Coles Solicitors, with offices in North Yorkshire and Teeside, has been closed down by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (the SRA). This will be a blow and a shock to many – to clients and to staff in particular, many of whom will have questions about what to do next. This information may be hard to come by, and people will understandably be anxious about how it affects them. This short note has been created to inform those affected as far as is currently possible.
What happened to Coles Solicitors?
We only know, directly, what has been in the press. Coles, which used to be managed and owned by Peter Gibson (since 2019, MP for Darlington), had been acquired by a group called Kingly, and that whole group has been closed down.
The SRA will close a firm down if they find irregularities which put the clients of the firm or their assets at risk. They appoint another firm to handle the intervention, as it’s called. It’s a drastic step, not taken lightly. That firm handling the intervention (in this case, a large West Yorkshire commercial law firm called Gordons) cannot generally take over and run existing matters for clients, so clients have to find new solicitors. Depending on what Coles were doing, that might be very urgent; for clients, it is certainly going to be disruptive; as if the world were not already an uncertain enough place.
What happens with my matter which Coles Solicitors were dealing with?
Your case will need to be handled by another firm, and there will inevitably be some disruption in that. We have been in direct contact with the firm handling the intervention, and they have said to us that “clients will be notified in due course but this process will take some time. The main message is that clients just need to get a new solicitor quickly to make progress with their cases”.
It would be quickest to instruct a new solicitor as soon as feasible, and they will then be able to obtain the file. That will avoid a wait in Gordons being able to communicate to the clients.
Another firm will have to get up to speed, and that will take time – they might already be under pressure, and some are short staffed at the present time. There should however be a reasonably clear process for new solicitors to obtain client’s files from the intervening solicitors, so they won’t fall into a black hole. The closure of Coles will be intended to safeguard clients, not the opposite.
Can I get another firm to take my case over? How do I find one?
There are of course listings such as https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/; and there is Google and other search engines. You will though also need to make sure that who you choose has a good local reputation, has expertise in the field, and can take the work on. At Berwins we believe we tick those boxes, should you wish to consider us for property work (conveyancing), wills or probate, family or commercial matters.
What happens with any money I have paid to Coles, or that they are holding for me?
Your money will be safe – solicitors are highly regulated, insured and pay into a compensation scheme; and your money is held separately from the firm’s own money. There might be some delay in releasing that, depending on the circumstances. Not everything will go smoothly – they are bound to be delays, but your money should be safe. It may be that an application will have to be made to the SRA Compensation Fund; that would need looking into.
Will there be delays in my case through Coles having closed down?
There may well be – expect there to be. This is a disruptive event, and to the solicitors who might be able to take your case on, this will have been as unexpected as it will have been to you, and indeed to Coles’ staff.
Will I lose money, or have to pay more?
As we have said above, your money will be safe. In terms of legal fees, solicitors who you instruct in place of Coles will have their own charging structures, so they might not be the same as Coles. You might be in a position of having to pay again for something you believe you have paid for, and having to reclaim that. All circumstances will vary, so we can’t give a clear answer on this.
Can Berwins help?
We can – we are one of the biggest and best resourced law firms in North Yorkshire and cover all the areas of law which Coles covered. If you are reading this, you are probably on our website at www.berwins.co.uk, and the points of contact for the relevant team should be clear from that. We know these will be worrying times, and we’ll do all we can to help.