by Tim O’Dwyer M.A., LL.B
Marty Zelig was a former articled law clerk who, while continuing to study part-time for his law degree, became a project coordinator with a property development company. His new job involved handling all the company’s real estate transactions. So when work-mate Francine Clare and her husband George signed a contract to buy their first home, Marty happily agreed to look after their conveyancing to save solicitors’ costs. There was apparently no question of payment because Marty felt he was merely doing friends a favour.
The purchase proceeded satisfactorily. Settlement was effected on time and without any complications. The sellers’ solicitors, Dobsons, co-operated throughout and seemed quite comfortable dealing at all times with Marty.
Almost a year later Marty was shocked to find himself the subject of an investigation conducted by the Law Society for the Legal Services Commission (LSC). After the sale had settled Dobsons ascertained that Marty was not a solicitor and, quite appropriately, wrote to the LSC. Dobsons questioned whether Marty’s handling of the Clares’ conveyance may have constituted “engaging in legal practice” in contravention of the Legal Profession Act. The relevant section of this Act stipulated that a person must not engage in legal practice (which includes providing conveyancing services) unless the person is a qualified legal practitioner. Dobsons supplied the LSC with a copy of the sale contract showing the buyers as “self-acting”, copies of documents witnessed by Marty as a Justice of the Peace and copies of correspondence from him on his employer’s letterhead. In one particular letter Marty stated that he was “writing for and on behalf of” the buyers who were described as “our clients”.
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