Spotlight: Judging Panel for the British Conveyancing Awards

In a series of Supporter in Focus pieces, we are thrilled to introduce our Judges of The British Conveyancing Awards 2021.

Alongside headline sponsor, Lawyer Checker, we look forward to recognising individuals, teams and companies who have gone above and beyond to support buyers and sellers to move home during the most challenging year the conveyancing industry has perhaps ever seen.

Entries are still open, and the ‘early bird’ offer expires on 21st March, so if you haven’t registered your interest to enter, don’t delay, and secure the early bird price today.

The awards couldn’t take place without the hard task of judging and shortlisting the entries. It’s not a task many would take on, but we are extremely grateful to those that have. Over the next week we will find out a little more about our judging panel.

Today our spotlight is shining on Sue Carter, Paul Coombes and Suman Dally.

We’re delighted to have Sue Carter, who after 40 years working in the banking and professional services sector, now runs her own consultancy business offering advice to UK law firms, on the panel.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

I have to admit to originally wanting a career in the legal profession but got a job in banking instead and stayed there for 40 years!  I have always had an affinity with law firms and cemented this in 2008 by gaining an MBA in Legal Practice Management.  Over many years, I have developed a reputation for being a serious thinker about the legal profession and its future.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the conveyancing sector?

Its one practice area that can be very rewarding, in terms of making a difference to your clients.  Buying/selling a property is very emotive and whilst it can be described as being at the ‘commoditised’ end of the spectrum, the client often values the expertise in the handling of the transaction.

What improvements do you think could be made to the conveyancing sector?

Conveyancing has to become more efficient.  There has to be investment in the right technology, to enable services to be delivered to clients in a way that they want (which is moving to being entirely digital) and do all of this better than your competitors.

As a Judge of the awards, what will you be looking for to identify that winning entry?

Innovation!  I will also be looking for evidence of how individuals/teams/firms have adapted during the pandemic and how resilient they had to be.

How important do you think it is to recognise achievement in the sector?

I would say this year, more than ever, it is important to recognise achievement.  An entry to the awards can be a great motivator for the individual/team/firm.  Its not all about winning!

What are the most prominent challenges the industry is facing at the moment?

They have to embrace new technology.  Fees will continue to feel downward pressure (from clients) and therefore firms will have to drive efficiencies through implementation of innovative and effective IT strategies.

What innovations have you seen in the sector over the past 18 months?

Wider adoption of Cloud based services was welcomed and undoubtedly helped firms to make working from home possible and more efficient.  However, the legal profession still lags someway  behind other professional service firms, such as accountancy firms.

We’re delighted to have Paul Coombes, owner of Legal Marketing Works, a specialist marketing consultancy for law firms and vendors on our panel.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

It’s all I’ve ever done! I started working as Manager Marketing for a firm of solicitors in Cumbria in 2003 and I’ve never left the industry.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the conveyancing sector?

Spend time learning what makes the business tick. Don’t focus only your legal expertise, but develop an understanding of HR, Marketing, Finance and Risk Management. This will put you a step ahead of many people.

What improvements do you think could be made to the conveyancing sector?

As most people would say it’s speed, risk, transparency but I think too many businesses are going over old ground and trying to make it sound new using the ‘proptech’ mantra. There are businesses that are genuinely trying to make significant changes to the way we access property data and hopefully one or more of these will develop something that helps all parties.

As a Judge of the awards, what will you be looking for to identify that winning entry?

Honestly, passion and a large bribe.

How important do you think it is to recognise achievement in the sector?

It’s always important but perhaps even more so this year. I think all conveyancers and those in related sectors deserve a reward for their efforts over the last 12 months.

What are the most prominent challenges the industry is facing at the moment?

Recruitment is probably up there at present. All of my clients have found this a struggle, which in turn creates other pressures operational and indeed marketing wise.

What innovations have you seen in the sector over the past 18 months?

There are several good mobile conveyancing apps out there now, which I think add real value to a firm’s offering. Online desktop tracking using milestones just doesn’t cut it anymore, but the ability to send, receive, sign, communicate, perform AML checks from a mobile will become a must have rather than a nice to have I believe.

We’re delighted to have Suman Dally, a partner at Shoosmiths, heading up the Residential Conveyancing Department on the panel.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

For me it was the interaction with varied/diverse clients. I also liked the complexity of the transactions which exposes conveyancers to various areas of the law; requiring us to interpret the law for our consumer clients; and to deliver them their dream home.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the conveyancing sector?

Conveyancing involves a broad skill set. Being able to connect with people is a starting point and genuinely wanting to help clients achieve their desired outcome is key. Tag to that the ability to manage, prioritise and juggle competing demands with speed and accuracy. I would say that broad shoulders help, especially in this new world of immediacy and increased client demand, to deliver what is a highly risky and complex area of law. However, if you like change, then now is an exciting time to enter this challenging market where no two days are the same and there is a real focus to evolve and influence how to improve the legal process through technology.

What improvements do you think could be made to the conveyancing sector?

Everyone needs to play their part and take responsibility for their part in the home moving experience. Over the years it seems there has been a devolution of responsibility, and key stakeholders have passed the burden onto the already busy conveyancer, which is inevitably impacting on the timing of transactions. Simply looking at it from a grassroots level, we no longer receive valuations; clients rarely have surveys. The UK Finance handbook no longer reflects a ‘standard’ approach for most Lenders as there are so many Part 2 variables. There is a lot of duplication between estate agent, broker, lender and then lawyer, which frustrates clients and places blame on Conveyancers who are often the last to join that queue.  Conveyancers are required to do more and check more and report more so if those supplying the information could do so in a shorter, coordinated and standardised fashion, and everyone took on more responsibility for their part, it would help. I would also like to see more education around conveyancing and what is involved in buying a house. How did DFS get it right? If it is acceptable to wait 12 weeks for a sofa, why is it such an unacceptable time frame for the most expensive purchase of your life?

As a Judge of the awards, what will you be looking for to identify that winning entry?

For me, it will be about innovation and those in the industry who, amongst the crisis, have found new ways to cope and evolve. I will be looking to see who has seen this pandemic as an opportunity to tweak their working ways to better their service delivery and thrive.

How important do you think it is to recognise achievement in the sector?

Conveyancing is sometimes seen as the poor relation in the legal sector, but the reality is, it is a high-risk complex area of law. It is also the legal sector leading the way in technological advancement. It is a tough job and those involved in conveyancing work so hard. The past year has been relentless and everyone in this sector deserves recognition for supporting the UK property market.

What are the most prominent challenges the industry is facing at the moment?

Understanding consumer demands and changes in consumer behaviour. Clients want speed and greater control. Tech is an obvious solution. Investment and implementation of that tech however is challenging for many reasons. And there are some huge unresolved ‘legal’ issues around (such as cladding; estate rent charges; doubling ground rents) and some new ones coming (such as cryptocurrency).

What innovations have you seen in the sector over the past 18 months?

Digital signatures and acceptance of digital ID. Greater collaboration amongst Conveyancers to accommodate home working. Lots of investment by Proptech companies to create systems and APPS, reporting tools and integration with key stakeholders to help improve the home buying process for all, from which further change and improvement will come.

Thank you to Sue, Paul and Suman for their support for The British Conveyancing Awards 2021.

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