Image of a person on a laptop

Digital conveyancing: Three reasons conveyancers are prioritising legal tech

The conveyancing market has made significant strides in both its adoption and attitudes towards legal technology since 2020 – and firms are increasingly operating a digital-first or even a digital-only approach for a good proportion of their cases.

More and more, they’re relying on legal tech to help them solve three key challenges:

  • Shifting client expectations
  • Talent attraction and retention
  • Profitability

The property market boom of the past few years, largely driven by the stamp duty holiday, brought tremendous opportunities for conveyancers. But as workloads increased, it became clear that they’d need to make their processes leaner so they could improve productivity, deliver impeccable client experiences and maximise their fees.

Even now, as the market stabilises, the three challenges highlighted above haven’t gone away. In fact, as I set out below, tackling them will be key to success.

Shifting client expectations

The proliferation of technology has led to a change in expectation from buyers and sellers of how they think conveyancers should interact with them. Most of us now use smartphones, tablets and other devices to consume, work and learn. So why should it be any different when completing a property transaction?

It’s not just consumer technology that’s changing expectations. The average cost of conveyancing fees is on the rise. According to research of 100 residential conveyancing firms in IFA Magazine, it was revealed that average fees for house purchases have increased from £1,092.89 to £1,184.21 (8.02%) since early 2022.

Although that rise is below inflation, any rise in costs, alongside the influx of consumer tech, only increases demand from clients for transactions to be completed as fast as possible. In a YouGov survey commissioned by the House Buyer Bureau, UK house buyers and sellers stated the time it takes to get to completion is their number one frustration with conveyancers. Some completions took as long as 150 days according to Rightmove – from data it tracked in 2022.

The YouGov survey also revealed that buyers and sellers felt conveyancers were slow themselves to get things done. From my conversations with conveyancers, I know in the past there was a worry that if they left elements of transactions down to technology, mistakes could be made, so they preferred to be thorough and get the job done themselves.

That attitude has changed, and with the time it takes to do most of a transaction manually, it won’t cut it for clients. Conveyancers are aware of this, with many turning to legal tech partners to help them improve client experiences and implement solutions like client portals, that streamline communication and the exchange of legal documents – creating a digital-first experience. For firms, it’s about speeding up points in the process to bring the overall time down.

At AVRillo, a conveyancing firm based in London and that serves the UK, it revealed earlier this year that on 80% of transactions without a chain, it can be ready to exchange contracts in as little as four-to-eight weeks because it takes advantage of a full range of innovations currently in the market.

This attitude is now far more common, and I think speed is a key differentiator for conveyancers. Clients may well be willing to pay a little more if they know it could shed weeks of their completion or help them avoid a fall-through, which is often down to a transaction taking too long.

Talent attraction and retention challenges

That client expectation also has a knock-on effect on the wellbeing of practitioners. The speed at which people can buy consumer products, due to the likes of Amazon, has made everyone raise their game. This has had a really big impact on the expectations of all services – heaping pressure on conveyancers.

“Feeling overworked and underpaid” is a phrase that has been heard a lot in conveyancing since the stamp duty holiday. Burnout and exhaustion have been normalised within the legal sector in the past, long hours often seen as expected – yet this is now an outdated outlook and one that practitioners aren’t willing to just accept as part of the job.

This topic has been highlighted even more because of the increase in property transactions due to the Stamp Duty Holiday. It landed conveyancers with a much larger workload – and for many of those firms with outdated processes and legal tech, they still haven’t caught up with the backlog. So, they are faced with a heavy workload and higher demands from clients.

A poll suggested that 77% of conveyancers are concerned that the job is becoming too complex on top of these challenges – with the Building Safety Act 2022 requirements, AML considerations and the onus to advise on climate change just some of those complexities mentioned. All while they try to simplify things to make transactions smoother and faster for clients. It’s exhausting even just thinking about all those spinning plates.

This pressure, if it continues, will only lead to a shrinking workforce. Many firms I talk to are now looking at how legal technology can make their practitioners’ lives easier. Practice and case management systems are used more widely by conveyancers to consolidate data, applications and workloads for practitioners – so information can be shared between parties much more easily and the process feels more transparent for clients too.

Adoption of cloud-based client portals, online quotation systems and biometric secured solutions, all form part of a digital-first or digital-only approach which can help to relieve some of the administrative and communication burden put on practitioners.

Boost profitability

Beyond a shift in client expectations and talent challenges, reducing costs to help boost profitability is a priority for most firms. With inflation still so high, rising wages – part of the challenge of retaining top talent – and high rates, bringing costs down isn’t easy.

One way firms tackle the challenge of profitability is through maximising the time of fee earners. Raising prices will bring added revenue, but allowing teams the freedom to get more from their time is the only way to improve profitability.

Case management and practice management solutions take away much of the admin associated with cases, and solutions like automated title software, helps practitioners verify details quickly, and firms assign the right level and experience of practitioner to a case, so it can be worked more efficiently. These are just some small, but really effective ways tech supports firms with their determination to speed up transactions.

Firms are also focused on investment in business tech to improve cash flow. Solutions that help ensure invoicing is more streamlined and payments are taken quicker, makes a big difference and quotation and referral systems, connecting agents and conveyancing partners, has a massive impact on the bottom line. Estate agents that use our LB Property Portal, have reported a 40% increase in conversion rates.

I think firms are much savvier than they were even just three years ago. They now know what types of solutions they need and where they want to speed up processes to overcome their core challenges and improve smaller ones that impact the day-to-day.

With the market now returning to pre-pandemic levels – research carried out by Legal Bricks shows, property-related searches, including “homes near me” and “new build homes near me”, are on the rise – firms are keen to make cases in 2023 more profitable for the business and more enjoyable for practitioners to work on.

By Mike Connelly, founder of Legal Bricks and commercial director at Access Legal.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 5,000 other practitioners – sign up to our free newsletter

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.