I know not all lawyers are bad and I apologise for going on about it. I do realise that most of you do a great job for your clients and, on the whole, the world would be significantly more unjust without you. For a start, I’d be out of a job. But I thought this week I might give you a couple of examples where lawyers have got it spectacularly wrong, just so you know I’m not making it all up. I am not intending to descend into Solicitors from Hell territory, so I won’t be naming any names.
The first concerns a senior executive, Lenny Kravitz (in case you can’t guess, all the names are fictitious). His ex-employer advised him that Smokey and Robinson solicitors would be acting on their behalf in relation to a sub-fund (please don’t ask me what that is). After Lenny’s initial conversation with Mr Smokey’s secretary confirming he wanted to instruct them, he never spoke to a qualified solicitor from the firm.
Lenny tried to contact them on many occasions (and has phone and email records to prove it). However, Mr Smokey made no effort to contact Lenny or talk him through the process. Mr Smokey even failed to dial in to two pre-arranged conference calls organised through his office, leaving Lenny, who had cancelled his own arrangements, hanging on the telephone on both occasions. Mr Smokey gave no explanation or apology for missing the calls.
As the end of the tax year approached, the trustees (Springfield Wealth) informed Lenny they hadn’t received any instruction about the Kravitz sub fund in any form from Smokey and Robinson. Lenny and Springfield Wealth agreed a date by which they needed instruction and both contacted the solicitors to make sure they received it. Smokey and Robinson missed the deadline.
In fact, Springfield Wealth called Lenny at 11.30pm on the deadline evening to tell him they had had no contact from Smokey and Robinson and so they needed Lenny to act on his own behalf. Lenny had to draft and submit his own submission by midnight.
Understandably, Lenny was quite angry. Not only had the solicitors ignored his instruction, and so failed in their basic duty to a client, but they had put his family’s financial future in jeopardy. The Kravitz fund supports every part of his life, it even owns his family home. But he still couldn’t speak to a solicitor in the firm. All he got was a four-word email from Mr Smokey saying they would belatedly do the work. No apology, no explanation.
By the time he realised that Smokey and Robinson had no interest in his affairs it was too close to the deadline to instruct another firm. Lenny and his family had been put under a dreadful amount of stress at a time when his current employer was making him redundant. Lenny is deciding whether to make a formal complaint. He is still waiting for an apology from Mr Smokey.
The second case concerns Kate Bush. Her partner had died and although he had made a will it didn’t make proper provision for her, given that she had been totally dependent on him financially for nearly 30 years. Unfortunately they weren’t married, had their main home abroad and the will left most of his estate to his children (not all of whom were her children).
Kate Bush instructed Stone and Roses Solicitors to contest the will on her behalf. The first solicitor who took on the case was totally incompetent and shortly after doing nothing on Kate’s case was let go by the firm. So it was batted up to one of the equity partners, Elvis Costello, a very nice chap but capable of talking for a very long time. At several of the meetings he had with Kate his colleague Bryan Ferry was also there, although Kate was never sure if he was a qualified solicitor or just there to take notes.
Kate had been advised by Mr Costello that the likely bill for the work would be around £30k, which was likely to be a substantial proportion of any settlement she eventually received from the estate. Nonetheless, Kate was having to do a lot of chasing to get things done. Once a settlement had been agreed with the other side following negotiation she even found herself virtually camping out in their solicitor’s office in an attempt to get everything signed and sealed.
So imagine Kate's surprise at receiving a final bill of over £70k from Stone and Roses solicitors. Needless to say, she contested this and managed to get the firm to deduct the fees for the work of the first solicitor, which Mr Costello had had to redo (what these fees were doing on the bill in the first place is anyone’s guess).
Then Kate questioned why she was paying £500 per hour for both Mr Costello and Mr Ferry for the same meeting, when Mr Ferry didn’t appear to do very much except talk about his aquarium and all the pretty fish in it. She also expressed her frustration at the initial estimate given by Mr Costello and the fact that she had had to do a substantial amount of the work herself.
In the end, Stone and Roses agreed to accept payment of less than £20k, which rather makes you wonder why on earth they were initially billing for over £70k. Kate decided not to take the issue any further as it had all been too stressful at a time of great distress following the death of her partner. I don’t know if the solicitors ever apologised for this.
I have no idea why either of these firms behaved in the way they did; it doesn’t seem a very effective way of running a business, certainly not one that claims to offer a professional service. It’s quite possible that both firms have hundreds of satisfied clients prepared to use them again or recommend them to someone, but both cases strike me as pretty shocking failures and I certainly won’t be passing their details on to anyone. However, since neither Lenny nor Kate have made a formal complaint, for understandable reasons, no-one else will ever know.