OPINION: Lawyers – not jack of all trades – master of one

A few years ago, in a moment of weakness, I allowed two marketing consultants into our offices who rocked up with their rimless glasses, purple portfolios and concrete opinions.

Peter Ambrose

The meeting started alright, but rapidly went downhill when we showed our new tagline; “Where Conveyancing Meets Technology”.

They gave each other a knowing ( or rather, know-it-all ) look and actually laughed at us.

Which was nice.

They explained in the patronising manner that they’d clearly learned at marketing college that, “people don’t know what conveyancing is and don’t want to know” and offered different combinations of the words “Moving”, “Solutions” “Simple” and “Transparent” as an alternative to describe what we do.

Which actually was a bit irritating.

Because it’s this type of misunderstanding that causes many of the issues in the house buying and selling process today.

What IS it that we do?

Conveyancing.

That’s it.  At least, that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Despite our yellow-socked marketing mates’ warnings, it doesn’t take a tediously long article to explain what that is – conveyancing is the legal process to transact property.

However, in reality, lawyers are now being held responsible for all aspects of the transaction and people are very confused where this responsibility starts and ends.

A client lodged a complaint with us three months after completion, because they had not received a second set of keys from the sellers.  They wanted us to get them back, as clearly they thought we were bailiffs.  If we were, our office dog would be called Bullseye, but she’s not.  She’s called Dolly Parton.

Another accused us of lacking the project management skills necessary to do our job.   Which is something quite a lot of people think we do.  Only we’re not project managers.  If we were, we’d all have MBAs and would be charging £1200 an hour.  And despite the pandemic, even we can’t charge that amount.

Finally, a very shouty man described us as “utterly incompetent” when we explained that we couldn’t offer tax advice on his second property because we were not tax advisors.  If we were, we’d be based in Bermuda.  But we’re not – our office is above the Futon Shop in Guildford.

Back to the good old days

Some will say that things were better in the olden times when the public were more respectful of lawyers.  In those days, when they walked into the local golf club they would be met with reverential bows, forelock tugging and the odd masonic handshake.

Sadly, like the rose-tinted views of lazy sunny days of our childhood, the reality is a little different. Those living in Bow in September 1940 would probably say that the “olden times” weren’t particularly fabulous.  Even in recent years, the sexism and discrimination that was commonplace in what some jokingly refer to as the “profession” made life particularly difficult for female lawyers.

Despite the many articles complaining how slow things are compared to those days, we cannot go back to the sexist snobbish ways of the past, and we definitely can’t stay as we are.  After all, there are only so many articles about what is wrong with conveyancing that can be written, and the anonymous trolls that feed off such material will, at some point, need to expire.

So what happens now

We must change how we think about the role of lawyers, because expectations are being missed more often than goals in an England game.

While the quality of legal expertise is on a downward slope – a recent interview revealed a lawyer who thought a defective lease was caused by complaining neighbours – this is a symptom not a cause.

The problem is that lawyers do not have enough time to do the lawyering because they are too busy doing other things. Typically things they are not very good at or just shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

Like being forced by their bosses to drum up business on the street; “don’t forget the high heels, short skirts and of course, the lipstick”.

Or where an agent told one of my lawyers to check the chain to see if everyone was ready to exchange; that time would definitely have been better spent writing a report.

Finally, if the broker had checked if his client’s lender accepted search insurance rather than asking us to do it, we could have reviewed another set of responses to our enquiries.

Conclusion

The harsh reality is that despite struggling to be all things to everyone, lawyers then have to deal with the fallout as clients pursue them through the Ombudsman and the courts for compensation for dirty carpets that should have been cleaned.

As varying demands increase on them to manage projects, explain about asbestos roofs and to find lost keys, it’s no wonder the house buying process is getting slower and more frustrating.

