Richard Garland of OneSearch on his first six months at the company, finding new ways of working for lawyers and pricing

Today’s Conveyancer recently spoke to OneSearch Direct’s Richard Garland on his time in the industry, how legal professionals can meet the challenges of accelerating change in technology whilst best serving their clients, and what OneSearch can do to help.

Richard has been working in the legal industry since 2014, having been a regional sales director for QualitySolicitors and Head of Business Development at Veyo. Prior to that he spent eight years setting up BUPA’s intermediary sales channel, and online estate agency MouseSale.co.uk.

He told Jane Common why in today’s market, conveyancers can’t compete on price to attract business. Good service is the new battleground and technology is the way to achieve it…

You joined OneSearch Direct six months ago Richard – how’s it all going?

“Very well – OneSearch has been through a lot of changes recently and is now privately owned by Souter Investments. There’s a whole new management team, led by Stefanie van den Haak, and it’s a very exciting time with immense opportunities to raise OneSearch’s profile. We’ve been around for over 20 years, and processed over three and a half million searches over that period, but we still need to compete with the 200-odd search providers out there now. It’s not enough to simply offer searches any longer because everybody does that – we have to be different.”

And how is OneSearch Direct different?

“Our technology sets us apart, for one. Last month, we introduced a brand new ordering platform; it’s almost like an iPad app with a touch screen so using it is extremely intuitive. Lawyers can type in the postcode of a property they want to do a search on and it will show what searches are required over and above the standard ones. Features like that really makes OneSearch stand out from the rest.

“I think there is a tendency for lawyers to underestimate how important the right technology is to their business in terms of service delivery. Everybody’s so concerned about competing on price but recent research has shown that only 10% of clients choose a conveyancer based on that. Half of all conveyancing clients say they’d choose a different firm next time they move, so something is wrong there. What’s really most important is service.

“The problem, as I see it, is that most conveyancing solicitors are too involved with the nitty gritty of the process to spend quality time with their clients. Customers often say: ‘My lawyer’s too busy to speak to me.’ And lawyers are busy – I understand that – but this can be addressed through harnessing clever technology. It shouldn’t be about getting involved in a race to the bottom to attract clients on price; instead, use technology to offer a bespoke service and charge more for it.”

How can technology assist in offering a more personal service though – surely emails and the Internet remove lawyers further from their clients than in the old days when it was all face-to-face meetings and telephone calls?

“Not necessarily – by using technology to speed up work flow there will be more time to spend with clients. Take, for example, local authority searches: there are official searches carried out by 350 or so local authorities across England and Wales, all with completely different ways of doing them and completely different pricing structures. Then there’s our personal search, which covers the whole of England and Wales for one fixed fee. So if a lawyer buys a personal search through us, it doesn’t matter where in the UK a property is – be it in Bradford or Bideford – the report will be in the exact same format. And that saves conveyancers time as the paperwork arrives and they’re immediately familiar with it; there’s no trying to work out what this bit or that means.

“It also reduces risk from a compliance point of view as our searches are backed by £10 million PI Cover, which protects against the unlikely event of errors and omissions by OneSearch, and – for the first time – safeguards solicitors against any mistakes that may originate from council and water company datasets. Those firms that rely on a manual checking process are exposing themselves to mistakes.

“Our personal searches are cheaper: £78 regardless of where in England and Wales the property is, whereas some Local Authority searches can be as much as £290. How can a lawyer justify charging a client £290 for an official search when there’s a fully compliant personal search available for a fraction of the price? The reason, generally, is because that’s what conveyancers have always done – dealt with local authorities. It’s the same as their attitude to technology. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In terms of wasting time and money, however, many of these processes are broke!”

Do you find that often solicitors are reticent in trying new ways of working?

“Absolutely. The problem with lawyers is that they are trained to look for reasons not to do something. That’s the very nature of their work – to protect their client. So when they have a contract they will scrutinise it, and then tell their clients the reasons to be cautious. It’s their job to be risk adverse.

“In my opinion, what solicitors have to understand is this: the market is changing. The Legal Services Act now means more and more people can sell legal services, so there’s much more competition out there. Alternative business structures will spring up all over the place and we’ll have high street banks getting involved too.

“Obviously on one level that’s a threat but on another it offers an opportunity for solicitors. They can rise to the challenge, reassess what they are doing, and work out how to do it better. If only 10% of customers are choosing a conveyancer on price, why worry about that? Instead, focus on the 50% who aren’t happy enough with service levels to use the same firm next time.

“My idea is this: if clients want to engage predominantly on-line, go for it. But if others want to spend time with their conveyancer and have a bespoke service, offer that as well. People will pay for it – plenty of consumers buy a Rolex watch instead of a Timex. Online users can be given a commoditised service and charged accordingly, and the people who want to see a qualified lawyer – a partner in the practise, say – can pay a premium for that. If law firms employ the right technology to engage on-line with some clients and speed up their processes, then their big hitters will have time to spend with clients rather than being bogged down ticking a load of boxes on forms.”

Do you think things are changing?

“They must change, because lawyers who are set in traditional ways won’t survive long-term. I appreciate that conveyancers in particular are busy at the moment, but there are problems. Demand for property is outstripping supply, and then there’s the issue of some of the big conveyancers – Countrywide and Your Move, for example – owning goodness knows how many estate agents. That’s enormously difficult for others to compete with, but it all comes down to a key decision: if you can’t compete on price, compete on service.”
And that’s where OneSearch Direct can help?

“Absolutely. We want to be more than just a search company so we’re helping advise lawyers on business development, for example, and adding new products to our portfolio all the time. It’s all about going that extra mile. Sometimes, because conveyancers are so busy, they don’t have time to come up with solutions; they’re constantly firefighting. We want to find those solutions for them to make their lives easier – and their clients happier. Perhaps then, lawyers will have customers who return to them move after move.”

For more information about OneSearch Direct log on to www.onesearchdirect.co.uk

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