Traditionally, payment for conveyancing services has always focused on fixed fees, never having any roots in time recording. This has been the basis on which the noisy neighbours in the litigation department have billed for their time. This tradition has made it difficult for many of those involved in the financial management of conveyancing businesses, to monitor performance and plan for the future.
How, for example, do you calculate work in progress; how do you track transactions and know when the work in progress is likely to become cash; and how, more significantly, do you know whether your conveyancing work is actually producing a profit?
At MJP we decided to challenge this approach. We needed a new method of working and a performance-monitoring system that, at any time of the day, could give us a snapshot of the financial status of our conveyancing business. This would also tell us at any point in time, a breakdown of transactions, including:
- average time our case handlers spend on completing each type;
- hourly return on each type;
- average turnaround times per transaction.
In the past 24 months, we’ve introduced a different way of running conveyancing transactions – a system that I know from feedback received from staff that have long since left our shore, does not rest well with the traditionalists.
I am however not deterred, because I can sleep well at night knowing I’m managing a conveyancing practice which is not only efficient, but profitable. In fact, it is self-efficient and does not rely on financial support from our litigation partners, or indeed the bank.
I am also confident that, unlike most traditional conveyancing practices, I always have before me a full and complete picture of the company’s financial status, without having to rely on any input from an accounts manager or accountants.
So why can I express so much confidence, and what is so different from conventional conveyancing practices?
Custom built system
In May 2013, having designed and built a custom risk and case management system, we began to scan all incoming post and move from a paper-based system to electronic – one that would always be visible and accessible to the client. This, I accept, is not a unique step. However what made our move different was the decision to attach a time attribute to each piece of scanned post, allowing us to use the item of post to create a time-related work task. By doing this, and attaching a time to the task (e.g. preparing a report on a freehold title – 45 minutes) I have been able to track and analyse how long each transaction is taking to complete.
By breaking the conveyancing process up into legal and administrative tasks, I can ensure the right piece of work can be assigned to the correct level of case handler. Furthermore, I can track how much work each case handler has carried out, ensuring each case handler does not become too overwhelmed with work. I can also divert and re-route tasks when a case handler is absent.
In addition, the system allows me to know exactly how much work remains outstanding and more importantly, for how long. There’s no more walking into a room and having to assume all the post lying on the desk has been looked at and is being attended too.
The system also leads to greater transparency and a marked improvement in the time it takes to process a transaction. The reason for this is when the scanned piece of post is assigned, an email is sent to alert the client that a letter, search report or email has arrived and is ready for viewing.
Good communication is at the heart of any high level customer service. The system we operate recognises this, not only through the scanning and treatment of post, but through giving the client a quick and easy route to communicate with us. Our unique Property Logbook, through which post is accessed, is also used as an online portal for clients to upload documents and to communicate with us. Through tracking client access, we’ve seen around 95% of the 600 live transactions we run show regular and active client activity. Clients enjoy this ease of access and it’s led to a high level of repeat work.
In addition to the live management information received, we have been able to make a substantial reduction in our overheads by eliminating all secretarial support. Greater use of electronic communication has also helped us reduce our postal costs.
Other benefits which have come about very early on in the process include:
- increased profitability
- a reduction in complaints and compliance issues
- faster transaction times
- greater client satisfaction levels with our service
This new system has allowed us to expand from 10 to 200 completions each month, using just a handful of conveyancers and a team comprising mainly of fully supervised paralegals and trainees.
We continue to develop our IT case management system and recently introduced a new system that allows the representatives of those involved in a transaction to interact with us online, with additional enquiries for example. The sound financial grounding on which we are now able to operate has also given us a clear and well defined path to expand and, more significantly, to survive in a very competitive and changing market.
Getting to this point has not exposed us to huge financial expenditure – on the contrary. We have been able to achieve progress through careful restructuring, as well as a commitment to continuing to develop our in-house technology. I am not saying it’s been an easy road and we have had to make some tough decisions along the way. However, keeping the vision and not allowing sentiment to get in the way has proved essential and has led to the benefits outlined above.
This article was written and submitted by David Pett, solicitor and director at MJP Conveyancing Limited. For more information about the business, contact David at [email protected], call 01603 877004 or visit www.mjpconveyancing.com.