We regularly speak to estate agents about their frustrations in dealing with lawyers with most saying they are often reactive rather than proactive and generally non-communicative.
The challenge is that conveyancers are held back by a mix of paper-based systems and old-fashioned working practices that have dogged them for years.
While there is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a conveyancer, here are some of the daily challenges they face which might go someway to explain why they find it so difficult to be as responsive as most would like.
The changing role of the lawyer
Recent years have seen major changes for property lawyers.
The “instant access” consumer culture towards service provision means that expectation management becomes a major aspect of the role. With social media offering the ever-present threat of the “bad review”, lawyers need to spend more time keeping people informed of progress, typically by telephone..
The harsh reality of the slim margins in conveyancing means case volumes are high with lawyers often having to manage over 100 live instructions. This is made all the more difficult given the lack of technology and availability (and affordability) of experienced support staff.
Telephone and manual processes – a hideous combination
Go into a typical lawyer’s office and you will be struck by their chaotic nature with files stacked everywhere and constantly ringing telephones.
Most conveyancing today is a manual process with paper files and little if any effective case management systems.
Lawyers spend vast amounts of time simply finding files, reading and making notes on them and keeping manual checklists up to date.
In addition to this, the telephone is in use constantly as they will be talking to one of the four or five people involved in the deal. These include lawyers on the other side, estate agents and mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders or indeed their client.
Whilst direct lines are seen by some as an effective direct route to a person, it is more likely to be to their voicemail given that a lawyer spends most of their day on the telephone.
Dealing with enquiries
This is one of the most time-consuming and frustrating aspects of conveyancing. Responding to enquiries from a buyer is typically an ad hoc, piecemeal and incomplete process.
This is the major time sink for the lawyer; either responding to questions being asked, (which might need their seller client for information) or chasing the sellers solicitor for answers they need to ensure the property is mortgageable and sellable in the future.
Dealing with mortgage lenders
When buying a property, the buyer’s lawyer may be acting for a mortgage lender which carries a significant responsibility.
The Council of Mortgage Lender’s handbook must be checked to ensure they are asking the right questions to ensure they are compliant. Every lender has its own unique requirements which can change from week to week. There are over 30 pages that need to be checked.
Under certain circumstances, the lawyer must refer an issue to a lender for review which can take several days and soaks up a huge amount of time on the telephone.
When acting for a seller, even the simplest exercise can be very time consuming, such as obtaining a redemption figure for a mortgage which should be just a quick telephone call but can sometimes take days to achieve.
A lawyer’s day is spent juggling the different demands of clients, agents, lenders and other lawyers requirements whilst ensuring that they are acting in the best interests of their clients at all times. With the increasing demands of the public for instant access to information and a challenging property market, the need for lawyers to be multi-skilled has never been more important.