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 for you to submit your nominations.

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 Rakeebah Rahim, Lorraine Richardson, Steven Sutherland and Emma Vigus.

We’re delighted to have Rakeebah Rahim, the Managing Partner of Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP on the judging panel for The British Conveyancing Awards.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

My legal background was originally in criminal law and fraud. However, I’m now fully focused on law firm development and as we have grown our conveyancing department so much over recent years I’ve become more and more involved in the sector.

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

This is an area of law which is about interacting with people and helping them to achieve their objectives, more so than many other areas of the law. You need to be able to work under a fair degree of pressure, have a strong eye for detail and accuracy and an ability to make quick decisions and move cases along.

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

The conveyancing process is incredibly complex with so many stakeholders involved in every transaction, not all with the same interests. Ultimately having all of these parties pulling in the same direction is the objective. Probably by using more and better technology to bring all of the processes together is the answer, but that the human element is essential and is never going to be replaced.

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

I will be looking for real novelty, something we haven’t seen before. I’m all for technology but I also believe that delivering Legal Services is about the firm’s people really connecting with its clients and forming a relationship of trust which can be long-term. So I will be looking for people can stake a claim to that.

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

My long experience working in the law tells me that on an individual level we often have great feedback and appreciation from our clients. However, that’s not always recognised when people think about the legal profession as a whole. Anything which draws attention to the difficulties faced by practitioners in this sector and highlights achievement is to be applauded.

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

Property is incredibly important in the UK, for most people their main asset. The underlying law is complex and the number of things which conveyancers have to consider, approve and guard against expands every year. The expectation of the generation of first-time buyers now coming through is for instant service, usually delivered in an online way. The key challenge is being able to manage those expectations within a sustainable business model which can provide great service to clients and a fulfilling career for our people.

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

I’m glad to see the continued move away from paper towards digital processes. Mortgage lenders have generally been slow on this front but it has been good to see them embracing more electronic communication and processes driven in part by the pandemic. Also, the land registry is ploughing ahead with reforms for digital signatures which will help reduce some delays in the system. But none of this will replace the importance of skilled people doing a professional job however.

We’re delighted to have Lorraine Richardson, property solicitor and Managing Director of Adapt Law Limited on the panel.

I was in practice for many years doing conveyancing – I still do this on a locum basis but combine it with training conveyancers and offering CPD sessions and webinars as well as lots of interesting work for professional bodies, such as the Law Society and universities.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

The solicitor who trained me was an excellent conveyancing solicitor – he demonstrated to me from the get go the importance of empathy. We are not dealing with an asset – we are dealing with people’s homes – where they will live and bring up their families. As conveyancers we must remember the importance of that fact to our clients.

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

Try before you buy! If at all possible, try to get some conveyancing experience in a firm before you enrol on any courses. It is high pressure work and you will spend a lot of your working life on the telephone and dealing with stressed clients. This work is not for everyone.

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

That’s a huge question! There are too many issues to consider in one short answer. Improvements in the use of technology, digital identity, less reliance on legal firm’s indemnity insurance are all contenders.  But right now, I think that the biggest improvement for coal face conveyancers is for those at the top of conveyancing firms to support their staff and to make sure that their conveyancers get a holiday this year. People cannot work at the rate they have been until the end of the SDLT holiday in September without a break.

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

All nominated conveyancers will be working hard – that is a given. What I would like to see is someone who is trying to make a difference to their clients.  This has been an unprecedented and stressful year for everyone – the conveyancers who try to improve the journey for their clients should shine out.

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

Absolutely essential. Conveyancing is under appreciated. No two files or clients are the same. It is technical and at times, difficult work. Conveyancers are often the target for criticism, even from other conveyancers. Recognising achievement and showing support is essential.

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

I think they are the same issues as I have raised above – the biggest challenge right now is to get to the end of September.  The problem is that working in a time of such pressure does not allow firms to do any strategic thinking. They are just having to focus on getting through the current workload.

