Thursday, 21 October 2010

A stitch in time

I often reflect that a significant proportion of the legal fees I earn arise from the fact that my clients have put off seeking my advice until the planning problems they are wrestling with have reached really serious proportions. It’s a bit like putting off going to the Doctor.

I certainly shouldn’t complain about this situation; it would be far less remunerative for me and certainly less interesting if clients sought my advice at the outset rather than letting the problem fester. Many planning problems would disappear very quickly with timely advice, and I would earn much less money as a result.

You may think that it is not in my interests to reveal this ‘professional secret’, but I don’t think there is any real danger that clients will suddenly start seeking my professional advice at a much earlier stage in the planning process. Human nature being what it is, most people prefer not to incur professional fees until they feel they absolutely have to, and there is also a degree of personal pride involved; people like to think they can sort things out for themselves without having to ask for help.

So I am confident that I shall continue to get instructions only when things have really begun to go pear-shaped, and it will take a fair amount of effort to sort out the resulting mess.

Of course, it is possible for clients to leave things so late that I can’t do anything to help them. Again, the analogy of putting off going to the Doctor comes to mind. I recall an old farmer who came into the office, and produced a very crumpled piece of paper which he had been carrying round with him for the past six weeks before he finally got round to coming in with it. It turned out to be an Enforcement Notice. The period within which he could have appealed had expired, and there was nothing I could do about it. The really frustrating thing was that he would have had a good case, but the time limit for appealing against an Enforcement Notice can’t be extended under any circumstances. Nor is there any other way of challenging it once it has come into force. The most you could do would be to apply for planning permission for the development alleged by the notice to have taken place – a pretty hopeless prospect in many cases.

Fortunately, most clients don’t leave it quite as long as that, and there is often a good chance of sorting out their planning problems, even if it might be more time-consuming (and therefore more expensive for them) than it would have been if they had instructed me at an earlier stage. So, long may procrastination reign! (But not for too long.)


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