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The commoditisation of Conveyancing and the demise of the local conveyancer

Sales and marketing director at Goldsmith Williams Conveyancing Solicitors stated last year in the article ” The conveyancing revolution is coming “:

“As with car manufacturing, this process of industrialisation delivers benefits. It ensures quality standards, drives down costs and guarantees a higher standard of service for everyone. It’s easy to see local legal firms through rose-tinted glasses and mourn their decline but the reality is they have had it too good for too long. The pendulum is swinging in favour of consumers. ”

I strongly disagree with this statement, which almost pre-supposes that conveyancing is a non-professional service.  

I do agree that in the past conveyancing costs were too high. However, it can be argued that current conveyancing costs are too low. Some firms, in order to reduce fees, are left with two options- either to outsource legal work overseas or to break up the conveyancing work into several parts, rather like a car factory process. This second option may result in less qualified individuals dealing with various aspects of the transaction.

Experienced and qualified lawyers will admit that there has been a gradual deterioration in conveyancing work.   During recent years, several conveyancing firms’ attitudes towards risk have paralleled with those of the banking industry. The messy situations encountered by banks are all too familiar.  Ultimately, it proves to be a false economy. Conveyancing fees may have decreased whilst volumes have increased, but what are the costs of this in terms of standards of advice?

It is wrongly assumed by the majority of the public that all conveyancers have similar knowledge levels. Surely, the true cost of poor quality conveyancing will soon be realised by both the public and the banks, who are currently preoccupied with aggressive property repossession.

I do not wish to sound alarmist, but I do believe that during the next two to three years, negligence claims will kick in.   Banks and insurers are likely to focus more attention on risk management. It is ironic that banks and building societies are shifting their legal requirements almost daily to conveyancing lawyers without most lawyers even realising.   There is only one on-line service which I am familiar with that offers conveyancing lawyers real time updates as to lenders changing legal requirements.

As if to illustrate the point, the Council of Mortgage Lenders recently stated “As far as negligence is concerned, we understand that one of our members carried out an exercise with the Land Registry to check which of the charges it thought it had registered were actually registered at the Land Registry. 5% were not. Registration of charges is a fairly basic task. ”

It is quite valid for the public to demand both a satisfactory standard of technical knowledge as well as a personalised service. I would invite any large firms that refer to commoditisation of conveyancing to inform me as to whether or not they have had any positive or negative testimonials concerning the cheapness of the product.   If you search online for company recommendations, positive or negative testimonials are more likely to address views on communication and pro-active advice, rather than cheap prices or speed of access to the property.  

Whilst it may be right that local High Street firms will disappear in favour of larger firms seeking to commoditise conveyancing, this is more likely to occur if these small firms bury their heads in the sand. Such small firms who pride themselves on specialist, personalised service and localised knowledge are unlikely to disappear quietly. It is imperative that they organize their peers in order to enable a coordinated effort to stop commoditisation.

A united front is certain to outperform a solo effort. In the words of Seth Godin “Quiet, passive-aggressive whining in the corner is both annoying and ineffective. ”

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