The recent article by Peter Ambrose (Why most conveyancers are slow and inefficient) was widely commented on. Rosalind has kindly allowed me to add my two pennyworth, so here goes:
Why are (or why does it appear that) most property lawyers are slow and inefficient?
I would argue that the lack of a use of modern technology is not the main, and certainly not the only reason.
For example and as Peter said, on average each transaction involves about 130 documents plus 300 messages and emails with clients, agents and other lawyers. Multiply that by 20, 30 or more transactions and that is a lot of balls to juggle and plates to keep spinning!
I would like to comment on a few statements in Peter’s article. My comments are in italics:
- Reading a document on screen surely takes as long (if not longer) than reading one manually? If the document has a certain amount of complexity about it, it certainly does for me.
- “We know a firm who, to save money, bought only two licences for six lawyers, so each had to wait in turn to use the system.” Some conveyancers are unable to charge a fee that is high enough to do the job as efficiently as they (and others) would like every time and some that do lose a chunk of those fees in referral payments.
- “Most lawyers have no technology solution whatsoever for tracking enquiries.” You don’t need technology if you have a good diary system. Enquiries not back with three or four working days, chase them.
- “Rifling through a file to see if a local search has been returned.” The rifling is probably not to see if it has been returned but to be able to confirm whether it is clear or not.
- “I have said it so many times, until the attitudes of solicitors change the process will not, and why would they want it to change its a good little number they have going!” I have yet to find a conveyancer who thinks they have a good little number going. Most work hard long hours for a very average salary.
- “I’ve never understood the mentality of conveyancers waiting for the contract to order searches when like you said above, they can download a plan for £3 and get on with it.” If you carry out your searches on the basis of your own plan and the contract plan is not identical, or additional land is included, the search fees will have been wasted!
When trying to explain the conveyancing process to a layman I have always said that exchanging a chain of eight properties is like putting eight medium sized jigsaws together (i.e. the pre exchange process) in order for those eight medium sized jigsaws to make one large jigsaw (i.e. when all of the parties are actually ready to exchange).
Back in the 70s and 80s those medium sized jigsaws could contain, say 50 or so pieces each.
However, those individual jigsaws can now contain over 100 pieces each, and it only takes one small piece to be missing to hold the whole chain up.
Over the last 20 years, more and more responsibility and tasks have been placed on the conveyancer.
As a result many of the good experienced ones have retired or moved on. Those that are left struggle, especially when interrupted a number of times a day by clients, brokers, and agents.
And yes, many conveyancers are scared of “getting it wrong” or being fooled by a fraudulent client, because if they do, the consequences are severe. Sometimes for the firm, fatal.
You can have the best technology and worst conveyancer or no technology and the best conveyancer and matters would probably proceed at a similar pace.
It’s not rocket science and we have been there before but get the seller to instruct their conveyancer when the property is first marketed.
That way, when a buyer has been found a complete contract pack can be sent to the buyer’s conveyancer on day one. Thereby reducing most delays (including submitting searches) drastically.
It was only last month that a Joint Memorandum on Improving Communications between the Professions was released by The Law Society of Northern Ireland:
Whilst the Northern Ireland memorandum is not a ‘game changer’, maybe we should work on producing our own memorandum?
I am happy to get the ball rolling if anyone wants to also get involved?
* Rob Hailstone is founder of The Bold Group, an association of independent conveyancing businesses