“ Firm of local solicitors in the North East of England / Location: 68 Saddler Street, Durham, County Durham, DH1 3NP. „
If you recall my review of the conveyancing lawyers, Coffin Mew, you'll remember I bemoaned their slow service and apparent inability to communicate in a timely fashion. You might also remember that I vowed in future to use a local solicitor that had a branch I could call into, if necessary.
True to my word, when it came to buying a house, I opted for John Bayles & Co, who have an office based in Durham. There were two main reasons for the selection. Firstly, one of Mrs SWSt's colleagues had said they were "OK" (about as close as you'll ever get to a recommendation for a solicitor) and secondly, they were about 10 minutes walk from where I work, so I could easily pop into their offices on my lunch break.
John Bayles & Co are a fairly typical small legal practice. Although they have a limited number of staff, they don't specialise in any one area and can help with all sorts of basic legal issues, such as conveyancing, divorce or wills.
Since they are not one of the big boys, they have a more basic, no frills approach to legal practice. They don't have their own website (although you can contact them via email), there is no online tracking service for your case and they don't have big, fancy offices full of potted plants and plate glass.
Indeed, walking into their office for the first time is a bit of an experience. It's through a door into a narrow passageway at the side of a sweet shop. As you go in through the door, a loud alarm blares upstairs to let the receptionist know that someone is coming up and (presumably) to scare the wits out of the unsuspecting client. The décor throughout could be described as "minimalist old fashioned" with no concession to luxury, just bog standard furniture.
But that's fine by me: it's the service that counts, not the furnishings - a simple concept all too many legal firms fail to grasp.
Any initial misconceptions or misgivings based on the décor were quickly dispelled on meeting the staff. Without exception, they were friendly, helpful and efficient. The Receptionist always greeted us you with a cheery hello and was very welcoming. She always made us feel like there was nothing more she would like more than to stand and chat with us, and that we had made her day by popping by. In other words, she made us feel like a valued customer, not simply a case file number. Every time we called in to ask a quick question or request something, we were given an answer immediately - none of those false promises that "someone will ring you back", leaving you on pins for the rest of the day waiting for a call that never comes.
The same is true of the legal staff too. The person dealing with my case was always bright and chatty when I spoke to her on the phone, without ever being false or intrusive. Similarly, John Bayles himself displayed a rare trait in solicitors (in my experience at least)... he was human and had a fun sense of humour, laughing and joking with myself and Mrs SWSt whilst we signed all the relevant paperwork.
It's always a good sign when staff in a legal office are friendly. Too often the idea of "professionalism" is translated into "aloof" and "rude". The staff at John Bayles & Co made you feel like your case was the only one they had that it was as important to them as it was to you.
Still, friendly staff do not a good law firm make - it's how they deal with the various conveyancing issues that really matter. Once again, John Bayles & Co stood up to the test. They obviously were required to send out the usual official letters associated with the house-selling process and these were inevitably full of legal jargon. These are standard requirements, though, so you can't really blame them for that. There were a couple of times when I had to email them or phone them for advice and when I did this, they were very down to earth, using plain, very understandable language, rather than hiding behind legal jargon.
Unlike Coffin Mew (where I often had to wait days for a response), their communication was timely too. If I phoned them up, they tried to connect me to the person dealing with my case immediately, and most of the time I was able to speak to them there and then. If they were busy, I was told they would call me back later that day... and they always did - a real rarity these days. Similarly, if I sent them an email (which I occasionally did late at night after the office had shut) I would have a reply within a couple of hours of them opening the next day, giving me precisely the information I requested.
The legal work too, was dealt with very efficiently. Of course, much conveyancing work is standard stuff - requests for searches, ensuring the paperwork for the mortgage is in order and so on, but it was always dealt with very efficiently. Letters were sent out promptly and if they needed any documents from me (such as proof of ID) these were sent back to me by return of post. What really impressed me, though, was that they were clearly on top of everything. The mortgage company I was with was very slow in processing the mortgage, leading to quite a big delay where all went quiet. Bayles were clearly aware of the unusual length of the delay because they sent me a letter enquiring what the position was and when they could expect to receive the mortgage offer. They were obviously doing their best to get things moving as quickly as possible, rather than just sitting back and waiting. Contrast this with Coffin Mew where I had to continually chase them for information and updates and was left with the distinct impression that if I didn't hassle them, my case file would simply be shoved in a corner somewhere and forgotten.
The downside, of course, is that solicitors' fees are generally quite expensive and John Bayles & Co is no exception. Having said that, their fees were pretty standard and in terms of the level of service I received I got far better value for money from them than solicitors I have used in the past.
The contrast between Coffin Mew and John Bayles & Co could not be starker. Coffin Mew is a factory; they churn out conveyancing cases by the bucket load, probably take on far more than they can cope with and don't give a stuff about the customer as long as they get paid. To them, you are just a case number; a nuisance who keeps contacting them for information or to try to push progress with your case. John Bayles & Co treats you like a person, processing your case efficiently, but doing so in a very friendly manner.
John Bayles & Co Solicitors
68 Saddler Street
Telephone: 0191 386 1200
Fax: 0191 384 6739
© Copyright SWSt 2009