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Judge warns of ‘cautionary tale’ of taking free solicitors’ advice

31st Mar 2017

Lawyers should not fear giving their friends free advice but should still exercise caution, dispute resolution experts have stressed. This comes in the wake of a case in which an architect was found liable for free professional advice she gave to friends.

A £265,000 claim was made by a London couple who are suing their friend for ‘negligent’ advice on a garden landscaping project. The Court of Appeal is due to give judgement in the coming weeks.

The case, which was decided in favour of the claimants in the High Court, has worried professionals, especially as no legal contract was involved. The architect, Basia Lejonvarn, owed a duty of care to her friends of ten years and should have exercised ‘reasonable skill and care’ when providing professional advice, the court found in January.

The case may ‘make people think twice’ about free advice, one report has said, but specialists counter that lawyers can cover themselves pretty easily.

A principal lawyer at national firm Slater and Gordon, Nick Gee, said the extent of the defendant’s involvement was unlikely to be matched by a solicitor, including costing the project and assembling a team.

‘She went way beyond a chat in a pub or at a party. Of course, every solicitor has friends with legal issues from time to time. If you are giving [free] advice you should always couch it by saying “don’t rely on this”,’ he continued.

But another lawyer, Susan Hopcraft of the Midlands firm Wright Hassall, pointed out that however informal the relationship was, the case hinges on whether the professional did owe her friends a duty of care.

High Court judge, Mr Alexander Nissen QC, labelled it a ‘cautionary tale’ and pointed out that the lack of contract was not a protection from liability.