James Boyd predicts falling service levels this quarter

James Boyd, the ex-conveyancing CEO at Birchall Blackburn and who sits on a number of Boards within the housing sector, talks openly to Today’s Conveyancer about the solutions he believes are important for the market.

Given some of the recent mergers and acquisitions in the conveyancing market, Chris Harris of Today’s Conveyancer is seeking to discuss the conveyancing market with a number of specialists who have worked in varying capacities, in order to gain different perspectives.

To initiate this process, Chris has recently sat down with James Boyd, who has worked extensively with solicitors’ practices in the North West for over 20 years and has most recently headed the conveyancing team at Birchall Blackburn at a time when it went through considerable growth.

Talking about the current market James said: “When I look at the conveyancing market compared with other parts of the legal sector, consolidation has yet to properly occur and there are a number of key challenges facing conveyancing firms. The challenges are likely to cause clients distress and introducers concerns about falling conversion rates and quality of customer service.

“Firstly, and primarily, I believe most conveyancing firms have yet to adopt modern working practices around human resources (HR). At a time when the number of conveyancers in the market is lower than the demand for them, staff are being churned by recruitment consultants at a high cost to firms.

“Properly considered plans for staff engagement and retention are sadly lacking for many conveyancing firms as are also a lack of talent management and development such as clear policies to help staff develop and reach their potential. With recruitment consultants eager to exploit the shortage of conveyancers and many conveyancers feeling like an undervalued member of the team, staff will naturally move to other firms. Firms should be doing so much more to retain and improve their staff.

“Secondly, other than a few of the very largest conveyancing firms, most firms work in traditional business models. As a result, younger fee earners are now much less likely to want to buy out retiring partners, meaning succession planning or business disposal is a serious issue for many firms with aging managers.

“In addition, firms are now facing financial constraints where partners in other disciplines do not understand the required IT investment, causing partnership disputes. Where the partners do understand, in many cases traditional banks do not wish to fund investment in unfocused conveyancing firms. As pressure builds within partnerships many partners dislike the conflict and partners return to type and do not use professional and modern management methods.

“Finally many firms’ partners do not understand the conveyancing business model. Often an environment exists where partners are spending valuable time debating internal issues rather than competing in the market place for work. Effectively, many partners can become disengaged from the success of the firm and worry more about themselves and their own silos.”

Chris asked James what he felt the key solutions were that firms should be adopting.

James explained the aspects of their business that firms should be really focused on at the moment. From his perspective, these include HR issues such as staff retention; staff training; broader business organisational issues such as putting together more structured business plans; seeking to develop effective risk management plans; and also working on capacity planning and governance structures.

“Speaking as someone like you Chris who has worked with many legal and non-legal firms, I remain surprised how many conveyancers completely ignore areas of management that other sectors focus on.

“If it were me, I would be doing things such as using external businesses to interview the staff on an anonymous basis. This would be with an aim to get qualitative and quantative data as to how the business was perceived by its staff, putting into place competency frameworks and working to create career planning and development for talented staff. All too often I see promotions being given to the wrong staff for the wrong reasons.”

Chris asked James what he believes that the impact of these issues are on consumers and introducers. James explained: “As market activity picks up over the next couple of months, service levels will drop, financial viability will be a concern, risk management issues will arise and some firms may fragment.”

James Boyd is presently working with Chris Harris to assist firms in maximising their profit, using a comprehensive framework that they have developed from over 20 years’ experience within the legal sector, to assess the performance of conveyancing firms.

If you are interested in maximising the opportunity your conveyancing business can create or you would like to know more about the consultancy services James and Chris can offer, please contact James on 07712661954 or email [email protected] Alternatively, you may contact Chris at 07983485490 or email [email protected]

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