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And did those feet, in ancient time

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If we ignore conventional wisdom and believe Boris, it looks like we’re in the end-game of the pandemic. Looking back over the past two years, social media has been buzzing with claims about the revolution it has brought to every aspect of our lives. Even the house buying and selling process.

Apparently, conveyancers have been storming the barricades in a way that would put Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean to shame. The changes have been seismic;

–           Electronic signatures on deeds

–           Identity checks on mobile phones

Sadly, the revolution petered out at this point and it was time to take the flags home.

Which was a shame, because it was all going so well.

Not everything has changed

It’s nice to know that some things have stayed reassuringly the same.

Like the bitter feud between some agents and lawyers and the green-on-green fight between traditional solicitors and anyone else who dares to dip their toe in the conveyancing pond.

I understand the frustration but they are focussing on the wrong problem.

The process does not need to be fixed because it’s not actually broken. The sooner people accept that we can move forwards.

A common enemy

Just to get one thing clear – conveyancing is being held back by a lack of investment in people, technology, and processes.

Unfortunately, those two groups, The Angry Agent and The Even Angrier Solicitor, have instead chosen to find common ground in blaming the dreaded “Conveyancing Factories” as they like to call them.

If William Blake was alive today, no doubt he would have drawn inspiration for his hymn “Jerusalem” from those dark satanic mills.  Who knows what kind of evil misdeeds go on inside those windowless sweatshops?  One thing’s for certain, according to our keyboard warriors, they are to blame for all the problems in the conveyancing world today.

Only, the facts don’t really bear this out.

The vast majority of conveyancing is carried out today by small independent law firms; the total volume of work carried out by larger firms is still relatively small.  While they do appear in chains, laying the faults at their door alone just doesn’t stack up.

Over the last six months, we’ve interviewed about 100 people. 99% of which come from traditional high street law firms –those that claim a monopoly on expertise.  Many of these candidates barely finished their Legal Practice Course (a year of theory) before they are thrust blinking into the conveyancing light by their bosses.   Even the simplest legal questions stump many of them. Yet, owners of law firms happily let them go and play Conveyancing Roulette with their client account.

In our experience, this tends not to happen in larger companies. Inexperienced people are put in junior roles where their ability to cause havoc is much more limited.

Given that this lack of expertise is a core reason for delays in conveyancing, this is what needs to be fixed.  Especially as this has a bigger impact on smaller firms. Where there is less backup for them to ask questions and even fewer controls.

When it comes to technology, it’s typically an embarrassing story.

Although some candidates have seen case management systems, many have not. Those that have, complain they are old and unusable.  We’ve only ever interviewed a couple of candidates from paperless environments, and the majority are from larger firms.  Indeed, one of the biggest pandemic myths is that it forced firms to ditch paper.  This has not happened – most candidates tell us their old company was “moving to paper-lite – just not quite yet”.

Having hired people from many different types of companies, we’ve seen that smaller firms do not guarantee greater levels of expertise, but they typically have weaker use of technology and under-developed processes. However, although larger firms typically have the technology, it’s not always very good and some of their processes are frankly shocking.

The harsh reality

We’re not saying that all firms that do volume conveyancing are blameless and improvement is definitely needed in some.  However, this ongoing witch-hunt against the small number of these larger firms needs to stop because they are not the root cause of the problems in conveyancing.

It’s ALL law firm owners who need to take a long hard look in the mirror, invest in their people, technology and processes so they can deliver conveyancing worthy of England’s green and pleasant land.

Which would make Blake proud.

Peter Ambrose is the founder of conveyancing specialist The Partnership.

Opinion piece as published in https://propertyindustryeye.com/opinion-and-did-those-feet-in-ancient-time/

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