Despite what my rimless glassed-friends might say, we simply don’t have the time or expertise to offer “Simple and Transparent Moving Solutions”, despite our best intentions.

x

Email the story to a friend

More top news stories



45 Comments

  1. Rob Hailstone

    “Like being forced by their bosses to drum up business on the street; “don’t forget the high heels, short skirts and of course, the lipstick”.”
    And that is just the blokes:)
    On a more serious note; today could be one of the busiest and most difficult Fridays in home moving history and you/we (agents/conveyancers) are all in this together. In the words of the great Billy Ocean (and even greater John F. Kennedy), When the going gets tough…..

    Report
  2. Property Poke In The Eye

    B.I.G today.

    Happy Friday to all.

    Report
  3. AgencyInsider

    You think conveyancers are going to have a difficult Friday? It will be nothing compared to the difficult Friday Matt Hancock will be having when his wife opens the front door this morning…

    Report
  4. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    David Jabbari, CEO, Muve. I very much agree that  the ambit of the conveyancer’s role must be clearly defined, both for reasons of legal liability and the economic reality of what can be included within the still far too low fees. However I do agree with the marketing consultants in saying that clients do not know and do not want to know about the conveyancing process. For clients conveyancing is no more than an obstacle imposed on their plans to move home. Rather like bureaucracy,  for most people the best conveyancing is the one that is gone as soon as possible. We realised this sometime ago. Don’t try to make people excited about conveyancing, any more than Amazon try to get people excited about the mechanics of delivering a parcel – people could not care less. Focus instead on getting the parcel delivered ASAP!

    Report
    1. veteranconveyancer

      I find this challenge quite difficult given that Muve/Connect2Law whatever it is you like to be called these days are one of the firms that  do bottom out fees, offshore work and tarnish the industry.

      The Partnership, on the other hand, get the job done without doing any of the aforementioned… Curious as to your challenge when a quick click on your website has you using all the buzzwords you claim as not necessary. Curious indeed. I’d recommend staying in your lane as opposed to rubbernecking at those who are getting the deals over the line, in the right way, with the right expertise.

      Report
      1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

        I am surprised that you managed that on a keyboard –    surely a quill and a pot of ink would be more fitting? How is life in the Old Curiosity Shop?

        Report
        1. veteranconveyancer

          It speaks volumes when your only retort is about the way I’ve presented a response. That is unusual… 
          I think I’ll get back to doing what I do best and would urge you to perhaps reconsider the overseas lawyers, ridiculously low fees, appalling reputation and riddling hypocrisy etc. Perhaps worth more of your energy than wondering how I wrote a post, hey?

          Report
          1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

            If you mean, will Muve continue to grow rapidly at the expense of its ineffectual and outmoded competition, by having the best lawyers and the best technology, yes it will.

            Report
            1. htsnom79

              Are you Russell Quirk in disguise?

              Report
          2. jan - byers

            David is right – buyers are not interested in the process they just want it done – they see it as a clerical job

            Report
        2. jan - byers

          David is right – buyers are not interested in the process they just want it done – they see it as a clerical job

          Report
          1. Robert_May

             Buyers don’t mind ending up with a service charge that compound doubles every 5 years  or that HS2 is coming through the back garden?
             
            The nesting instinct is strong to get the job done,  the blame game is stronger and more expensive

            Report
  5. #ImpressiveConveyancing

    Spot on Peter.

     

    Report
    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Thank you!
      I think it was the issue last week with a dripping tap and wanting to go to the Ombudsman that sent me over the edge 🙂
      Hope the rest of today ( and next week!) is not too tricky for you and your team. 

      Report
  6. veteranconveyancer

    Spot on as always Peter.

    Report
    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Thank you!

      The objective of the article was mainly to bring a smile to people on such a tricky day.

      And naturally get a plug for Dolly Parton – had to work the entire article around getting her a mention!

      Oh – and just to reassure readers, VeteranConveyancer has not been paid any money by The Partnership for their contribution.  🙂

      Report
      1. veteranconveyancer

        Haha yes. For clarity, no I do not work with Peter nor have I been asked to leave such comments. I do however work for a great magic circle firm who sees value in other great firms!

