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Avoiding the bad apples

You cannot expect the same checks and searches to be carried out in Cyprus when buying property as you would have done in the UK.

IN LAST week’s article ‘Bad lawyers are making hard job harder’ the Sunday Mail discussed the rise in complaints against advocates in Cyprus, posing the question: “Can it all still be put down to a few bad apples?

I am a practising English solicitor who now lives and works in Limassol Cyprus, I am also qualified as a Cyprus Advocate and runs my own law office.

I am writing to set the record straight on the so-called “cockeyed legal system”, filled with “unscrupulous solicitors”. I believe I can give some crucial advice for those thinking of buying in Cyprus which will help avoid the ‘bad apples’ out there.

Last week’s article voiced the concerns of many expats across the island. It told the stories of the people who have fallen foul of unprofessional lawyers and ended up in the unenviable position of having to change lawyer – or worse having to take action against the lawyer they instructed.

I have been instructed by clients who are planning to take action against their previous lawyer and I have seen the heartache and distress this situation can cause clients first hand.

I cannot deny that there are some bad apples out there. However, I believe that it is not difficult to avoid being stung by following the below advice:

Know who you are instructing! On instructing a new lawyer, you need to know:

1. Is he/she independent?

At my firm we receive many emails from purchasers who have purchased in Cyprus, encountered problems and need help to clean up the mess. When we ask who they instructed, nine times out of ten the answer will be “a lawyer the developer recommended”.

You need to remember that when you are buying in Cyprus your selection process of lawyer should be no different than in the UK. If you were buying a house in the UK, would you select a lawyer that the seller recommended – or even worse use the same lawyer as the seller? It should be no different in Cyprus.

If you use the developer’s pet lawyer make no mistake, he will draft a contract which is weighted in the favour of the developer.

2. Can he/she provide you with a realistic estimation of costs?

It is not difficult for a lawyer to provide you with a quotation for a property purchase. Of course – if there are completely unforeseen complications then the costs could increase from this – but by obtaining a quotation you can easily avoid being over charged in the future.

3. Does he/she carry indemnity insurance?

We are only human. Everyone makes mistakes and for this reason every practising solicitor in England and Wales must carry indemnity insurance to cover potential liabilities if they are negligent. Do not assume this is the case in Cyprus. You need to check that the firm you instruct carries insurance.

4. Find out about his/her reputation

In Cyprus word carries fast and there are numerous resources out there where you can check out the reputation of a lawyer. Five minutes on an expat discussion forum can give you much more information than a lawyers own website, so ask around.

By following these steps you will avoid instructing someone who is known to be unprofessional, or who is obviously so from the start.

Once instructed, other tips for keeping the relationship with your lawyer amicable are:

Get things down in writing

If the advice your lawyer gives to you is in writing then there can be no dispute later on about what was said – which can often be misinterpreted in the heat of a telephone conversation. Keep a file of correspondence yourself so that you know you’ve got your own records – be warned – not all lawyers keep detailed records of conversations and emails.

Ask questions

Do not assume that your lawyer will always mention every eventuality and case scenario possible – however remote. Be involved in your transaction and ask questions – that way you should (hopefully) get the answers you need.

Use the support staff

While it’s always important to keep in touch with your lawyer – it is inevitable that he/she will have other clients and may be in meetings when you call. If he or she is not available – it can often be the case that a knowledgeable assistant can give you the answers you need. Note – a lawyer not answering your calls for days on end is NOT acceptable (unless he/she is on holiday – which you should know about)!

Remember the system is different

Working as a lawyer in Cyprus, having worked in the UK previously, presented me with a real challenge. Not least in terms of the system and the time it takes to get things done here. You cannot expect the same checks and searches to be carried out in Cyprus when buying property as you would have done in the UK. However, you do need to find a lawyer whose advice you trust – so that you can be certain that when he/she tells you that they won’t be performing that coal mining search you expected, you trust their judgment.

I really feel that while it is clear in Cyprus (as in any country – and any industry) there are some “bad apples” in the legal profession, most – if not all – of the problems clients experience with Cyprus lawyers could be avoided by following some of the above steps. While there will always be unscrupulous solicitors out there looking just to make money, they can be avoided by following the above steps.

Practical advice from lawyer Louise Zambartas:

Louise Zambartas
Vashiotis Loukas Court
Apartment 303
Manoli Kalomiri 7
Limassol 3030
Tel: 25-373734

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007

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