigned by my legal insurance openly admitted he had no experience in employment law, but assured me he would enlist the aid of others in his firm who did have the experience.
He never did.
I was later told by the manager of the insurers that in the past two years, cases against
solicitors had spiralled upwards, but up to that point in time, not a single one had been
won through his legal insurance company!
Basically it seemed to me to be an exercise of maximizing their fees, while minimizing their real progress, a blatant case of one firm covering the other.
As I had documented events and filed all letters involving the first firm, proving negligence was easy, at least in law, though this was not accepted by the Law Society, in their words,
we decide the offence, not other solicitors.
Learn from this.
Record where possible phone calls and meetings. Always advise the other party you are doing this, otherwise the evidence may not be admissible. Keep a record of dates of meetings and phone calls, (the second firm claimed we had had many meetings, we had in fact two!).
Remember people can and will lie if they are challenged, it is up to you to prove your case.
Good luck, you will need it, together with a sense of humour if possible. Just remember, try not to let it take over your life, which, from the emails I have received, has happened with many, instead, try to keep a perspective on the situation, though this can be hard to do faced with gross injustice.
There are solicitors who are
honest and fair, and those who
are nothing short of crooks, all
with one thing in common, they
charge huge sums of money per
hour! Do your research and take
your pick, but take care, it could
cost you dearly, some have lost
everything, including their
family and even their freedom