“Difficult to see” future for unbundled conveyancing

Kumar: Regulators need to keep ahead of innovation

It is “difficult to see” unbundled conveyancing services working, even if there is consumer demand for them, the chief executive of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) has said.

Speaking at the Conveyancing Association’s annual conference in London this week, Ms Kumar said there was “a big conversation a few years ago” on the use of unbundling but it had “died down” for a number of reasons.

One of them was the reluctance of conveyancers to use potentially poor-quality information obtained by a consumer to complete the rest of a transaction.

“In conveyancing, it is difficult to see it working, even if there is a consumer demand. Is it in the best interests of consumers to make it happen?”

Ben Wagenaar, head of innovation and technology at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said a study by the regulator on unbundling last year, with the focus on family law, showed that 26% of law firms were offering it and outcomes were “not significantly different” to those with full legal advice.

However, Mr Wagenaar agreed that it was “not necessarily the right step forward for conveyancing”.

Yanthe Richardson, head of law firm Foot Anstey’s new build team and CILEX’s representative on the pan-industry Home Buying and Selling Group, said quality of information was essential to ensure certainty of title for lenders, and law firms “have the buying power to obtain that information more cheaply”.

On technology in conveyancing, Ms Kumar said automation was “useful but not a panacea”, and legal regulators needed to “keep ahead, not abreast of innovation”. There must also be consistency, she cautioned.

Ms Richardson predicted that future consumers would want to talk to a human being with the right level of expertise to use the technology. The problem for conveyancing was that it was losing experience and was “not seen as appealing” by trainees.

“Regulators can play their part by not under-regulating and ensuring that the people using the machines have the right experience,” she said.

Mr Wagenaar said the biggest challenge facing law firms wanting to deal with crypto assets was that some just did not have the technology to make the relevant checks – the SRA issued a report on the crypto world just last week.

“This is not an issue for the coming months, but beyond that. Volatility is a potential issue – if a transaction is happening and the currency crashes because of what someone says on social media. It’s a challenge and we’re on to it.”

Ms Richardson said conveyancers could come across crypto assets in their source of wealth queries. “I don’t see the regulation. Ultimately the buck will stop with the conveyancer from the client and particularly the lender perspective.”

Margie McCrone, head of strategy and policy at the Legal Services Board, said its role was to make sure assurance mechanisms were in place so that the use of crypto was not harmful.

She added that the oversight regulator would shortly be publishing the results of an innovation and technology survey.

This found that firms that adopted technology received benefits “above and beyond” their expectations, delivering services more cheaply and with less impact on the environment.

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