banner image

Is Digital Conveyancing the Future of Property Transactions?

  • February 8, 2024

The paths of residential and commercial property transactions in the UK are at a moment of divergence. While residential transactions are declining, commercial property transactions seem stable, even on the rise. Yet property lawyers are reporting shrinking caseloads, with some firms handling 25% fewer cases in 2023. Improving the conveyancing process, particularly through the implementation of digital conveyancing could create a better, faster conveyancing market that encourages buyers and sellers to take the plunge.

The Current State of Real Estate in the UK

Figures from HMRC show that December 2023 saw the fourth consecutive month-on-month drop in the number of residential transactions, marking a 20% decline from December the previous year. Yet at the same time, commercial property transactions are increasing, albeit slowly.

Many commentators are predicting a smoother, less fractious property market in 2024 that won’t be marked by the mini boom and bust cycles we’ve seen since 2020. However, what’s stopping the market from taking off is the continued sluggishness of property transactions. The average time for conveyancing on a residential property is around 22 weeks and for commercial property can be slower  – a long way from the ideal transaction time of 8-12 weeks.

These long conveyancing times are a major contributor to the national fall through rate on property purchases of 34%.

Is Digital Conveyancing the Solution?

Property transactions, far more than property prices, are a great indicator of the health of the market. Making property transactions faster and easier has the potential to encourage both sellers and buyers and creating a more stable property market in the long-term. So, how can we achieve better and faster conveyancing and a system that works for both buyers and sellers?

One oft cited solution is digital conveyancing. Digital conveyancing involves implementing electronic transactions for the transfer of legal documents and funds and making land search details such as tenure, title, and lease length accessible instantly. Digitalisation would:

  • Make the current conveyancing system more streamlined and transparent
  • Go a long way to achieving faster conveyancing times
  • Reduce the likelihood of error and the need for extensive checks and land searches
  • Make the system more accessible and make long-distance transactions easier

Countries such as Norway have achieved great success with digital conveyancing systems, in some cases reducing transaction times to a matter of days. However, making such a system possible in England could prove more difficult. Bringing conveyancing solicitors, the land registry and real estate agents into alignment would require robust data security measures, compliance regulation and technology implementation. It is also likely to be costly.

It seems unlikely that the government will agree to the high-level conveyancing rule changes that would make wholesale digitalisation of the system possible. Meaning that without industry-wide desire for reform the technology is likely to be implemented patchily, with some sectors such as commercial real estate more reluctant to embrace change.

Another possible solution is providing buyers with more upfront information regarding property, in the form of a return to home information packs (HIPs), Scotland’s home reports or even Buying and Selling Property Information (BASPI) questionnaires. Transaction times when HIPs were introduced were around 12 weeks and Scotland has seen a 60% reduction in fall throughs since adopting home reports. And, consumers are happy to pay for this information, with 65% willing to pay £300 for information that would speed up their transaction times.

What Should You Be Doing to Prepare for Digital Conveyancing?

As we’ve heard recently, a stable market means many conveyancing firms are looking to drive recruitment. But how can you make sure your latest recruitment drive considers the future of conveyancing?

  1. Attracting the right talent:
    Your hiring strategy should be focused on building and maintaining a talent pipeline that sustains your business long term. Focus on developing a strong, online employer brand that appeals to candidates, improving the candidate experience to make applying for roles smooth and seamless, and creating job descriptions that reflect the attributes and skills you need.
  2. Hiring for digital skills:
    Speaking of skills, when evaluating candidates be sure to consider their digital skills and abilities alongside their other competencies. Digital literacy will be increasingly important for the legal profession with or without the digitalisation of conveyancing. Skills-based hiring can also be used to pinpoint other key competencies like communication which are key in creating better and faster conveyancing.
  3. Retaining critical knowledge:
    Embracing the future of conveyancing will be impossible if business critical knowledge is lost. Improving employee retention not only keeps that knowledge in-house but allows you to pass that on to new employees though mentorship and professional development schemes.

Clayton Legal has over 20 years’ experience helping clients attract and retain legal talent across practice areas that include Property, Personal Injury, Family, Criminal, and Costs law as well as Legal IT and Civil and Commercial Litigation.

If you are building your legal team, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

Share This Post

banner image

Clayton Legal’s latest recruitment analysis featured in the press

  • December 4, 2017

Our latest market analysis for advertised legal roles has been featured in a number of publications including Bdaily, the Global Recruiter and Recruitment International.

