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Lawyers not jack of all trades

“Lawyers – not Jack of all trades – master of one”

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A few years ago, in a moment of weakness, I allowed two marketing consultants into our offices who rocked up with their rimless glasses, purple portfolios, and concrete opinions. Lawyers

The meeting started alright, but rapidly went downhill when we showed our new tagline; “Where Conveyancing Meets Technology”. 

They gave each other a knowing ( or rather, know-it-all ) look and actually laughed at us.

Which was nice.

They explained in the patronising manner that they’d clearly learned at marketing college that, “people don’t know what conveyancing is and don’t want to know” and offered different combinations of the words “Moving”, “Solutions” “Simple” and “Transparent” as an alternative to describe what we do.

Which actually was a bit irritating.

Because it’s this type of misunderstanding that causes many of the issues in the house buying and selling process today.

What IS it that we do?

Conveyancing. 

That’s it.  At least, that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Despite our yellow-socked marketing mates’ warnings, it doesn’t take a tediously long article to explain what that is – conveyancing is the legal process to transact property.

However, in reality, lawyers are now being held responsible for all aspects of the transaction and people are very confused where this responsibility starts and ends.

A client lodged a complaint with us three months after completion, because they had not received a second set of keys from the sellers.  They wanted us to get them back, as clearly they thought we were bailiffs.  If we were, our office dog would be called Bullseye, but she’s not.  She’s called Dolly Parton.

Another accused us of lacking the project management skills necessary to do our job.   Which is something quite a lot of people think we do.  Only we’re not project managers.  If we were, we’d all have MBAs and would be charging £1200 an hour.  And despite the pandemic, even we can’t charge that amount.

Finally, a very shouty man described us as “utterly incompetent” when we explained that we couldn’t offer tax advice on his second property because we were not tax advisors.  If we were, we’d be based in Bermuda.  But we’re not – our office is above the Futon Shop in Guildford.   

Back to the good old days

Some will say that things were better in the olden times when the public were more respectful of lawyers.  In those days, when they walked into the local golf club they would be met with reverential bows, forelock tugging and the odd masonic handshake.

Sadly, like the rose-tinted views of lazy sunny days of our childhood, the reality is a little different.  Those living in Bow in September 1940 would probably say that the “olden times” weren’t particularly fabulous.  Even in recent years, the sexism and discrimination that was commonplace in what some jokingly refer to as the “profession” made life particularly difficult for female lawyers.

Despite the many articles complaining how slow things are compared to those days, we cannot go back to the sexist snobbish ways of the past, and we definitely can’t stay as we are.  After all, there are only so many articles about what is wrong with conveyancing that can be written, and the anonymous trolls that feed off such material will, at some point, need to expire.

So what happens now

We must change how we think about the role of lawyers, because expectations are being missed more often than goals in an England game.

While the quality of legal expertise is on a downward slope – a recent interview revealed a lawyer who thought a defective lease was caused by complaining neighbours – this is a symptom not a cause.

The problem is that lawyers do not have enough time to do the lawyering because they are too busy doing other things. Typically things they are not very good at or just shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Like being forced by their bosses to drum up business on the street; “don’t forget the high heels, short skirts and of course, the lipstick”.

Or where an agent told one of my lawyers to check the chain to see if everyone was ready to exchange; that time would definitely have been better spent writing a report.

Finally, if the broker had checked if his client’s lender accepted search insurance rather than asking us to do it, we could have reviewed another set of responses to our enquiries.

Conclusion

The harsh reality is that despite struggling to be all things to everyone, lawyers then have to deal with the fallout as clients pursue them through the Ombudsman and the courts for compensation for dirty carpets that should have been cleaned.

As varying demands increase on them to manage projects, explain about asbestos roofs and to find lost keys, it’s no wonder the house buying process is getting slower and more frustrating.

Despite what my rimless glassed-friends might say, we simply don’t have the time or expertise to offer “Simple and Transparent Moving Solutions”, despite our best intentions.

As published in: https://propertyindustryeye.com/opinion-lawyers-not-jack-of-all-trades-master-of-one/