The boss of a former Home Information Pack business which came close to going under after HIPs were abolished, has told the astonishing story of his firm’s turnaround.
Peter Ambrose, of The Partnership, reinvented his proposition, as a conveyancing specialist taking referrals from estate agents.
He now employs 34 people at offices in Guildford, Surrey, where The Partnership is the biggest legal firm, and he will shortly be opening an office in London to service his growing client base of 120 agents.
Among them are Foxtons, Marsh & Parsons and Hamptons – although agents referring business come from right across the UK.
His staff of trained solicitors and conveyancers, helped by both their own personal assistants plus an admin team which deals with the initial inquiries, was yesterday handling 580 cases.
This time a year ago it was 240.
Ambrose said: “It was a very close thing when Home Information Packs were pulled in 2010, and it nearly finished us off. Put it this way, I never wish to see another insolvency practitioner again.
“The business had almost nothing else to fall back on – basically, just EPCs.
“However, this wasn’t enough and I knew I had to do something more, so applied for a conveyancing licence.”
Ambrose is not himself a solicitor. However, under the new Alternative Business Structure rules, introduced in 2011, non-lawyers can now run practices.
He believes that non-lawyers may be better at it, as they tend to be more proficient at running businesses.
It is noticeable visiting his offices that every member of staff can see an electronic display detailing moment by moment exactly what the workload is and what earnings are coming in.
It is a common enough sight in a salesroom, but surely almost unheard of in a law firm.
The Partnership made £660,000 in its first full year of trading and £1.52m in its second. It will easily surpass that this year.
It remains fully independent, does not work on panels – “We have been approached by a lot of panels and we always say no” – and does not white-label its services for estate agents. Nor does it pay referral fees to agents as standard.
Instead, it concentrates on getting the job done – and done quickly.
“Our fall-through rate is 15% which is far lower than the industry average,” says Ambrose.
“One reason is that we work on a no sale, no fee basis, and the chief reason for a sale falling through is that it is simply taking too long and there is pressure from the rest of the chain.
“Our average time from instruction to exchange is 7.5 weeks – fast by industry standards. Unfortunately, we have seen it go up to ten weeks since the Mortgage Market Review, but this is still quick in terms of what other firms are achieving.”
He acknowledges the “massive slowdown’ caused by the MMR, saying it can take six weeks just to get a valuation survey.
However, he is confident that times will improve and he says that new cases are coming in, defying the normal seasonal slowdown: on Tuesday alone this week, the firm received 20 new cases.
It is, by any standards, a remarkable and very positive turnaround story.