It has revealed that vacancies for legal professionals across the North West have risen by 9% month-on-month. To learn more about the results, click the links above.

Share This Post

banner image

Top tech tools for lawyers

  • July 11, 2017

Whether you’ve been in the legal field for one year or for 25, you’ll know the value of being organised. However, in the modern ‘information overload’ world that we all live in, it can be challenging to remain on top of things. There are myriad different apps and programmes you can use to help organise your life and get ahead from your competition, however even cutting through the noise and working out what works and what doesn’t can be a major challenge. So what are the top tech tools for lawyers and how can they benefit your career?

Storage

Only the most technologically illiterate are likely to have not heard of Dropbox, the most advanced and robust file storage tool out there. As lawyers, you’ll be well aware that your existing storage space on your phone, tablet or desktop can get filled quickly with all the documents that you’re sent on a daily basis, and using a programme like Dropbox can provide extra storage as well as helping you to remain organised. It’s also a useful – and secure – tool for exchanging information online with your clients and colleagues.

Practice management

There are plenty of different types of practice management software out there, some of which are suited to firms of a certain size or specialism. However, it’s probably fair to say that the most widely effective platform is MerusCase, a tool that lets you manage and automate your cases, communication, calendar, court forms, templates and case files. And as the programme is cloud-based one of the main benefits is that everything is one place. It’s advisable to do your homework as different programmes will suit different firms and individuals, however it’s likely you’ll find that adopting the software will make you more organised and your files safer.

Security

Ensuring your data is secure should be an absolute priority, particularly with the spate of high profile hacks taking place in recent months. If organisations with the resources of the likes of Sony, Google and IHG haven’t been able to stop hackers, then the average legal firm doesn’t stand much chance, unless that is, it invests heavily in its online defences. However, most companies still have their head in the sand when it comes to data security, and it’s often down to the individual to ensure that they remain safe when operating online. Almost every app or programme requires a password of some sort and the ever growing list of phrases with or without a grammatical symbol, number or capital letter can be hard to keep up with. By far and away the best product is Lastpass as this means you need to remember just one password. It also offers a safe and secure place to store login and credit card details, for example.

Research tools

As you’ll all be only too aware, one of the more time consuming aspects of the average lawyer’s role is research. However, that’s about to change as there are now two tools which look set to shake up the status quo in the legal industry. The first is Casetext, which contains a programme called Cara that finds relevant case law files for lawyers who upload legal documents, allowing them to get the exact cases they need. And the second is Ravel Law, which gives lawyers insights into how judges have ruled on previous cases, allowing professionals to tailor their preparations ahead of their cases, both of which can potentially save you a huge amount of time.

Work/life balance

Don’t laugh, it is possible to achieve a work/life balance when working in the legal sector. Obviously, a lot of the pressure is out of your hands, however creating boundaries is an effective way of regaining control. By using Google Voice to separate your phone lines – for free – you can set up a separate number for your firm on your mobile and restrict its hours, meaning the days of late night calls will be a thing of the past. It also means that clients can call or text you without reaching you on your personal number or pursuing you when you’re busy. You can even read transcribed voicemails and text messages when you’re in court and, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also an automatic timing function so you can bill clients accordingly.

Ignore the reports, technology is here to help make our jobs easier, rather than stealing them from us. If you’d like to speak to our expert team about their favourite tech tools for lawyers then get in touch now.

What are your favourite tech tools for lawyers?

Check out some of our other blogs on the impact of technology on the legal profession. And if you’re looking for a career move, take a look at our current jobs.

Share This Post

banner image

AI becoming a priority for SME legal firms

  • June 19, 2017

You’ve probably heard all about artificial intelligence and its growing use in a number of widespread industries. And if you haven’t observed its use in a business context then you will surely have seen it in films like ‘iRobot’, ‘Ex Machina’ and, well…‘AI’. But the idea that businesses could harness the potential of artificial intelligence in a legal setting and use it to their firms’ advantage was surely only a distant dream?

Wrong.

Legal firms have increasingly adopted artificial intelligence led programmes for a few years now, indeed we wrote an article for Totally Legal on that very subject only last year. However, until recently this advanced technology was the sole preserve of firms with vast resources – and deep pockets – but that all appears to be about to change.

AI priority for legal firms

According to recent, extensive analysis conducted by our team here at Clayton Legal, small and medium sized legal firms both recognise the importance of the use of AI, regard it as an opportunity to be embraced and do not feel threatened by its impact on their business.

