Working Better Together!

As we all know, the market has seen phenomenal activity over the last 18 months, with extreme ups and down, and not much in between.  So now, after the end to the race to meet the Stamp Duty holiday deadline, the vaccine programme and ‘Freedom Day’ moving us ever closer to a realistic normality, what have we learnt?  And more importantly, what could we do better as an industry?

One valuable lesson we have learnt, is that life is inherently uncertain and unpredictable, with plans and predictions thrown into disarray.  But, for many legal firms this has been beneficial and has forced them to make positive operational changes, and highlights the need for continued adjustments, to ensure we can ride out any turbulence to come.

But as a sector, what can we do better?  Not looking to preach to the converted, but these are my personal thoughts as to where we should look to improve.

It appears to me that there is an overarching need for everyone to work collaboratively.  All stakeholders – agents, solicitors, lenders, as well as clients – if we all work together, we can be more effective.  It should be that simple!

Working collaboratively relies on trust and communication.  We have a strong ethos around keeping clients updated and managing expectations.  If all involved keep the dialogue regular and relevant, then everyone knows ‘where they are’.  This will also go a long way towards reducing unnecessary chasing.  If you are proactive with managing communication and expectation, clients and agents should request less updates from you.

Another area where we could reduce time wasting, is raising unnecessary enquiries.  As solicitors we must be thorough and professional but sensible and pragmatic at the same time.   It’s our job to check the legal title, not ascertain what time the sun sets in the rear garden!  We’ve received some really silly  questions and this doesn’t help anyone.

Ensure you look after your physical and mental health and give yourself some credit, as credit is certainly due after the last year and a half!  Over working should not be a ‘badge of honour’. There’s a common misconception that what we do is ‘easy’, yet we are all things to all people – not only experts in land law, but a confidante, a counsellor and, in some cases, a psychic…oh, and all this needs to be done yesterday.  I hope that the coming year will see those working within the property industry to continue looking out for each other! #bekind

Price transparency has been splashed across the media of late, and lawyers have been lambasted for increasing their fees towards the end of the SDLT holiday.  But firms need to be robust, resolute and charge properly for the diligent, detailed and difficult work that they do.  Ultimately, if we don’t respect and acknowledge the work we do, and be fair to ourselves in our pricing, then how can we expect anyone else to?

Don’t take on more than you can handle. There is likely to be another surge of activity in September, so be sensible and manage workloads, to ensure that the last few months aren’t repeated.

One time saving tip (and best practice) is to advise sellers to obtain and prepare comprehensive information ‘up front’, as this goes a long way to reducing the number of enquiries raised and can shorten the process.   If you’re selling, prepare your contract pack and then review it, as you would on a purchase for errors and omissions before you send it off!

Legal Tech is a topic I’m not looking to discuss here, but I do believe that using tech where appropriate goes a long way to speeding up the process.

While emailing should be the default communication, if there is an issue to be discussed, don’t hide behind it.  Many a solution will come out of a quick phone or video call.  Pick the right method of communication for the issue you have to resolve.

Outside of the legal sector, I’d like to see local authorities speeding up their return times, as this has been frustrating for everyone and resulted in more time-wasting by way of chasing.  I’d also like to see mortgage brokers obtaining updates from agents or clients, rather than interrupting solicitors.

I’m not going to say too much about lenders – perhaps best summed up by saying that some are better than others! All I’ll say is why in the 21st Century are some lenders still sending documentation by post?

A good agent is worth his or her weight in gold – when cases are almost ready to exchange, I’d love to see agents taking the lead on agreeing a completion date for the chain.  A lot of time is spent going backwards and forwards debating dates – it’s not a legal issue and best facilitated by those who can speak to all parties directly – agents!

Not wanting to wax lyrical any longer, please feel free to offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments box below – we’re all in this together!


Melanie Carroll is a Partner and Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Solicitors

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