Conveyancers facing “more hostile environment than ever”

Ambrose: Get rid of difficult clients

Conveyancers are facing a “an environment more hostile than ever before” and clients have “never been so litigious”, the owner of a well-known firm and legal tech business has warned.

Peter Ambrose, chief executive of The Partnership and tech firm Legalito, said law firms needed to use technology to protect their staff against clients and should not ignore the “personal impact” on lawyers of the mistakes they made.

Mr Ambrose said his firm, based in Surrey and London and regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, was “dealing with very, very complicated situations now” in “an environment more hostile than ever before”; and the “people challenge” was how to equip staff to deal with it.

He said his firm had “no hesitation” in “disinstructing clients who are rude and abusive”.

Mr Ambrose went on: “If people are difficult, they’ll be difficult at the beginning, difficult at the middle and difficult at the end, so let’s get rid of them before they turn up.”

Speaking about Running a law firm in the 21st century at the Bold Legal Group Conveyancing Conference in London last week, he said The Partnership had been working for about 18 months on how to use artificial intelligence not “in an advisory capacity, because that would be stupid”, but as a “statistical mechanism”.

Technology was used to look at cases and find out the “really obvious stuff”, such as whether staff had got the length of the lease right.

“You need to automate as much as you can to stop people putting things in manually.”

Technology was also used to track two of the biggest areas of complaints – when clients “sue you for questions you haven’t asked” or complain that they are not getting the answers they want.

“I can’t be reliant on people relying on their memory or putting things in the right place so they don’t forget them.”

On mistakes by lawyers, Mr Ambrose said: “I’ve seen what happens to individual lawyers when things go wrong. They take it very personally. We messed up on a sale and gave away a freehold by mistake – it happens. They were never the same after that.”

His firm was also the victim of a “nasty” email fraud, which cost it £330,000, and again the lawyer involved was “not the same” afterwards.

“When we think about wellbeing and we think about lawyers, people ignore the personal impact. Yes there’s stress, yes there are issues with difficult clients but it’s this fear of failure which has become a big problem.

“We need to use technology to protect colleagues against clients. Otherwise we’re going to screw up and things are going to go wrong. We’ve never seen such litigious clients.”

On supervision, Paul Sams, managing partner of south-coast law firm Dutton Gregory, said “rule one is that you don’t make assumptions”.

He went on: “We’ve got a very low attrition rate, which we’re very proud of, but we’ve taken some duds on, which we all do from time to time.

“People assume that because people have more years of PQE [post-qualification experience], they know more. We don’t do that.”

Mr Sams described training as “a case of getting people into the office”.

“We did take people on during Covid without them being in the office. That was difficult. Now we get people into the office and we’ve got a very robust training system.

“It’s a case of making sure team leaders spend time with their teams rather than sitting in their rooms doing enquiries. It’s a matter of constantly keeping in touch with people and making sure they’re OK.”

    Readers Comments

  • David Weeks says:

    I agree with Paul Sams. The elephant in the room with conveyancing is not people leaving the profession (though that is a concern). It is the people “working from home” who are not receiving any obvious basic training, and contributing little to the profession. This is also responsible for the slow progress on chains. Until that issue is addressed, and staff get back to the office, we will all have issues.
    Furthermore the large proliferation of people now working as consultants is another issue which needs addressing, since that is also affecting the conveyancing profession, but also never seems to be mentioned. No other area of the law seems to contain such entitled individuals as conveyancing, probably stemming from the stamp duty holiday during COVID. But there is no excuse for not getting back to normal now.

    “the “people challenge” was how to equip staff to deal with it.”
    As for this quote, there are those of us who work in the profession, and know people within the profession who work, or have worked, with certain firms. I would suggest it is not necessarily the clients who shout and abuse and from whom the staff need protection.

  • Michael Robinson says:

    More technology..Lord God save us!!

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