A Law firm ranked second in a list of the top 30 in Northern Ireland has been found guilty of professional negligence.
Solicitors Carson McDowell, of Murray Street, Belfast, breached its duty of care to clients, Mr Justice Deeny ruled in the High Court in Belfast.
The firm was sued by two companies specialising in second mortgages - Melbourne Mortages Ltd., which lends the money, and Cavenham Financial Services Ltd., which manages the arrangement of the loans.
Mr Justice Deeny said in a reserved judgement that the companies approached Carson McDowell after being dissatisfied with another firm.
He said Carson McDowell was engaged after the companies had obained from the Law Society a magazine article which ranked the firm as second in the "Top 30 Northern Ireland law firms."
The judge said the firm had breached the duty of care owed to the companies by its failure to become aware of a judgment in the Court of Appeal in England that a form of loan agreement was unenforceable.
The judgment was published in three legal journals taken by Carson McDowell, said the judge, but it either passed unnoticed or was not read.
"The failure resulted in loss to the plaintiffs and therefore constitutes negligence because the plaintiffs continued to make loans based on this form of agreement," said the judge.
Mr Justice Deeny said it was not necessary to rule on the individual responsibility of the solicitors involved.
"At least four solicitors were involved. Suffice to say that some one of them should have been delegated to and should have kept up to date with significant developments in the law of consumer credit arising from changes in legislative provisions or reported judicial decisions, as this was a field in which they were actively engaged and holding themselves out to be competent."
The case was a test action covering a number of agreements and the amount of damages has still to be determined.