        Report
        1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

          Hmmm.  As a former magic circle lawyer myself at one of the top 4 international law firms, I am not so sure. Magic circle firms do not do residential conveyancing. Also, you seem to know far too much about the conveyancing sector for someone who works in that world. I imagine that’s why you are not keen to reveal your identity. 

          Report
          1. veteranconveyancer

            Goodness me David you do have a lot of time on your hands! I have experienced in residential by the bucket load but now deal in commercial matters for the most part. As you would well know of COURSE firms such as mine deal in matters such as these.

            I conceal my identity as I have repeatedly shared now, because these are my views. Not my firms. It would be improper to share them without the right consent. As you’re steering your own ship (into what waters I do not know) this isn’t a consideration you need have.

            If only you spent the time you do whining on the internet that most folks disagree with you, perhaps consider doing your own work better.

            There’s a lot to be done and being ignorant to the facts sets only to leave you behind.

            Report
  7. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    David Jabbari, Solicitor, CEO, Muve. Peter’s comments are always thought provoking and inject fun into the debate. What I really like is that Peter – because he is not a lawyer or a solicitor but has an IT background – brings a different perspective to the debates.

    Report
    1. veteranconveyancer

      See this now just reads as rather bitter. The Partnership is also managed by a solicitor of multiple years experience. I am not sure what you gain by trying to belittle Peters input because of the background he comes from. I know who I enjoy working opposite and it’s safe to say it certainly isn’t Muve… 

      Report
      1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

        You also lack the courage to identify your firm. There is no issue at all with Peter Ambrose not being a lawyer or a solicitor: as I say that brings a different perspective and makes The Partnership different to other firms where the CEO is a senior lawyer.  Nothing wrong with that.

        Report
        1. veteranconveyancer

          My firm is irrelevant, these views are my own. Unlike you, I’m wary of people having a poor perception based on my own take. You, however, are fearless. Goodness David it’s a very busy day today haven’t you anything better to do? Perks of having laypeople abroad do the leg work, I suppose. I won’t reply any further I’m simply too busy. Enjoy your rapid expansion (turnover), race to the bottom and whatever else interests you. Peter, fab article. Leading from the front as always.

          Report
          1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

            Very easy to snipe from the sidelines when you don’t have to identify yourself. We by contrast have nothing to hide. This is probably why Muve won Best Direct to Consumer Conveyancing firm at the British Conveyancing Awards last month. Ours is a well run firm with great lawyers and managers: we will not be running around in a state of panic today or any day.

            Report
  8. Rob Hailstone

    All rather unedifying:(
    Most people have some idea of how a parcel is delivered,i.e.  planes, trains and automobiles etc. But very little idea of how one gets to completion. If they did, some might be a bit more considerate at times.

    Report
  9. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    You also lack the courage to identify your firm. There is no issue at all with Peter Ambrose not being a lawyer or a solicitor: as I say that brings a different perspective and makes The Partnership different to other firms where the CEO is a senior lawyer.  Nothing wrong with that.

    Report
  10. Alan Murray

    The Law Society are in a strong position here if they act wisely. What the last year has given them is something money cannot buy, top class market research which has shown all the areas in which conveyancing works, what could be changed to assist lawyers in providing a better service, by taking away some of those stages that really conveyancers should not be asked to become involved with, and what needs to be changed immediately.

    Will they take advantage of all that information in front of them? I think we all doubt it, but to ignore the findings of the last year and not do all that is necessary to improve their lot, would be to insult all the hard work done by conveyancers over that time.

    It is a discussion for another time, and it is to be hoped that from July onwards all experienced conveyancers can have sensible debate about where we can go from here, and need to go.  Certainly rather more sensible and professional than a lot of what has been said over the last year.

    I for one have plenty of ideas and possible solutions. But  as a starter, conveyancing is a profession, NOT an industry. I  do not want to see it referred to as such again. Anyone doing so immediately betrays their lack of professionalism.

