There is much more verbiage in legal work nowadays than there was when I started in the profession almost 40 years ago, but one firm which I encountered recently seemed to have taken a bold initiative to turn matters in the opposite direction. 

A client was purchasing a plot from a builder and engaging him to build a house on it. The purchase missives compressed the building contract into a single paragraph extending to no more than 21 lines. Bearing in mind that the Joint Contracts Tribunal/Scottish Building Contract Committee standard form of building contract suitable for a detached house extends to 110 pages, this was either a triumph of miniaturisation or a recipe for misunderstandings and disputes.

There were two other points in the missives on which I had serious misgivings, but the selling solicitors seemed reluctant to enter into any debate about these, apparently in the hope that my client’s enthusiasm for the purchase would trump the concerns which I had. This is what actually happened. We resigned agency.

My own approach to problems is to apply whatever amount of time and effort and experience is required to address them thoroughly. This is my understanding of what the solicitor’s job actually is, but the case in question made me wonder whether I may have been wrong all of these years.

It may be that one of the pernicious effects of competitive fee quoting is that some solicitors may be harbouring an uncharitable thought that if the profit margin on a fee is rather narrow, then it cannot be expected to accommodate anything which might need much more input than usual. The way to cover this however is to provide for some flexibility in the fee quotation, not by pretending that the complications do not exist in the first place.

Ashley J Swanson, Aberdeen