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“Conveyancing is broken. Oh no it isn’t!”

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As we’re past midsummer’s day, it’s time to start looking forward to Christmas and the annual pantomime visit.  This year in Guildford it’s Cinderella with the usual array of characters; Cinders – the one who does all the work and never gets thanked.  The evil step-mother who does everything to stop her going to the ball.  Finally, the fairy godmother who makes everything alright by waving a magic wand.

You can see where I’m going with this.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a return to the Punch and Judy show where agents criticise lawyers for being incompetent, lawyers getting upset about agents only caring about their commission and then someone pops up with their own karaoke version of “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”.

We didn’t have these pillow fights during the SDLT holiday because lots of deals were being done which took the pressure off individual deals.  People were working harder than ever before, but if a deal fell through, another buyer could be found.  With increased mortgage rates raising pressure on the fewer deals that are going through, this creates friction between parties.

We should not be surprised; saddened, but not surprised.

So what’s going on?

It’s completely understandable that everyone get frustrated with the conveyancing process.  It’s not just clients, agents and brokers, but lawyers themselves who find it time-consuming and stressful.  It gets even worse when we have “blue-on-blue” incidents and lawyers turn their frustration on each other that things really do spiral downwards.

Clearly, most cases go through without lawyers causing the continual mayhem some accuse them of.  Yes, it’s usually slow and painful but people DO move house.  It’s only when a lawyer goes on holiday on completion day, forgets to order the mortgage money or can’t find their client’s identification documents that the shortcomings of how the process is managed becomes highlighted.  These few points then become extrapolated into a trend, which leads to claims that the process is not fit for purpose, but it’s a minority of cases.  For context, my company runs about 1200 matters at any time and such issues as these arise only a few times a month.

Fundamentally, lawyers are struggling to manage the process effectively because they do not have the tools to deal with it.  With typical caseloads of 60-80 cases each, they WILL drop the ball at some point; everyone understands this, but it’s only when it happens on their case that the downside of this sweatshop mentality becomes apparent.

In our experience, most lawyers are extremely hardworking and have their clients’ interests at heart but are simply too bogged down in the administrative side of their role, with no end in sight.  The technology that has been offered to help lawyers over the last ten years has been minimal. With the exception of onboarding, SDLT and registration submission and some tentative initiatives of prepopulating reports on title, lawyers are working in exactly the same way as when I started my business in 2009.

Ask any lawyer what activity fills most of their day ( aside obviously from calls from agents and clients which can be reduced by sharing information through a portal and sending weekly updates ) and they’ll tell you it’s handling huge volumes of emails, typically 100-200 per day.  However, many of these emails involve creating or responding to, pre-contract enquiries – the riskiest and most challenging part of conveyancing.  Obtaining accurate information from managing agents, clients, lenders, even previous solicitors, is where the cycles are burned which creates the lack of availability, long working hours leading to oversights and mistakes.  This is not a process problem, it’s a process management issue and must be fixed.

So … is anything being done about this?

Law firm owners have long-acknowledged this issue but addressing it requires co-operation and a low-impact standard way to achieve it.  The understandable concerns about engaging with sometimes hostile competitors and a total lack of usable solutions always made this a challenge.

However, the realities of the market, a future with fewer experienced lawyers and ever increasing demands means firms are looking to addressing this issue, right now.  It’s a matter of changing hearts and minds, but discussions are happening and we are seeing first-hand the results of this with some really exciting projects that are genuinely reducing the delays and mistakes involved in this activity.

The next time someone claims that the conveyancing process is broken, feel free to join Buttons and shout back “Oh no it isn’t!  But we do need the widespread adoption of better technology”.


Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.

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