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The shape of things to come by Eddie Goldsmith

27th November 2012

I consider myself a reasonably well informed sort of fellow – fairly balanced and generally keeping up with what is going on in the conveyancing industry but I am finding it increasingly difficult to see how the sector is going to be in 12 months let alone 5 years time as everything seems to be moving at such a pace its hard to keep up.

I appreciate that is not very helpful so I thought since it’s the season of good cheer ( and drink !) I would polish my crystal balls (!)  and have a look into the future and share what I see  with you.

Now firstly it doesn’t take an experienced soothsayer to predict we are all in for a rocky time. The perfect storm of increased PI insurance premiums, the scrutiny of our regulators, lenders and their vanishing panels and the recession have all conspired to make this a particularly difficult time for us conveyancers. Added to this the relentless downward pressure on fees and the fact that there are simply too many conveyancers around still all makes depressing reading so my first prediction is that this trend will continue and many more firms who “dabble “ in conveyancing are likely to think – it is worth all this hassle for the odd conveyance we do ?

We are therefore likely to see a much smaller number of firms doing conveyancing over the next 12 months to 5 years. I would take an analogy from the mortgage broker market who have been through much the same outside factors as us and who have seen their numbers reduce by some 75% – from 30,000 down to around 8,000. Interestingly if you take the number of firms who conduct business at HMLR  (around 7000) and the number of firms with CQS (2000) it comes out at about the same figure. So here we go with my

1st Prediction – within 3-5years there will be less than 2000 firms who do conveyancing

Assuming that this recession does actually start to ease off at some point then this of course could mean an increase in work for those of us still around. That of course brings its own problems as no conveyancers still around are going to have anything more than 10% capacity at the very most. Conveyancing is not very sexy for the young aspiring law students and so we are going to have to face the fact that we are unlikely to be able to recruit from within – training up our  staff to become conveyancers ( it can be done – Goldsmith Williams have been qualifying their own staff as Licensed Conveyancers for a number of years ) Assuming you can grow your business to take advantage of others leaving the market leads me to the next prediction. We will be able to at least not be so defensive about our fees and it should be possible in a market where demand exceeds supply to increase fees and still win business.

2nd Prediction – Conveyancers in the next 3- 5 years will get busier and be able to increase their fees.

Of course it won’t be just us out there looking for work. And it hasn’t been just us for some time now (Licensed Conveyancers have been around for some 25 years or more) But besides LCs we are now of course competing with the new models under the Legal Services Act. Now I know that there has been little impact yet but I have no doubt that we will not be able to “ignore” them as we have done up to now. They will be able to provide a slick customer focused service with offerings and incentives that we will not be able to match. They won’t be able to take the market entirely of course but they will be looking to take some market share and therefore those around still will need to have a clear strategy how to deal with this threat. If you are small you will need to compete as niche retailers are doing against the supermarkets . If you are large you probably need to be larger and if you are mid size you are probably caught between a rock and a hard place (an uncomfortable place to be !). What you have to do is decide a strategy now and stick to it.

My 3rd and final Prediction is therefore that if you are a small conveyancer you will be open extended hours offering a boutique and personal service to your clients (at a realistic price.) If you are a large conveyancer you will be fighting for market share but you will have in your armoury a stable of offerings and services that will help you succeed and have the size and resources to win that extra market share- either on your own or under joint ventures.

So there you are- do let me know in 3- 5 years if I was right won’t you – that’s if you can find me of course !

Eddie Goldsmith is senior Partner at Goldsmith Williams, specialists in property work for over a quarter of a century and is currently Chairman of the Conveyancing Association, the Home of Conveyancing.

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