by Peter Mericka B.A., LL.B
Real Estate Lawyer
Qualified Practising Conveyancer Victoria
Director Lawyers Real Estate Pty Ltd
Imagine traveling in a taxi through an unfamiliar part of your city. Suddenly, the taxi driver confesses that he doesn’t travel in that area very often, he is too frightened to continue, and he is going drop you off at the next corner. He tells you that it will be up to you to find another taxi driver at that late hour – you will have you make your own arrangements. The taxi driver then takes payment for having delivered you to this dark and unfamiliar place, and drives off into the night. What would you do?
An increasing number of consumers who use Licensed Conveyancers are experiencing something similar to this. It was a common occurrence before the new Conveyancers Act 2006 was introduced, and it was expected that the new-found professionalism of the conveyancers’ industry would result in a more professional approach to client welfare. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and client dumping is as prevalent as ever, if not more so.
Conveyancing client dumped
A few days ago I had a distraught woman telephone me with a typical example of client-dumping. According to the woman, she had engaged a Licensed Conveyancer at the very start of her conveyancing transaction, which involved the off-the-plan purchase of a city apartment.
Everything was fine while the matter involved no more than paper-shuffling processes, but when a few small difficulties arose this changed.
Apparently, the Licensed Conveyancer became quite flustered when questions arose regarding the conduct of the developer. When the conveyancer found that she was having to write to the vendor’s lawyers on behalf of her client, provide legal advice to the client, and assume responsibility for the client’s legal well-being, it all became a bit too much.
The conveyancer explained to the client that she charges a very low fee for “straight-forward” matters, and this matter was becoming anything but “straight-forward”. Moreover, the matter involved legal issues that were beyond the capacity of the conveyancer, and a lawyer’s expertise would be required. And to cap it all off, the time and effort the conveyancer was having to invest in the matter was making it unprofitable for the conveyancer, so that she would be operating at a loss to complete it.
Why was the conveyancer complaining to the client? And what was the significance of all of this for the client?
The conveyancer went on to explain that she could no longer act for the client, and that the client would have to find a qualified lawyer to take the matter to settlement. Effectively, the client had been dumped, and settlement was just a few days away!
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