Why Choose a Solicitor: Musings on Legal Privilege and Secret Keeping

At first glance, buying or selling a house might not seem all that complicated.

After all, surely it’s just a case of checking you know where the stopcock is, transferring some money between mortgage companies and handing over the keys? Well… no. We’re afraid the reality is rather more long-winded than that. Conveyancing transactions can be tricky, tricky things with all manners of complications to contend with.

However large or small the property you’re selling, and however simple and problem free you think it might be (ha!), you’ll need to have a professional on hand to handle the legalities and paperwork, and to make sure that all money and keys that are transferred end up in the right places.

There are significant benefits to instructing a solicitor to guide you through this process. The first of these is education. Though you may think of solicitors as a bunch of know-it-alls, in fairness we have worked rather hard to gain that title. Becoming a solicitor takes a total of six years and we’re also obligated to engage in ongoing professional training and development, so you can be assured we’re working hard to stay abreast of things.

The other thing that really distinguishes solicitors from other conveyancing professionals is the concept of legal privilege.

What is legal privilege?

Legal privilege is considered a fundamental legal right for clients. Put simply, it means that if you choose to disclose confidential information to your solicitor in order to get legal advice, they’re obligated to keep what you’ve said to themselves.

This privilege doesn’t automatically apply whenever you have a conversation with someone who happens to be a solicitor. Rather, the solicitor in question has to be your solicitor (or a solicitor you are speaking to with the intention of instructing them). You also need to be discussing actual confidential information for the purpose of getting legal advice. We’re not professionally bound not to tell anyone how you took your tea when you met with us.

How does legal privilege affect your conveyancing transaction?

It’s important to note here that not every conversation or communication you share with your solicitor is automatically covered by legal privilege.

Conveyancing documents are not intended to be confidential, so anything you write on your fixtures and fittings TA6 form would be shared with your buyer’s solicitor and would not be kept secret.

However, any conversations you had seeking advice about what to put on property information forms would be confidential and covered by legal privilege. In other words, you could have all the conversations you like with your solicitor about neighbourly falling outs, Japanese knotweed infestations or septic tank woes safe in the knowledge that your solicitor wouldn’t act on any of those conversations without your say so. (Though we will add here that any solicitor with even an ounce of professional integrity would very heavily advise you to do the responsible thing and disclose any relevant issues).

Is your solicitor always obliged to keep your secrets?

Legal privilege only applies to information you have discussed with your solicitor for the direct purpose of receiving legal advice. It doesn’t mean you can simply get any wrongdoings off your chest without fear of consequences!

For example, if you were to let slip that your former nemesis was buried under the back patio of the property you were selling, your solicitor would not be legally obligated to keep mum.

Equally, if you told your solicitor you were purchasing the property in question for money laundering purposes, they would be completely within their rights to get straight on the phone to the National Crime Agency.

However, if you told your solicitor that you were having an affair and were planning on leaving your spouse, and that conversation was in the context of seeking advice about your rights in regards to selling the marital home in such circumstances, your solicitor would indeed be duty-bound not to tell on you.

How legal privilege could work for you

The concept of legal privilege is reassuring as it can help you feel confident that your solicitor is truly on your side. Whatever you need to discuss about your house sale or purchase, you’ll be able to talk freely, safe in the knowledge that your solicitor will only share confidential information with any third parties with your agreement.

Do you have any questions about the benefits of using a conveyancing solicitor or how legal privilege might work for you? Please get in touch; we’re always here to help. Though if you’re planning on making a disclosure about your nemesis and the patio, we recommend a different type of solicitor altogether.