The future of conveyancing

Simon Law is Chairman of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC) and Head of Legal Practice at DC Law. He told Jane Common at Today’s Conveyancer how the Society is constantly seeking new ways to improve its members’ working lives – and challenging the Government on issues when need be…

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How long have you been chairman of the SLC Simon?

“I’m in my fourth year – I took over from John Clay when he stepped down in October 2012. I’ve worked in conveyancing my whole career, so that’s since 1999 when I joined Shoosmiths after leaving college. Since qualifying as a Licensed Conveyancer in 2002, I have worked in small, medium and large conveyancing firms before setting up my own practise – Secure Legal Solutions (now DC Law) – in 2010. I believe that this background and the experience I’m able to draw upon means I’m able to represent all the different types of conveyancers out there in my role at the SLC.”

What are the benefits of SLC membership for conveyancers?

“We provide strong representation for our members and are pushing for their interests all the time – so, for example, we work with the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) to ensure all our members can get on lenders’ panels. We offer assistance on a case by case basis to members who might have a particular issue with a lender and also launch broader campaigns. Take Metro Bank – conveyancers aren’t recognised on their panels and we’ve been campaigning to change that since last summer. Along with a number of other representative groups we’re making real progress and are looking to push forward with the next steps very soon.

“The SLC obviously focuses on CPD as well – one of the things we promise our members is that they can obtain all of their CPD points through membership of the SLC at no additional cost. So that’s through training and talks at our annual conference and our regional road shows – we’re visiting Cambridge, London, Cardiff and Manchester in April and May 2016. The road shows, which are now in their third year, will be focusing on the hot topic at the moment and that’s cybercrime. There will be talks from experts in the field and we’ll be showcasing products that can keep our members – and their clients – safe.

“Last year we introduced an alternative to the CLC Master Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy. This created much needed competition in the market place and allowed all CLC firms to obtain a quotation from Howdens (the brokers for the SLC policy). The effect of this was to reduce premiums to licensed conveyancer firms. Even firms that didn’t move to the master policy were able to benefit from lower premiums from the CLC provider.

“We also produce a series of information guides on topical issues which we send out with our three-monthly newsletters. Recently these guides have focused on boundary disputes and joint ownership – they are really informative and accessible for our members’ clients.

“So, really, whatever we can do for our members – we’ll do it. We’ve just taken over advertising jobs in the industry from the CLC and we offer discounted stationary too – at very good rates. Then there are our affiliation schemes with, for example, ETSOS and software firms like Red Brick Solutions – these can be especially useful for our smaller members.

“We take our lead from members on what action we should be pursuing – we encourage a good dialogue. I’m always at the end of the phone or email and Mike Ockenden in the Secretariat has a full-time role chatting to conveyancers, often informally, about issues and cases.”

Is SLC membership growing?

“Yes, year-on-year we’re growing. We had a large influx of new members last year when we introduced our alternative PI Insurance Scheme, provided by Howdens – it brought conveyancers’ premiums down significantly. And we’re always looking at additions to that scheme – a cybercrime clause, perhaps – to make it an even better offer.”

What is the SLC looking to achieve for its members in 2016, campaigning-wise?

“We’re focusing on enabling solicitors to switch their regulation to the CLC – we’ve been working on that for a while and are making real progress. The biggest barrier to firms switching previously was the requirement for run-off cover but the Solicitors Regulation Authority has now agreed that firms may switch regulators without that. So we’re now pushing forward on a timeline and asking the SRA to grant waivers to any firm that wants to apply to switch meantime.

“Another big issue is the Land Registry privatisation – we’ve had a number of meetings with government around that to express our members’ concerns. We’re on the Land Registry Advisory Council and we’re obviously awaiting the results of the consultation on the privatisation to be published.

“Longer-term, we feel very strongly that there’s tremendous potential for modernisation and scope for using new technology in the conveyancing industry – to really transform the way we undertake legal work in England and Wales – and the SLC can be at the forefront of that. We are proactive – we’re always seeking new ways to promote the profession.”

The conveyancing market appears buoyant at the moment? Any potential icebergs ahead?

“It appears buoyant – definitely – but how much of that is just a short-term distortion due to the changes in stamp duty on additional properties we’ll only know in the next two months. In terms of icebergs – well, one of the biggest concerns for conveyancers is the lack of available staff. That’s happened since the recession really – firms who had to lay people off then (which is a horrible thing to have to do) are wary of taking on too many new employees and history repeating itself. So the talent pool is fairly small. Of course new routes to qualification are being explored by the CLC – so welcoming paralegals to get new blood into the market, for example – but if the shortage remains that will, at some point, have an impact on the market.

“Another potential pitfall is the additional burden the changes to residential stamp duty will place on conveyancers – we are very dismayed that the reply to the consultation seemed to brush over the concerns our representative bodies had detailed. We’re pretty much being forced to be tax collectors for the Government and it’s creating extra work – more questions for the client. If stamp duty is meant to be self-assessed why are conveyancers being lumbered with the burden of all these questions? It doesn’t make sense. Also, since the autumn statement we’ve had to advise clients around the stamp duty changes with very little information from the Government.

“And there’s the Help to Buy: ISA scheme which we welcome – but, with the best will in the world, we don’t believe the government should be capping our fees on that.

“So there are a few issues we’re concerned about – maybe not icebergs, exactly, but things to be aware of certainly. At the SLC we’re constantly scrutinising all of these issues and flagging our concerns to Government. We have to fight for and protect our members.”

For more information about the SLC log on to www.conveyancers.org.uk

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