    Report
  11. Yatesy5486

    I am so disappointed to see professionals publicly attacking each other at a time when the property industry needs to pull together. Peter Ambrose and other contributors often share invaluable insight into the world of the property lawyer and it is a shame that these posts get hijacked by conversations that tarnish reputations and damage trust. My heart goes out to everyone who has worked tirelessly for months and months to meet the SDLT Holiday deadlines and I think you should all be congratulated for not throwing the towel in before now. We need to attract good people into the conveyancing business and so the image of the profession and the behaviour of leading figures has never been more important.

    Report
    1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

      Thank you for your support.
      You are absolutely right – these times have been incredibly difficult, and it’s a testament to the vast majority of people for sticking with it. 
      That said – I do believe that we’ve got a bit of a mountain to climb after this period; the statistics of experienced people saying “enough is enough” is, I believe, going to cause major problems in the near future.

      Report
    2. veteranconveyancer

      You’re absolutely right. I couldn’t agree more. However in these times firms that are unable to practise what they preach and are hell bent on damaging others by belittling SHOULD be called out. Particularly when they are interested in dragging others down…

      Still we have lots to accomplish!

      Report
  12. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    It would be quite easy to give in to these platitudes about pulling together but the fact remains that conveyancers spend far too much time moaning about their lot and navel gazing in public fora such as this. If only people understood how complex it is, etc, etc. Contrary to what is said above, we are now first and foremost a retail service provider to our clients, which are members of the public and parties such as estate agents. The emphasis should be on providing excellent, fast, service without all the whinging. The law in all its forms is a great profession and a great business to be in. We should be thankful that post-Pandemic we have been exceptionally busy rather than unemployed, like those in hospitality.

    Report
    1. Robert_May

      A while back there was a considerable group-think opinion that estate agency   could be optimised as a retail industry rather an service industry, That  group-think yah, yah, yahing failed.

       

      I have a lot of time and respect for  the conveyancing profession so I am curious how the duty of care and skill required of a conveyancer  could ever make the leap to being a retail service.

       

      Conveyancers are paid to transfer title from or to their client which naturally implies a greater duty of care and skill is required  from the purchasers conveyancer. How can that ever be a stack it, high sell it cheap  retail service other than there being a seat of the pants confidence that there’s very little outside anything new  that comes to light in the latest searches that could  give rise to a negligence claim?

       

       

      Report
  13. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    Why does retail mean pile high and sell cheap?  Retail means the importance of the consumer perspective.

    What has happened with conveyancing – rightly or wrongly – is that it has become unbundled from traditional law firm delivery, such that the largest conveyancing providers provide no other legal services (such as tax, family law etc).  So a firm like The Partnership for example only does conveyancing: if there is litigation about conveyancing, or a complex tax law issue, they cannot help you with that.

    The reason for this development is that the consumer treats conveyancing as a discrete retail service which they are happy to buy: they do not view it as a traditional legal service any more. They do not care if the provider is a proper, full service law firm. That is a simple fact.

    So now we turn to the point about the implication of that. The above point about transfer of title or the duty of skill and care is irrelevant. The point here is that being involved in a retail service, such as conveyancing, or banking, or mortgage lending, or optician services, does not mean that you cannot put fidelity to the law and regulatory considerations (such as conflict of interest) ahead of simple commercial gain. This is simplistic. The business we are in also requires adherence to regulatory and legal standards but so what?

    So this has nothing to do with ‘piling high and selling cheap’. This has to do with providing very high levels of service within the context of a regulated environment, in which it is perfectly logical to assert that the customer is king while needing also to respect the law of negligence and regulatory prohibitions.  If that can be done at scale in other sectors why not in law.

    Report
    1. Robert_May

      Retail is selling the same product over and over again as many units as possible,  service is providing a tailored product to every client.
      It was your  word, you chose it and to me you were describing a bargain bucket offering where your profits  were derived from the corners you’re cutting, the edges you’re shaving.
       
