The role of the conveyancer is undoubtedly going to change as much of the administrative side of the role becomes automated over the coming years, a new report from the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) has predicted.
It said conveyancers would bank both time and cost savings, to be reinvested in improving the quality of service, upgrading technology and ensuring cyber security.
Conveyancing 2030: A Discussion Paper, foresees property lawyers focusing on advisory work where the quality of service – as rated by external comparison or feedback websites – will be decisive in where instructions go.
“Technology will radically improve transparency for consumers about what they are buying and the progress of their transaction. Because of the Internet of Things, properties will maintain up-to-date logbooks with little human intervention,” it says.
Upfront information about a property at the point of marketing – rather than waiting until later in the process for it – will be key to this.
The Home Buying and Selling Group, a cross-industry stakeholder body advising the government, is currently working on the Buying and Selling Property Information, which it hopes will contain all the information about a property before it goes on the market.
The report said: “As the role changes, conveyancers will need to invest in training and skills acquisition for themselves and their staff. Soft skills such as communication skills, listening skills, and empathy will become ever more important as the ability to build relationships becomes even more central.”
The paper highlighted a range of questions that everyone involved – regulators, lawyers, estate agents, lenders, technologists and others – would have to grapple with to ensure that consumers benefit from the changes, such as whether government should mandate the move to electronic conveyancing, rather than wait for incremental change; whether the law firm model needs to evolve to survive; and the extent to which regulators might need to regulate technology in addition to lawyers.
Conveyancing 2030 stressed how central data would become, delivering a ‘single source of truth’ on a property.
“But what needs to change to ensure all parties can trust the data? Who will validate the information and who becomes responsible if that data is incorrect or something goes wrong?” it asked.
When it came to the shape of the legal market, the paper said a major question was whether conveyancing would survive as a service delivered by separate providers or become part of what an estate agent offered.
Though there were reasons why estate agents have not generally moved into offering legal services directly to date, the report said: “As the conveyancer’s role becomes more focused on the advisory, consolidation will occur – and the figures on active firms in the market indicates that it already is – and estate agencies will find it easier to provide legal services using alternative business structures.”
It quoted leading practitioner Eddie Goldsmith, a founder of the Conveyancing Association, saying: “If we don’t think our world is changing, then we’re deluded”.
He continued: “If you’re an optimist here, it gives you the opportunity to be that person that you actually qualified to be – which is giving advice. We didn’t qualify to push paper around and if you look at a standard transaction, 80% of it is admin.
“The greatest threat to all conveyancers is a third-party disruptor coming in and saying we can offer something better than that – digital conveyancing is where they will see the opportunity.”
Mr Goldsmith envisaged several potential futures for conveyancing firms, from the consolidator and aggregator, to the niche firm specialising in “non-standard” matters and face-to-face advice, as well as dedicated lender firms.
Longer term, he could see the rise of what he called the ‘iConveyancer’ – software programmes that allow the client to control the process with little or no involvement of a lawyer.
CLC chair Dame Janet Paraskeva said: “I think many lawyers will be heartened by the prediction that there will be a greater focus on advisory work as the market changes and that it can be used to create a point of differentiation.
“However, while we can predict certain shifts in the market with confidence – in particular the inevitable move to electronic conveyancing – how they play out over the next decade remains uncertain.
“With so much work going on to improve and reform the process, we think now is the right time to take a wider view on what this all means in the long term and how we can ensure that the home buying and selling process works best for consumers, service providers and ultimately the UK economy.
“We do not claim to have all the answers but with change coming it is vital that we as a regulator and the community we regulate are thinking about how we make sure we are ready for what future developments may bring.
“I hope this report will fuel a discussion across the property industry and that conveyancers themselves will grasp the opportunity to shape their future.”
Those interested in contributing to the debate can email Conveyancing2030@clc-uk.org or complete an online form at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Conveyancing2030