In the study, the second conducted for Which? in the last two years, researchers posed as ordinary customers and took one of four different consumer problems to a total of 79 solicitors. Today's issue of the magazine claims that most of them gave incomplete advice which would have meant their "clients" might not have pursued all avenues for potential claims and been unlikely to recover all their losses.
Helen Parker, the editor of Which?, said: "The Law Societies of England and Wales and Scotland need to take an active role in monitoring and improving the standard of advice provided by solicitors. Failing this, the Government should look at other ways of regulating the profession."
The Law Society said it questioned the value of yet another small-scale "mystery shopper" survey, covering such a narrow area of law and using such a research method. Citing one of the four hypothetical problems, a spokesman said: "Clients do not generally come to solicitors with elaborate stories about not having adequate insurance to cover the cost of the damage from an exploding five-year-old washing machine. People see a solicitor because their marriage has broken down, or they have been injured in an accident, or they are buying a house, or they have been charged with a criminal offence."
In what Which? highlights as one of the worst cases, a researcher telephoned a solicitor to book an appointment and was offered poor advice by a person who appeared to be the firm's telephonist. When the researcher called back to confirm the advice, a switchboard operator also offered advice, and also got it wrong. The Law Society described the example as "bizarre", questioning whether a real-life caller would have treated a conversation with the operator in the same way as one with a qualified solicitor.
Philip Sycamore, the society's president, said: "Which? magazine fails to mentionthat they had to apologise publicly to a firm they named in the survey two years ago because they made serious allegations against a firm which proved to be entirely wrong."