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All the latest from the e-conveyancing frontline

With the Land Registry reporting the number of homes sold in June this year was 80% down on the 2007 figures (down from 105,000 to 17,681) and HM Government considering some kind of suspension of stamp duty to help kick-start the market (actually, not a lot of use if you can't get a mortgage) how is the e-conveyancing software market faring?

According to Archie Courage of SDLT.co.uk, the market in an anomalous position for although conveyancing work is down, the volume of e-conveyancing work (or at least online SDLT submissions) is actually on the increase as more firms gear up for the abolition of bar-coded paper SDLT forms from 1st November. Courage's own data also suggests that not all law firms are being hit with uniform severity, with the firms that have a volume business or belong to panels suffering relatively modestly, while it is the independent High Street firms that are taking a more severe beating.

5 replies on “All the latest from the e-conveyancing frontline”

I can agree with this to a point but the only reason that panel firms are doing slightly better is that people are still remortgaging (when they can get a deal) and these types of firms have usually automated their systems and can handle more cases with fewer staff.
Even so the amount of money these firms have in their client accounts has reduced considerably and as interest earned on the money was largely the only way of making a living on minuscule referral fees I don't think they are having a ball.
In the High Street, where most re-mortgage work disappeared years ago, it is a very sorry tale with nearly every lawyer having to “let people go”.
As one lawyer said to me the other day : “It is very tough at the moment, anybody telling you otherwise is talking b£$%ocks!”

Archie Courage adds…
You are right in your comments here, I agree too.
Having looked at the firms who are not doing soooo badly in our Stamp Duty world, and because we know these firms personally we would generally conclude that these firms are the ones that firstly have and secondly use, their case management properly. They are firms who are already efficient and effective in terms of staff to matter ratio.
The high street firms are typically staff heavy, this climate might make them realise there has to be a better way in the future, it is to my mind a cultural change and welcoming of, that is needed for case management. Perhaps when this 'bad time' passes by our case management colleagues will see a new impetus and 'learned from experience reason why firms need to be using case management'. I feel case management is part of a firms survival
strategy if it wants to continue with property based fee income in the future.

The problem was that they (lawyers) were so busy making money they didn't think that there might be an end to it all.
I remember them all vowing to have less reliance on property work and to improve efficiency the last time this happened in the 90s. I won't hold my breath for a rush to case management when things improve although I agree they should.
To borrow a quote from a well known politician referring to the current Government and the Credit Crunch (should this have capitals now?)
“They should have fixed the roof while the sun shone”.

I agree with Archie on this one…
Of course it's a catch 22 about investing in case management. Apparently there is never a good time – always too busy or too skint…
To get a system (case management or any other) working properly takes the time of people who know the business in detail and in terms of process. But even if a firm cannot afford to pay for case software at the moment they can at least use currently under utilised staff to improve process and plan for leveraging improvement when things do pick up (or in some firms actually define process, rather than “that's the way we've always done it”).
I acknowledge that it is difficult for very small firms who struggle with cash flow to do so and have sympathy for them and their staff, but many of the larger firms are losing the opportunity to take advantage of the 'quiet time' and invest in efficiencies for the future. Let's face it, most of the mid-tier/larger firms can afford to do – the 'doom and gloom' is all relative and hardly going to be like the dot.com crash.
Of course then when things do turn around they will be too busy to engage in change…
In truth, if a firm has adequate resources then the investment cycle should ideally run counter to the economic one in order to leverage available time. However with a substantial number of Partners in any decent sized law firm looking forward to retirement or being newly promoted (and thus wanting to maximise short term returns) then it's always going to be a struggle to transform and improve, not helped by the conservative nature of the profession …
Perhaps the Legal Services Act will be the catalyst which takes away the short term blinkers of the Equity Partner model and a market driven by comparative league tables…
It's called 'investment', and it's about time as well as money.

I find it hard to believe that anyone involved in residential conveyancing not to be suffering at the moment. When recent reports suggest even the large factories making wholesale cuts (Shoesmiths for one example) As the Director of Redbrick Solutions who develop ConveyanceLink., E-conveyancing, case management systems or any systems to aid efficiency are all superb investments, but i would say that wouldn’t i??? However let me explain… Support staff are being cut back at a phenomenal rate in addition to quality conveyancers. So there has never been a better time to harness and maximise the resources available to a firm. This can only be done if you have systems in place that allow the fee earner to carry out all of the support functions themselves. Few systems offer this. However now is the time. We have been staggered by the reception we have had most recently regarding enquiries. The beginning of the year was very poor indeed, however, whilst transactions going through ConveyanceLink are at an all time low take up of the system is bordering an all time high. Trying to understand why this is we carried out some recent research amongst new users. The attraction is clearly the pay as you go model (pay as you convey™) as firms get all the benefit without the upfront cost and can pass the transaction cost onto the client. Firms are now facing heavy renewal fees for Case Management and with declining staff members and reducing profits it seems they are now looking for other options. I am in no doubt that the market will improve substantially over the next twelve months. What concerns me is the amount of High St Law firms that will be in a position to respond in a timely fashion. What will then happen is long delays due to short staffing putting the market right back to where it was before HIPs and the whole problem with completion and transaction times start all over again. So not just the strong will survive but those who can respond to a changing market both up and down. Its time High St Law firms stopped looking at case management and E-Conveyancing systems as a necessary evil and start to look at it as a positive business tool that will assist them in an ever changing market.

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