By Legal Futures Associate Access Legal
In this article, we take a look at UK conveyancing market trends over the last 18 months, how these have impacted the sector and how technology can help firms moving forward.
The Stamp Duty Holiday and pandemic-fuelled lifestyle changes led to an influx of conveyancing work few could have foreseen back in Spring 2020. By June last year, the tax break had seen house sales jump by 220% as buyers clamoured to complete on their property before the deadline.
It was a welcome boost, particularly for the firms who’d experienced a significant financial shortfall in the early days of Covid-19. Research from the Law Society found that three-quarters had furloughed fee-earners between July and October 2020, demonstrating how precarious the situation was at first.
The impact of increased conveyancing work
But the sheer volume of conveyancing work brought its own problems too. There were reports of solicitors working excessive hours to meet demand, and some bore the brunt of clients’ frustrations.
While the backlog eased by the end of 2021, demand remained high as changing lifestyles continued to influence house moves. It’s unlikely we’ll see the same level of activity in the housing market in 2022, however experts still expect it to be busy.
This means more new business opportunities for solicitors offering conveyancing services but as the market steadies, it’s also a chance to get their own house in order, so to speak. Sound processes, supported by the right technology, will enable firms to meet demand and grow sustainably, without paying the price of employee burnout, or falling short of client expectations.
Conveyancing firms can overcome barriers with better processes
If good working practices allow solicitors to manage high and fluctuating volumes of work effectively, then poor processes and inefficiencies invariably do the opposite.
Worrying reports of staff being forced into the office during last year’s lockdown suggests that numerous firms were ill-prepared for the move to remote working, even months after the pandemic began. While some partners might have taken the outdated view that workers are less productive at home, despite evidence to the contrary, there were clear logistical challenges for those who relied on hard copies of documents and on-premise software.
Even firms that did comply with the government guidelines will have been rightly concerned about the impact of remote working on client confidentiality and data protection, meeting their regulatory obligations, cyber-security and maintaining competency, as detailed in our blog on remote working for law firms.
The advantages of cloud-based technology
Addressing these issues provided a clear impetus for legal tech adoption, particularly cloud-based legal software and solutions that facilitates remote working and streamlines the conveyancing process.
A third of UK law firms now use our technology, and it’s playing an important role in ensuring compliance as more look to permanently adopt hybrid working models. Maintaining your Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation is essential, especially as activity in the housing market has heaped more pressure on solicitors. Engaging, practical and interactive content, delivered online via a CQS approved provider, is a most time-efficient and effective way to keep everyone compliant, since they can build training into their working day and apply it straightaway.
But technology adoption hasn’t only been driven by compliance needs. Automation and analytics derived from real-time data also enabled firms to be leaner, more productive and look forward not backwards in a fast-moving world. The technology drastically cuts down on tedious routine work too, and gives employees greater autonomy and flexibility.
Consumer friendly conveyancing should be a priority
Clients who’ve experienced the convenience of digital self-service banking and e-commerce often get a shock when they’re asked to provide a wet signature for a document. During the pandemic, getting paperwork out to clients could be a challenge, and the scope for delays and errors was high.
Far from making the experience less personal, technology brings the legal sector into line with banking or e-commerce. Clients are able to view and sign documents via a single secure portal at a time to suit them, without having to fire off emails or pick up the phone during office hours. But it also means fee-earners don’t spend all their time in back-and-forth correspondence, and can instead focus on completing property transfers quickly. Furthermore, firms can drastically cut costs of printing and postage while also becoming more eco-friendly.
As well as saving time, firms that can access business analytics should find opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell services such as will writing. Law firms have long known that the information they hold is valuable, they just haven’t had the means to turn it into actionable insights.
Invest in tools to support your people
We’ve said many times that people are a law firm’s biggest asset, and improving their experience in the workplace can pay dividends. Just as clients expect seamless interactions, fee-earners will feel just as frustrated if poor IT makes straightforward tasks more onerous. To keep engagement and performance high, and attract and retain the brightest talent, firms need to invest in tools that allow their people to work effectively.
Combining ‘back office’ software – HR, finance, timesheets and so on – with practice and case management systems gives senior management a deeper insight into business operations. They can see, for instance, whether high caseloads are negatively impacting working hours, billings, absence rates and morale, and take action where needed.
Save on conveyancing transaction times
After two years of upheaval, many firms will now be craving stability and looking at how to make the most of demand with efficient and sustainable working practices.
By using Conveyancing Software, which can integrate with property search providers, fee-earners can save minutes throughout the day and reclaim hours every week or month. Legal Bricks, conveyancing searches and AML ID checks provider, has calculated that firms could save 30% in conveyancing transaction times by using their in-built client journey and seamless online document production.
They can take on more cases, and start to restore the work-life balance they may have lost at the height of the stamp duty holiday. As previously mentioned, technology makes it easier to deliver mandatory law firm training and create better client experiences through an online client portal. But it also enables solicitors to submit forms to Land Registry without leaving their case management system, and record file history automatically, which reduces admin. Users aren’t double-keying information, since forms are already completed for them, and can submit Stamp Duty online, based on the most recent rates.
Whatever happens in the housing market, it’s vital that poor processes don’t hamper a firm’s ability to make the most of opportunities. Fee-earners’ time is better spent delivering value to clients and the business, not on tasks that could easily be automated.