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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.

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Could A Return To Property Law Be Your Career Answer?

  • May 29, 2019

Yes, you did read the title right. Bear with me while I explain.

Like many of your peers, you invested several years of your life studying, securing a training contract and then specialising in property law.

Then, just as it seemed you could start building your PQE experience, we entered one of the worst economic recessions the country had seen in decades.

For you and, many other colleagues sadly, this meant redundancy.

What followed will have been different for each person. For many, it will have resulted in an element of ‘soul searching’ and asking questions such as:

  • What prompted me to choose a legal career in the first place?
  • Do I want to stay in the profession?
  • What are my options now?

…… and no doubt more questions than I can list here.

For others, it will have been a question of; So where are the opportunities now?

At the time, many conveyancing specialists retrained in areas that were growing at the time, such as commercial debt recovery, and consumer litigation.

Whatever choice you made as you continued to further your legal career, lets fast forward to today.

Perhaps you are now finding yourself thinking that your career isn’t quite where you expected it to be and the ‘Partnership’ you want hasn’t materialised.

Unfortunately, there are few signs you’ll ever secure the Partnership you want either, as you find yourself competing with colleagues who started their career in your current area of expertise and are four to eight years PQE; looking for that first Partner role too.

So what now? The logical choice may seem to be to move to a new firm within your current specialism where you can take the next step up the career ladder….

…….. Or is it?

Fact: There is a desperate shortage of Property lawyers. Clayton Legal’s own Regional Analysis Of Private Practice Latest Report shows an increase in Real Estate roles over the last few years. The data reveals that there are almost double the number of roles compared to the second most buoyant practice area, which is litigation and dispute resolution.

Fact: The lack of property law talent is a direct consequence of law firms failing to invest in training following the recession.

Fact: We have seen a boom in property development over recent years even though major land developers such as British Land and Land Securities Group await the outcome of Brexit.

Here’s a question for you?

Could your original first choice area of legal practice be where your future now lies?

What Are The Opportunities?

Property law is a buoyant area of practice, especially during periods of economic growth. While the economy makes its cyclic journey of rising and falling, the value of land, as an asset, has historically been high. Land and property are always being bought, leased, sold and developed.

With opportunities in both Residential and Commercial Property, you could choose to specialise in one or both. As you are fully aware, Commercial Property work involves private and public sector projects which consequently creates scope to provide legal services to a range of individuals from investors, and developers to government and public sector organisations.

How Easy Would It Be To Return To A Property Law Career And How do I go About It?

Let’s answer a few questions that might now be going on in your mind.

Yes, it would mean some update training. Central Law Training provides a range of programmes depending on which specific area of property law you decide to make a return to.

A common question the team at Clayton Legal are asked is, “But I only have three years PQE in property would it be a backward step in my Partner ambitions as I am now eight years PQE.”

It’s a valid question, and the reality is that no, it doesn’t have to. You have already acknowledged that your Partner ambitions are being hindered in your current area of practice, which potentially means so are some of your personal goals and aspirations.

This begs the question: Is it time to step forward and focus on the positives of a return to property law?

Here are some initial steps to take as you consider this potential change.

Step 1: Use Your Expertise

Identify your key strengths and transferable skills which you can convincingly demonstrate to a future employer. You have been operating in your current area of law successfully and will have acquired a wealth of skills that can sometimes be taken for granted. These are often skill areas that a new property law employer would value.

Step 2: Make A Decision

Decide which area of property law you wish to return to and specialise in. Now it’s time to start your research and have conversations with colleagues, friends and acquaintances currently working in a property practice. Attend some professional events and begin updating yourself.

The more informed you are, the more it will help you make a decision.

Step 3: Your Re training Needs?

Identify what training courses you would be required to attend to return to property law moreover, what’s available in the market?

Step 4: Tap Into Your Network

What contacts do you still have in the property sector? How can they help?

Whom do they know who may be recruiting, are they willing to make an introduction to have an exploratory conversation?

Revisit your LinkedIn connections and start re-establishing and nurturing relationships that have lapsed.

As I mentioned above, take the time to do your research so that if and when you decide to go ahead and make a return to your first choice in law that you have set yourself up for success.

Step 5: Talk With A Specialist Recruitment Company

Of course, you can search and apply direct for your new role; however, why not tap into the market knowledge and expertise of a specialist recruiter. They are there to answer questions and guide you
as you take a new direction in your career.

A specialist legal recruitment company such as Clayton Legal will have in-depth market insight into Regional opportunities and which roles and firms would be a fit and match for you.

Returning to a specialism isn’t as common as retraining for a new specialism, and it doesn’t mean that it can’t and doesn’t happen. We have clients who are asking weekly, “Do you know any property lawyers who would consider returning to the practice area?”

If you feel your career has stalled and are wondering what’s next, could a return to property law be a solution?

Call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s to have a conversation to explore what’s possible in more detail. With our help, your transition to a revitalised career can be smoother and quicker.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

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

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year download our latest guide here.

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