As one of the respondents to our research project, Andrew Kwan – solicitor advocate at Clear Law – put it, “This approach allows us some advantages including being agile within a changing legal market. Therefore I can see the utilisation of AI as being an opportunity to deliver greater value to clients, both individuals and businesses, by removing some of the administrative elements of the process.”

And it’s not only senior professionals who are experiencing this optimism. Miriam Khan – a junior colleague of Khan at Clear Law, made the point that AI and human skill sets should complement each other rather than take opposing sides, “The profound purpose of AI is to save the need for time, cost and energy on manual labour and increase efficiency. Why do a job that a computer can do for you?”

Opportunity for skills development

Our own managing director, Lynn Sedgwick, also commented on the increased adoption of AI by small and medium sized firms. “While firms such as Linklaters and Clifford Chance have moved to use AI in several different areas, this is very much about driving efficiencies, rather than eradicating jobs. AI is becoming a priority for legal firms and the smaller practices that we spoke to are also hoping to generate higher fees and ensure that processes can be and will be outsourced to machines.”

“For employers, this has huge benefits but it also offers their people more interesting work, making the workplace a more satisfying place to be in, in a marketplace where retention is key.  For legal professionals at all levels, the introduction of AI represents an opportunity to develop new skills, and for those who are open to change, to increase their value in the marketplace. The interpersonal and technological skills required to adapt to the new AI infused working environment are likely to bring benefits to all that choose to engage with them.”

“The human element can’t, at least yet, be replaced by a robot. Andrew Kwan really sums it up when he says: ‘I do not see AI removing the elements where you are a compassionate human. You can’t remove this from a process and expect a great result for your client.”

We would love to hear you views on the role that AI has to play at small and medium sized firms – do you agree with Lynn that the introduction of AI represents an opportunity to develop new skills and increase individuals’ value in their marketplace? Or do you believe that AI could ultimately lead to jobs being cut?

For more legal insight check out our website

Or to see some of our other insights take a look at our blog

Share This Post

banner image

Is the concept of the billable hour dead and buried?

  • June 13, 2017

As we all know, the billable hour has been the de-facto payment structure adopted across the legal sector. In fact, according to Sean Braswell, a leading legal journalist, the practice dates back to 1975 and the American case of Goldfarb vs Virginia State where it was discovered that the prior ‘minimum fee’ structure was outdated and favoured richer clients. However, it appears as if this trend – and the idea of the billable hour as a whole – could be coming to end. But what does this mean for legal professionals and the firms they work for?

RIP billable hour

The trend of moving away from the billable hour gained momentum during the financial crisis when consumers started to look for more cost effective external legal guidance and began identifying alternative fee arrangements (AFA). These came in various forms including flat fees, request for proposals (RFPs) and reverse auctions over the once universally accepted hourly fee structure.

Why did this happen?

The financial crisis – rather obviously – put extra pressure on both individuals and organisations which started putting more of a focus on their legal costs and how to reduce them, improve efficiency and value for money so clients essentially get a fairer deal from their legal partner.

However, it looks like this renewed focus has in fact had a negative impact and led to a decline in output. Firms’ productivity has traditionally been measured on billable hours per lawyer, which presents leaders with a challenging situation as remuneration and bonuses have also traditionally been calculated by total number of hours billed.

A report from Thomson Reuters has also highlighted how billable hours have dropped in the last 10 years and gone from an average of 134 per lawyer in 2007 to 122 in 2016. That may not seem like a huge fall, but this monthly reduction – extrapolated over a full year – equates to a loss of 144 billable hours per lawyer per year, which ‘costs’ firms around £53,000 annually.

It would be unfair to suggest that this is solely down to a shift towards AFAs in recent years, however legal firms have a challenge on their hands bringing productivity up to its previous level. And legal professionals will also need to be prepared for change.

New skills

It’s likely that, as a result of this changing market, negotiation will become an increasingly sought after and important trait as firms seek those who have the ability to agree upon and adopt more flexible fee structures that are embraced by legal consumers. Professionals will also have to change the way they document the work they’ve done for clients. And let’s not forget communication, which will be absolutely pivotal as clients cast a more discerning eye on their legal partners. Perhaps most importantly, lawyers will also need to find ways to demonstrate how they can show value to the business beyond the numbers of hours they can bill for.

Do you think the age of the billable hour is coming to an end?

For more legal insight check out our website

Or to see some of our other insights take a look at our blog

Share This Post