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

It is tempting to be lazy and just say ‘technology allowing us to work at home’.  But this is not real innovation – that is just using what was already there to enable us to work at home. I think the innovation is from those organisations who are helping law firms deal with AML and due diligence in a more robust, joined up way.  But innovation cannot be at the expense of the mental well-being of our conveyancers – just because they can produce a lot of work at home does not mean they should.  Anything which supports work life balance and help to promote interaction between colleagues is to be welcomed.

We’re delighted to have Steven Sutherland, Head of Training for the PM Group on this year’s judging panel.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

I’m a Solicitor and I cut my teeth in law being a Conveyancer. So whilst over the past 30 years I’ve delved into other areas. However Conveyancing with it’s fast pace and many facets always keeps me enthusiastic

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

You need to be Customer focussed. You also need to be a communicator and you need to be resilient.  Undertaking Conveyancing work is rewarding, but you need a lot of technical and people skills to excel.  It’s important too that we never lose sight of the of the trust and confidence Customers place in us.  We are more often than not literally helping people with their journey on life. We should never forget that privilege.

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

I think the Conveyancing sector has travelled a long way when it comes to improvements.  However, communication remains the big thing for me. Real collaboration between all the stakeholders in the conveyancing process to improve communication is vital. Usually we all share the same objective, so a concerted effort to establish how we can improve the communication for customers would be number 1 on my improvement wishlist.

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

I am always interested in innovation.  I want to see how during this turbulent time people have been able to trailblaze. That’s what’s really going to excite me.

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

It’s vital that we recognise success within the sector.  The sector has been a real stalwart during the pandemic.  It’s been a tough time, and there’s been a few storms weathered.  However, there’s been impressive achievements realised by individuals and firm that thoroughly deserve recognition.

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

It’s been a year of prominent challenges.  However in a post pandemic world I think one of the biggest challenges is developing that next generation of Conveyancers.  We want young people to actively want a career in Conveyancing and to give them a structured platform to develop their skills as a trusted advisor on property.  Therefore encouraging people into the sector and at the same time retaining knowledge and talent may actually be a challenge that is not always the first to be considered.

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

For me Home Working.  As it’s become more of a necessity we have had to be creative in how we engage with our people and  look after their welfare. Ensuring that home working  is an environments for people to develop and deliver their best work has been vital. It’s been great hearing different initiatives.

We’re delighted to have Emma Vigus, Managing Director of mio, and founder of the Women in Residential Property group on The British Conveyancing Awards judging panel.

What initially sparked your interest in the sector?

I spent ten years specialising in professional indemnity insurance and risk management for residential property professionals. I focused largely on the surveying sector but became increasingly involved in the conveyancing industry during the latter part of my time at Howden.

Risk is, in part, defined by the process that a professional has to adhere to so, to truly understand either surveying or conveyancing risk requires an in-depth understanding of the end to end home purchase process.  As my understanding of the ‘process’ developed, I, like many others, came to realise how poorly it served not just the home mover but also the professions involved in delivering the home moving process.  My interest has grown from there.

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

The same advice I’d give to anyone considering a career in any industry.  Is it right for you? Why is it right for you? Where do you want to be in five years and how will this role help you get there and, finally, remember that job satisfaction is not just defined by the role you do, it’s defined by the business you work for so make sure you pick the right firm with leaders you respect and a culture you identify with.

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

Differentiate the proposition based on quality of service and consumer outcomes rather than competing on price and speed.

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

Businesses that have gone above and beyond to deliver with clear evidence of what that means for their team, their clients and their community.

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

Very important.  Well structured awards which recognise an holistic approach to good business management, rather than just technical competency and where recognition is based on the merit of the entry rather than which firm has spent most on sponsorship can play an important role in shaping the future of an industry sector.

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

Evidencing value in an increasingly commoditised sector where much of the process, could in the future, be completed without human intervention.

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

Not enough!

Thank you to Rakeebah, Lorraine, Steven and Emma for their support for The British Conveyancing Awards 2021.

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