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High Street Conveyancing Firms: Whither or Wither? By Paul Hajek

2nd April 2012

The Conveyancing Landscape:

If you were to explore deep into the conveyancing jungle, you may come across an occasional pygmy tribe of conveyancing solicitors known as the “wherethehellarewe” tribe.

This tribe (which includes some sole practitioners and small conveyancing firms) can be seen running at pace, intermittently jumping out of the long grass and exclaiming “where the hell are we?”

Other larger conveyancing firms live in the open, and in significant numbers, but nevertheless are fearful of what might come rushing headlong out of the bush.

Darwin said “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”.

The conveyancing landscape is set to change again.

What can conveyancing firms do to ensure that it is they who survive and plan for the future and not wither?

ABS and the Big Brands

There are undoubtedly fewer conveyancing firms and fewer conveyancing firms doing more conveyancing.

The market is beginning to stir and big players are shifting.

Australian firm Slater & Gordon pounced a couple of weeks ago and devoured Russell Jones & Walker and vowed to enter the conveyancing market. Others are waiting eagerly in the ABS departure lounge.

And then there is HSBC which has thrown its considerable weight behind a restricted panel of 40 or so law firms – separate representation, but only for the many!

Differentiate or Die:

I have lost count of how many future of law conferences I have attended over the last few years. The overriding thrust of the conferences has been unequivocal: there appear three main options for law firms:

“CIRCLE THE WAGONS”; carry on as before, drive down costs and drive out inefficiencies and keep fingers crossed;

ABDICATE; simply give up conveyancing and concentrate on other areas of the law or

FIGHT BACK; truly set your conveyancing firm apart with great service and innovation or embrace ABSs and set up your own joint ventures.

A Solution for Small Conveyancing Firms:

The internet has been around for a while now, but conveyancing firms in particular have been slow to recognise its benefits.

The web changes pretty much everything it touches: conveyancing is no exception.

Patterns of shopping are changing and so are buying habits including how clients look for and evaluate legal services.

Potential clients can already judge for themselves the expertise of a law firm simply by the quality of the content available on its website.

Do not underestimate the ability of consumers to pre select a law firm without the need to have any interaction other than viewing a website.

The internet will be the battle ground where High Street conveyancing law firms can more easily differentiate and fight well above their weight: “Online will become the New High Street”

Be renowned for what you are bloody good at!

My law firm Clutton Cox has been able to grow its market share significantly by differentiating itself on the internet.

My website is the hub of all our marketing efforts, both on and offline.

My website is a dynamic tool to attract existing and potentially new clients by

  • CREATING remarkable content
  • OPTIMISING that content for search engines (SEO)
  • PROMOTING that content in social media, e-mail marketing and other channels

You can develop your own personal and law firm brand by blogging and writing articles and showing you personality through social media such as Twitter.

You can now more than ever before control your own message.

The Way Forward for Small Conveyancing Firms:

What small conveyancing firms need is a strategy to offer conveyancing services on line; at the very least making it easier to instruct on line.

My conveyancing practice has seen a huge increase in on line instructions for Conveyancing.

We now receive 42% of our Conveyancing leads directly from our website and clients can instruct us online with a minimum of fuss.

We are largely in control our own destiny are neither reliant upon the uncertainty of panels nor the pressure to pay referral fees.

Conclusion:

There are clearly no guarantees nor merely one winning strategy for conveyancing firms

Conveyancing firms of whatever size should be wary of conveyancing instructions from limited sources; panels can be cannibalised by other larger panels.

If experience from other fragmented markets is anything to go by, we are in for further consolidation.

The conveyancing market is likely to have a few big players at the top and small, nimble, client-focused and innovative firms at the bottom. Inevitably, I fear they will be a squeezed middle.

Whatever strategy your conveyancing firm adopts, without an internet presence it will be increasingly more difficulty to compete, survive and thrive.

At Clutton Cox our conveyancing future is most definitely more about whither than harbouring any thoughts about wither!

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