SLC Chairperson Valerie Holmes Reflects On Conveyancing Sector
Working in Property Law for over 30 years, Valerie Holmes has recently been announced as new Chairperson of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers. Despite the chaotic cacophony of regulatory changes taking place this month, Valerie has kindly taken the time to share her views on the past year and her predictions for 2019.
The conveyancing sector has faced skills shortages; started to consider implementing new technologies; bravely confronted cyber criminals by considering ways to prevent cyber attack and speculated over the potential impact Brexit will have on the sector. Here Valerie Holmes considers these issues and offers her thoughts on the future of conveyancing.
What impact do you think Brexit will have on the legal sector?
With Brexit only a few months away, we are in the same position as many other industries; we aren’t able to say with any certainty exactly how Brexit will impact on the property market. Brexit is having a negative effect on property prices and we have seen that people are holding off buying as they believe they may be able to buy a house for significantly less in a few months’ time. If people do need to find a property to live in, renting is more popular than buying at the moment. Unsurprisingly, with the uncertainty over Brexit, homeowners are taking the opportunity now to re-mortgage to try and create some sense of stability for themselves.
Why is the legal sector facing a skills shortage?
We’ve been heading towards a skills shortage in the legal sector for several years now (especially after people left the sector during the recession and haven’t returned) and it is on my agenda to work on attracting more young people to work in Law. Young people don’t perceive the legal sector to have the same status and respect that they did say 10/20 years ago.
Millennials tend to have multi careers and in Law you need to dedicate yourself to the profession 100% and commit to getting a training Contract.
Those that do foray into the industry quickly have a shock because it isn’t like the TV programme Suits. Couple that with the stress, hard work and low financial benefit, it isn’t surprising that we are facing a skills shortage. When my firm faced this problem, our strategy was to ‘Grow Our Own’. We attracted people who would get job satisfaction out of helping people move into their dream home and being there to guide clients through one of the most stressful, emotional and expensive purchases of their life. Long term, PropTech and FinTech will reduce workload through automation and AI leaving Lawyers to use their expertise that technology can’t.
How do you envision the cyber threat faced by law firms developing in 2019?
The Cyber threat that law firms are faced with will escalate in 2019 rather than be reduced. This will be due to a number of factors. There is still a complacency in firms that it won’t happen to them and not enough training is given to staff who need to constantly be on their guard. Law firms are attractive to criminals as they have high reserves of money so it is worth them improving their intelligence and sophistication as the rewards could be great.
How will technology develop in the legal sector in 2019?
Skills shortages, pressure to reduce fees and improvements in the conveyancing industry will mean the progression towards AI is happening. We’ve already seen the introduction of digital signatures and digital escrow Contracts. I was pleased to hear the plans HM Land Registry have to streamline registrations which will benefit buyers. The rise of PropTech and FinTech companies will introduce technology to enable Property Lawyers to spend their time doing more of the technical work utilising their expertise.
What will be the main implications and concerns with price and service transparency?
The price and service transparency regulation that come into force in December for all legal services which provide for consumers being able to generate a quote on a firm’s website will benefit consumers living in a 24/7 society where people expect to receive things instantly. Clients are now familiar with price comparison tools and to receiving a service outside normal working hours of 9am to 5pm. If a quote cannot be provided for clients visiting a website, which is usually after hours or the weekend, new business will be lost to those firms who has embraced and evolved in technology.
Will regulators struggle to enforce price and service transparency regulations? Why?
Regulators should not struggle to enforce price and service transparency regulations. It will form part of all regulatory compliance and Code of Conduct for lawyers, whether they are regulated by the CLC, SRA or Cilex. I imagine regulators will inspect the large firms first, but I think they will make a point to make sure that all firms are compliant.
What will be the most persistent issues regarding non-compliance of new regulations?
Despite firms being able to give them a more detailed and bespoke quote later, it will make Property Lawyers lives more difficult if we have an unexpected third party cost further down the line, as the client might believe that the initial quote they received would be final and may challenge paying for indemnity insurance for example. Smaller firms may feel that they have not had long enough to implement changes on their website and may plead ignorance if they perceive it to be of low importance, but they need to ensure they make these changes for compliance or take their website down. Persistent issues I believe will be that the quote calculators will generate only a general indication of costs and not a true reflection of final required additional costs or disbursements. This may in turn reflect on an influx of complaints by clients in relation to their final bill.
What should law firms be doing to ensure the health and well-being of their staff?
Moving house is one of the most stressful processes people go through and can be stressful for all parties involved. That’s why it’s important to have a plan to support the health and well-being of their staff. Managers should meet regularly and listen to concerns and issues staff have and work together to resolve them. Colleagues need to have other people to talk to share frustrations and this often leads to closely knit teams. Of course, encouraging downtime through meditation, yoga and Pilates is obvious, but allowing staff to take 5 minutes during the day and use an app like Headspace can have huge benefits. Many law firms are struggling to prevent work-based stress.
Why are many law firms struggling to help support staff with stress and anxiety, or prevent them from developing work-based stress?
There is increasing pressure to output more work with higher accuracy and in a quicker time frame and for lower fees. Stress goes with the territory of being a Property Lawyer, however, we can utilise technology to streamline work to try to meet increasing client expectations.
What will be the most pertinent issues in the legal sector throughout 2019?
There will be several pertinent issues the property law sector will face in 2019. Technology is one of the biggest challenges we face not only in the legal sector, but in society. Cyber crime will be an ongoing issue. We need to anticipate to be faced with issues we were unable to forecast due to Brexit. It will also be interesting to see what the Government Legislation to improve the home buying process brings; what the Leasehold reform will mean and company registration of overseas entities.
What will be your biggest challenges in the role of SLC Chairperson?
Having only just taken the role of Chair, my biggest challenge will be to facilitate organisations to work together to implement change and improvements rather than working in silos. I think my main three goals are to help implement changes to make the home buying process easier for consumers; to attract more people to work in the industry; and to try to support Property Lawyers through valuable and interesting information delivered to members of The Society of Licensed Conveyancers.