Solicitor vs licensed conveyancer - is there a difference?
When buying or selling a property, the legal process can be carried out by either a solicitor or a conveyancer. So is there a difference, and if so which should you choose?
Aren’t they essentially the same?
From a home mover’s point of view, yes.
Both a conveyancing solicitor and a licensed conveyancer are fully qualified to deal with property transactions, and will follow the same process and procedures.
A conveyancing solicitor will work in the conveyancing department of a solicitors’ firm, having chosen to specialise in conveyancing following wider training.
Although the firm will usually cover all aspects of the law, the conveyancing solicitor will focus solely on conveyancing. However, the conveyancing solicitor may have a more varied legal underpinning to their training.
A licensed conveyancer will have passed exams specific to conveyancing and will have undertaken practical training.
Usually the licensed conveyancer will having no wider legal qualifications beyond property law.
Increasing numbers of solicitors are migrating to CLC regulation, although this is more to do with how they choose to incorporate their firms.
Both a conveyancing solicitor and a licensed conveyancer are regulated and insured, and can cover the entire legal process for you whether you are buying, selling or remortgaging a home.
Differences in regulation
Solicitors and conveyancers practicing in England and Wales are regulated by different bodies. Solicitors are regulated by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority), and licensed conveyancers are regulated by the CLC (Council of Licensed Conveyancers).
This may not seem terribly relevant to you - both are monitored to ensure standards are maintained and consumers are protected - but in fact there are some differences that may affect you.
Acting on both sides
The CLC allows conveyancers to act on behalf of both the buyer and the seller within the same property transaction.
This is controversial, as simultaneously representing two parties whose interests may conflict with one another can be seen as problematic.
The CLC currently requires ‘informed consent’ from both the buyer and seller and effective ‘Chinese walls’ between the teams within a firm acting on both sides of a transaction.
This means that both the buyer and seller should be both aware and consenting to the firm acting for both parties.
The scenario is more common than you might think as estate agents often refer buyers and sellers to the same conveyancer.
Handled correctly, this enables more efficient communication which can speed up a transaction. Handled poorly, it can lead to indiscretions that could compromise either party’s interests.
The practice is currently under review by the CLC and if in doubt, you should decline to consent to the firm acting on both sides.
Solicitor’s are not allowed to act for both sides of a transaction and will carry out a conflict check to ensure that it does not happen.
Lender panel membership.
Some mortgagte lenders will not accept licensed conveyancers to represent them when the buyer is obtaining a mortgage. This is a hangover from a period pre-dating the existence of the CLC.
This should not be a fundamental concern for home buyers. However ensuring that your chosen solicitor or licensed conveyancer is on your chosen lender's panel is absolutely critical.
There should be no difference in service
Both solicitors and conveyancers are predominantly office based and deal with similar workloads. So in theory, they should both offer you the same levels of interaction and contact during the conveyancing process.
It is also worth noting that, whether you choose a solicitor or a conveyancer, you may be allocated a junior member of the firm (a paralegal or assistant). Most are still sufficiently experienced and capable of successfully handling the process however.
Junior conveyancers and paralegals will be supported and manage by a qualified person as this is a regulatory requirement.
Whether you instruct a conveyancing solicitor or a licensed conveyancer, you should expect the same level of service.
Get a recommendation if you can, and go with whoever you feel is most likely to get the conveyancing process completed for you as swiftly and professionally as possible.