      If you are using  a word that consumers perceive differently to  you, and it puts them off that is for you to think about and not  for me to worry about.
       
      retail banking isn’t a service, mortgage lending isn’t a service, insurance isn’t service. they are identikit products sold according to set compooter says yes/no criteria. By  using them as an example of retail services you are reigniting  discussions that have been debated  strongly since 2013

      Report
      1. veteranconveyancer

        Spot on. Nice to see someone in these threads who has a clue, for a change!

        Report
        1. htsnom79

          Genuine question which is trading model neutral, how many cases would you suggest a single conveyancer can handle at any given time?

          Report
        2. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

          You are confusing so many concepts it is difficult to know where to start.  Clearly the above examples are services and would be treated as such by the law. So a ‘service’ is contrasted  to a ‘good’ or a ‘product’, and ‘retail’ is opposed to ‘commercial’. 
          We do not provide goods: we provide services, and since we provide them to members of the public rather than other businesses, these are retail services. 
          On top of imprecision, you pile basic logical errors, seeking to import terms, like ‘bargain bucket’ and ‘computer says no’ which have not been established in your premises.  Basically the last resort of the person whose argument cannot work on logical grounds.
          So if you represent the high end of the legal profession, and me the low end, I think we should let people draw their own conclusions.

          Report
          1. Robert_May

            A mortgage is a product, an insurance policy is a product  both  can be flogged by AI tech. Binary-Yes binary- No Compooter says no, might  be mocking but it’s spot on

            Conveying a title with consideration of factors relevant to  each individual  buyer is a service. I’m the consumer and will decide if I want  a conveyance product or a conveyance service.

            Criticising my logic- the consumer’s logic, the client’s logic is great  but you are failing to put up anything that convinces me that your retail service is better  than Kranky Keith the conveyancer who’ll wander over the civic centre in his lunchtime to get the  LA searches done and exchange by the end of the week

            Report
            1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

              Extremely muddled thinking. Distinguish products/ services, retail/commercial, and and commoditised/bespoke. Conveyancing is a retail service with a combination of commoditised and bespoke elements. I hope your review of title is a bit more logical.

              Report
              1. Robert_May

                It’s bound to irk you but conveyancing,  like agency sales, lettings and management is a  duty of care and skill service where the principal is paying to be protected and looked after.

                 

                Dilute the service element and you open the service up to people who can do the tech bit better and cheaper than you or believe they can do it better and cheaper than you.

                 

                 

                Report
  14. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    You are confusing so many concepts it is difficult to know where to start.  Clearly the above examples are services and would be treated as such by the law. So a ‘service’ is contrasted  to a ‘good’ or a ‘product’, and ‘retail’ is opposed to ‘commercial’.

    We do not provide goods: we provide services, and since we provide them to members of the public rather than other businesses, these are retail services.  Good or services, whether retail or commercial, can be supplied at scale (commodity) or on a bespoke (expertise) basis.

    On top of imprecision, you pile basic logical errors, seeking to import terms, like ‘bargain bucket’ and ‘computer says no’ which have not been established in your premises.  Basically the last resort of the person whose argument cannot work on logical grounds.

    So if you represent the high end of the legal profession, and me the low end, I think we should let people draw their own conclusions.

    Report
    1. veteranconveyancer

      It very much looks as though they already have, David. I wouldn’t worry an awful lot about people viewing you as ignorant, deluded or out of touch, that’s come through effortlessly! 

      Report
      1. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

        Good tactic not to engage with me on the substance of the arguments. As they say, a good horse runs even at the sight of the whip!

        Report
  15. David Jabbari Solicitor CEO Muve

    Extremely muddled thinking. Distinguish products/ services, retail/commercial, and and commoditised/bespoke. Conveyancing is a retail service with a combination of commoditised and bespoke elements. I hope your review of title is a bit more logical.

    Report
  16. Tom Scarborough

    Thank you Peter for this.  I would love to manage all the non-law parts of your property transactions for clients wherever they may be to ensure your firms can get on with legal work and customers get a consistently coordainted high touch service wherever their property is in the UK.

    Report
X

You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.