In the conveyancing world, the government’s Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday followed by the extension to it, has proven to be both a blessing and an affliction for conveyancers. On the one hand, it has provided a stimulus for growth. On the other hand, however, the significantly increased volume of transactions has created unprecedented pressure as they find ways to cope with the property boom.
Whilst SDLT has created a stimulus, it is without doubt that Covid has created a changed perception of home and work life, which is making individuals look again at their housing needs. As conveyancers look for solutions to their challenges, in the first instance, the question that they need to be asking themselves is, “what are the things that we should have already been doing” as opposed to “what should we be doing now to deal with these increased volumes.” Also, with these high levels of demand, the solution doesn’t lie exclusively in ramping up recruitment and skills, as many firms have tried to do. Bringing on new staff and getting them up to speed takes time. Firms need a gear system that will enable them to ramp up efficiently and profitably, even post the SDLT extension.
Optimising the use of current technology could be that gear system, and potentially presents the most practical and effective way forward.
Let’s look at some of the problems that conveyancers are facing today. A common issue conveyancers cite is ‘poor communication through the chain’, which often leads to delays, disgruntled clients and stressed employees. In this context, managing searches is a good example. Typically, searches cause hold-ups in the conveyancing process, particularly when local authorities come under pressure. Conveyancers then have to expend a fair amount of time and energy chasing searches. Firms can easily overcome this problem by integrating electronic search providers with their case management system. Foremost, with such integrations and the right case management system, the searches are automatically initiated by case stage. When the client funds are on account, the system creates, processes and monitors the search mechanically. Also, the notifications related to searches come directly into the system, to enable transaction handlers to have visibility of the most current status, but also identify the reasons for the lags, if any. All this, in itself takes away significant time out of case handling, allowing conveyancers to provide timely updates pre-empting roadblocks and ensure that the process is running smoothly across the chain.
Preparing the contract package and client documentation such as the ‘report on title’ is another obvious candidate that can benefit from technology. With clients preferring to consume information digitally anyway, the case management system can easily be configured to build out information packs for timely delivery and to allow for interaction with them via portals.
But perhaps where technology can offer the most benefit is if firms build best practice into their system. This will create that much needed scalable capacity, whilst removing business risk. It will also ensure that the firm’s unique way of working and brand value is embedded in the business environment. A firm could then easily bring in less skilled members of staff safely and securely, say for pre-completion work to ease pressure on staff, who will operate to the organisation’s best practice because there is system-based supervision.
This is where some conveyancers come unstuck. Often, firms limit their use of technology to features and functionalities that come out-of-the-box. Such options don’t necessarily provide the capability to build-in best practice that is unique to their own organisation. Incorporating a firm’s own business processes into the workflow can help build scalable capacity, as the technology will seamlessly impose the organisation’s process on new transactions and facilitate resource management. By incorporating key metrics – i.e. those that matter to the firm’s business, not the ones that come out-of-the-box – into the case management system, firm leaders can have full visibility of things like which case handlers are stressed (by the number of cases they are handling), which activities are causing the stress (by how long the task is taking), which of those labour-intensive processes can be outsourced (e.g. registration, on-boarding, searches), at what point in the transaction is the firm’s profitability impacted (by the time spent by employees), what improvements can address those pain points, which fee earners have spare capacity, and the list goes on.
The SDLT extension may have caused a stimulus in demand, but the conveyancing boom is likely to continue. With working from home having been a success, it has changed people’s views of how and where they work most effectively. The pandemic has given people the opportunity to rethink the way that they live and work, with many prioritising lifestyle as local, physical proximity to the office is no longer essential. People movement, as individuals act on their lifestyle choices and relocate, will continue to increase demand for conveyancing, even post the end of the SDLT extension period.
It’s worth noting that we are not seeing a rise in legal fees, despite the increased demand for conveyancing services. With digitisation of conveyancing processes and growing market demand, firms have no option but to optimally utilise technology to cater for easily scalable capacity – based on continuous improvement in business processes; communication, co-operation and reporting; quality standards; efficiency and profitability – across the transaction chain. To understand how Lexis® Visualfiles continues to lead the property software market and how the solution could transform your business get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org