The Challenges Facing Conveyancing Solicitors and How to Overcome Them:

Challenges Facing Conveyancing Solicitors: Within the housing market, the outlook was bright as we entered into the new decade with figures from January and February suggesting that annual house price growth was 1.6% and 1.2% respectively across the UK.

Following this promising confidence in property buyers, we have been hit with a new challenge as concerns grow around the Covid-19 pandemic. Unprecedented government measures have seen social distancing in force across the nation and as a result the sector is facing a number of unexpected challenges, with little time to respond.

What does this mean for conveyancing firms, their staff and their clients?

The Challenges Facing Conveyancing Solicitors and How to Overcome Them

Mike Leeman
Images by Gareth Jones

Mike Leeman, Managing Partner at Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors, said:

“With individuals across a multitude of sectors now working at home, many firms have closed their office doors and have set up remotely. It goes without saying that this has the potential to cause concern among clients – not only are they currently enduring all of the stresses that ordinarily come with moving house but they are now also uncertain as to whether or not their sale can be completed and even if their solicitor is available to help.

“With remote working also comes an added pressure for department leads, who are tasked with managing and motivating a team from afar, on top of their many other daily duties. Fortunately, within our firm, we’ve integrated the use of technology into our internal structure over the last four years, which means that our team is already well-versed in remote communication. If your firm still operates in more traditional means, now is the time to review working practices and implement changes as soon as you’re able in order to futureproof your business for the years to come. Our working practices are in place to support our team and make individual’s roles easier to manage, but it also provides opportunities for collaboration, team building and overall wellness support – all of which is more crucial now than ever before.

“For a more temporary solution, there are things that property solicitors can do to ensure a seamless, and more integrated approach to their workload. For us, weekly departmental meetings are now done twice daily, utilising tools such as Microsoft Teams, which allows screen sharing and face-to-face discussions to happen irrespective of location. It’s important for our colleagues to have as much interaction as possible, with video communication encouraged whenever a conversation is needed.

“As we expect a nationwide dip in conveyancing instructions due to this uncertain new climate, now could be the time to encourage professional development and provide your colleagues with the opportunity to learn new skills that will benefit them and help to progress business. Ensure that your team have access to on-demand training videos and other resources should they need them, whilst maintaining an open-door policy between colleagues and management.

“At the moment, there is clear government guidance advising that home moves into occupied properties should only take place where contracts have already been exchanged and it has been proven impossible for the parties involved to agree a deferral. For solicitors, this means we’re spending additional time negotiating and of course, managing client expectations. For some, the idea of delaying their move can be stressful but they should only proceed in the case that a deferral cannot be put in place. In home moves that are deemed critical, new emergency powers for the police force will be exempt.

“Moving into unoccupied properties can continue, but is subject to new guidelines. It’s vital for solicitors to keep abreast of the latest guidance issued by Public Health England and Public Health Wales, which is changing on a regular basis, in order to advise clients on how to execute their move safely and legally should they wish to go ahead.

“It’s important to try and avoid allegations, however unjustified, that might suggest that the conveyancing profession is encouraging its clients to carry out transactions against government advice so be as explicit and sympathetic as possible when presenting the option to defer. Following your advice, if the client instructs you in writing to continue to complete the contract then, if it’s legally possible to do so, you must comply. In this instance understanding the right guidance is essential, not only to protect your client but also to safeguard yourself and your firm.

“Throughout the entire process, delays are much more likely at this time and it’s crucial that clients are made aware as soon as possible. For instructions that have already begun, firms may be experiencing hiccups in the process that are completely out of their control. For instance, the other party’s solicitors may be closed for business altogether or lenders may have a reduced team available causing severe delays to what is already considered to be a lengthy process.

“With so much to manage, how can we remain accessible to our clients and keep them informed every step of the way?

“Last year, we introduced a mobile phone app and online case tracking system to help customers understand the processes and stages involved, using notifications by text and email as a case progresses so clients, estate agents and mortgage brokers are regularly updated. This has proved invaluable at this time and has meant that we can be there to reassure our clients as much as possible. With meetings no longer possible, alternative methods of keeping in touch with customers is essential and this could be as simple as a video call.

“Now that clients are unable to visit us in the office, we’re continuing to promote an alternative way of working. We have invested into state-of-the-art software which makes it as easy as possible to interact with us electronically, making the entire process as simple and efficient as it could be for everyone involved. We have invested significantly to equip us to deal with as much of the transaction online as possible, starting at the outset. With new technology, provided by Thirdfort, we are able to verify ID via facial recognition and we can obtain completed and signed instructions through InfoTrack’s ECOS. With cyber-crime a major concern among clients, and the view that firms operating from home as less secure, we use online portals to ensure seamless communication that is safe.

“In the longer term, we do expect that the effects of this pandemic will impact the property market, with estate agents closing their doors, and traditional house viewings restricted. The Financial Times has predicted a 60% decline in property sales over the next three months but with this in mind, now is the time for firms to review their offering, explore alternative ways of working that can benefit their firm in the longer term and provide the tools for staff to upskill, ready to return full force in the coming months.”

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Kindly shared by BLJ Solicitors