The Law Society has defended its decision to fight a Competition Appeal Tribunal case involving allegations that it abused its dominant position by requiring law firms to buy its own conveyancing quality training. In May, the tribunal ruled in Socrates Training v The Law Society of England and Wales that from April 2015 the Society should have permitted third parties to offer some modules of training for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.
The Gazette understands that the case has been resolved on confidential terms. The Society said that ’the costs of the case and any damages’ were covered by professional indemnity insurance.
In a statement today, a Law Society spokesperson said: ’The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) provides a quality standard for solicitors delivering residential conveyancing services and a “trusted community” of conveyancers to the benefit of the public, lenders and insurance companies. Training was introduced in the early stages of the CQS’ existence as an important component to help underpin confidence, quality and uniformity. The tribunal itself in its judgment accepted that it was envisaged early on that an element of training would form part of the CQS.
’Indeed, the tribunal noted in the judgment that the fact that training should form part of the CQS was not in dispute. Nowhere in the judgment does the tribunal make any finding or contention that the Law Society deliberately sought to profiteer from the sale of CQS training.
’The case on liability was not clear cut. The tribunal accepted that from its inception in 2010 until the end of April 2015, the CQS was operated by the Law Society in compliance with competition law. As is clear from the judgment however, the point at which the Law Society was found to have assumed a dominant position in the market place, and therefore ought to have opened up the anti-money laundering, mortgage fraud and financial crime training modules to third parties required a difficult judgement. The tribunal itself took six months of deliberation to reach its judgment on these difficult issues. This amounts to longer than the entire period from the issue of the claim form to trial and reflects the legal and econometric complexities of the case.
’In defending the claim the Law Society acted in the interest of the profession and in the public interest to ensure consumer and lender confidence in conveyancing transactions, which is, after all, what the CQS provides.
’The Society also considered that it had a sound legal defence to the claim under competition law and its decision to defend the case was ultimately vindicated by the tribunal finding in its favour in respect of the majority of the time period in dispute.’
The Society is in the process of restructuring the training component of the CQS in light of the tribunal’s judgment, the statement added. ’Further details will be announced shortly.’