Law Society accreditation scheme advert ‘misled’ public
The Law Society misled the public over the expertise of solicitors in a scheme set up to help property buyers and sellers in England and Wales, the advertising watchdog has ruled.
Its website had said firms covered by the Conveyancing Quality Scheme had taken rigorous examination and tests.
But the Advertising Standards Authority found they could be accepted before staff had been trained and assessed.
The professional body said there had been no intention to mislead.
The Law Society represents 170,000 solicitors in England and Wales.
The purpose of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), the society said, was “to provide a trusted community of solicitors within the residential conveyancing market that helped to deter fraud and improve ‘best practice’ standards”.
Set up in 2011, it was said by the society to be a “recognised quality standard” for residential conveyancing practices.
A page on its website in November 2016 claimed all members of CQS had demonstrated they have a high level of knowledge, skills, experience and practice.
But a solicitor, who was familiar with the requirements of joining the scheme, challenged the description.
The complaint was initially rejected by the ASA in June but it has now reversed its decision.
In its ruling, the ASA said the advert had been unsubstantiated and misleading.
The ASA said from the description, consumers would understand the Law Society had conducted an in-depth assessment of each firm that applied for the scheme and “would expect that all criteria would have been met prior to accreditation being granted”.
However, the ASA said it had found all but two of the 293 firms who applied for the scheme were accepted – in some cases, before relevant staff had been properly trained.
It said: “While we acknowledged that firms were granted CQS accreditation on the basis of independently-verified information attesting that they met an adequate standard… the ad exaggerated the level of knowledge, skills and experience possessed… and the extent of the checks that a firm had to undergo to receive its accreditation.”
The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the ruling was “highly embarrassing” for the Law Society, which has complied with the order to remove the offending words.