Why Today's Conveyancer Training is right for your business

Practical Vision, which owns Today’s Conveyancer, has teamed up with customer service expert Clare Yates — who is also Head of Training and Quality Assurance at Lifetime Legal — to offer taster training sessions in communication skills in December. Clare explains why the sessions are important for solicitors and estate agents alike — and why the person who will benefit most is the client.

What’s your background Clare?

"My primary experience, prior to being a trainer, was as an estate agent — residential property including re-sale, new homes and holiday cottages — which I did for over ten years. Then, I was approached by the Live Organisation, which is still going strong, but back in 1998, when I started, was trail blazing. It was offering a brand new concept, marketing conveyancing services through estate agents — so the agents referred their clients to us and we allocated solicitors, who worked on a ‘no sale no fee’ basis.

"I was appointed as their first account manager and when I joined we had just 100 branches of estate agents referring their business to us — a small affair then but we had big plans. And we realised them. By the time I left in late 2002 we were up to two and a half thousand estate agents and I was covering from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Penzance and from Ipswich to Fishguard. I was in my car, every day, all over the place, visiting branches and talking to people — it was fabulous. And that’s where my interest in training came from because I started producing training materials and holding training sessions for our agents — they were all telling me they needed help with promoting the service and we provided it.

"Then, in 2002, with three boys in their teens, I decided to set up my own training business — I thought it would give me a better work/life balance. My first customers were law firms who wanted to understand how to get on better with estate agents and therefore get more referrals and I set up the first — and I believe it’s still the only one — estate agency relationship management programme for law firms. And I won some big clients — law firms and estate agents around the UK.

"But, for various reasons, in 2011, I decided I’d like to be full-time employed again. And Rob Sendall, the founder of Live, wanted to get the old team back together to launch a new venture, Lifetime Legal. And I’m now Head of Training and Quality Assurance for Lifetime Legal, which is a very exciting company to work for. And I am still hands on at the training level as well, which is great."

What’s the aim of the Today’s Conveyancer training sessions in December?

"In short, I’m offering conveyancers training to improve customer service enabling them to create and build better relationships with estate agents and with clients. These are relationships that are essential in order to win business, retain clients and get recommended.

"Estate agents are very cautious about where their business goes — hardly surprising when they rely on solicitors to get paid — so they have to feel that a law firm understands the way they work and is sympathetic to their operation.

"And customer service is so important — I’m passionate about it. I know there are lots of instances when customers feel they haven’t had the best experience moving house and that’s frustrating — it shouldn’t be that way. So, by talking to as many law firms as possible through Today’s Conveyancer, I hope we can improve that."

Why do you think there is often friction between solicitors and agents?

"An estate agency is normally full of outgoing, sales-y staff who love the spontaneity of their industry — sometimes flying by the seat of their pants — and thrive on dealing with the public. On the other hand, a law firm may attract a very different set of people who prefer to do administrative, detailed tasks and take great pleasure in doing a thorough job well done. So there are some basic fundamental differences in style and personality there. And all of the virtues that agents have and all of the virtues solicitors have are necessary and worthwhile but the differences in mindset can sometimes cause friction instead of harmony.

"Some conveyancers see estate agents as a nuisance. They think the agent doesn’t understand what they’re doing and therefore get irritated by what they perceive as ignorance or thoughtlessness. But, when we do the ‘day in the life of an estate agent’ at our training courses, that attitude tends to change.

"At the same time, I’ve heard estate agents make completely unreasonable demands of solicitors. I was at an estate agency the other day and I sat with the staff and we went through their work case by case. And, in every one, the agents were blaming the solicitors for the delays. But, when we delved a bit deeper, in probably only 10% of the cases were the delays actually the lawyers’ fault. Often the problems were caused by the client; in some cases it was the agents themselves and in some just a set of circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But the agents’ automatic reaction was: ‘It must be the law firm’. That attitude needs to change.

"So we just need to work out how to harness and combine the different qualities of agents and solicitors, and to marry the different mindsets through better communication and understanding, to work more effectively."

What do you think is key to conveyancers building good relationships between solicitors and estate agents?

"It’s all about communication. For example, estate agents prefer the phone to email; solicitors prefer emails and letters to phone calls. So both sides need to understand each other. From an agent’s perspective a well-timed call can prevent a lot of aggravation but often conveyancers feel that every time an agent rings it’s preventing them working. If both sides understand the other’s point of view, through communication and cooperation, a middle ground can be reached. Agents and solicitors are united in what they want — a great experience for the customer and completion on a house sale — and, through a better appreciation of the way the other side works, they can be united in achieving it."

And how can solicitors improve their relationships with clients?

"A lot of law firms want to focus on creating a better customer service image — they know that clients will ring their agent if they can’t get hold of their solicitor or if they are confused by the house buying process. This is because estate agents are often viewed as more accessible and approachable than solicitors. Fee earners strive to project a better ‘bed-side manner’ in order to maintain control of the relationship and client confidence.

"So conveyancers are looking to understand the impact of their attitude on clients and ways to communicate more effectively."

What form do the taster sessions take?

"The training will involve group activities and discussions, enabling the attendees to take a 360 degree view of the customer journey. They’ll leave with practical suggestions on how to improve the client experience and to deal with difficult people.

"I like to keep the sessions interactive — otherwise you don’t know whether people are still listening or whether they’ve drifted off. They will be practical too and there’s some psychology in there. I’ll talk about my own experiences — I’m not frightened to take the mickey out of myself — so about some of the mistakes I’ve made and the misconceptions I had in my career as an agent. That levels everybody and means people can admit their own blunders.

"I also have a lot of good friends who are conveyancers who have shared some funny stories of things that have gone wrong from their perspective. And you can see people giggling because they know I’m talking about them as well."

Credit: The training sessions are being held at Ashfords LLP in Exeter on Wednesday December 3 2014 from 9.15am until 12.45 pm and at Shulmans LLP in Leeds on Wednesday December 10th from 9.15am until 12.45pm and from 1.15pm until 4.45pm. The sessions cost £75 per person. For more information and to book please contact Heather Cameron at [email protected]

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