Judge Spotlight: Stephen Desmond

Judge Spotlight: Stephen Desmond

Judging awards ceremonies can often be a thankless task. But without the support of the people who spend hours toiling away reviewing the submissions, the awards simply would not happen.

On behalf of Today’s Conveyancer and Headline Sponsor Dye & Durham, we are incredibly grateful to all our judging panel who we are showcasing through this short series of articles in the run up to The British Conveyancing Awards 2022.

If the 2021 ceremony was about recognising all those in the industry who have helped people move home during the most challenging year the conveyancing industry has perhaps ever seen, the focus for the 2022 ceremony is on where the industry is going.

Against a backdrop of a flatter market, increasing on and offline fraud risks, PII, the balance of flexible working and continued digitisation practitioners face new and evolving challenges.

So how do we set about judging an industry which is now looking ahead to what 2022 and beyond brings? It was a question we put to Stephen Desmond as they prepare to assess the submissions.

First of all, tell us who you are and what you do.

My name is Stephen Desmond and I have been involved in conveyancing-related training for the past 17 years. During this time, I have presented at almost 2000 CPD events and had the privilege of meeting thousands of property lawyers. I am also a legal author and write on the subject of residential leases for Butterworths Property Law Service. Prior to this, I worked in private practice, conducting residential and commercial property transactions.

Why did you choose to support The British Conveyancing Awards (again) in 2022?

When I was first approached by David Opie, I was delighted to have been asked to participate in the awards. Having spent the past 17 years providing support in the form of training to property lawyers, I have always derived great satisfaction at seeing practitioners develop in their professional roles.

Moreover, in the past 12 months I have become much more active on LinkedIn after seeing how many conveyancers were struggling with lockdowns, the stamp duty holiday, and the like. As a result, I have become known as the Conveyancers’ Cheerleader, which is largely because I have actively supported residential conveyancers, publicly stood up for them, and unashamedly promoted the great work they do.

So in summary, I am very much looking forward, as a first-time judge, to learning more about conveyancers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing great service to their clients and in demonstrating high levels of competence.

Also, I fully support providing public recognition to conveyancers whose great work is often overlooked by other sections of the legal profession.

What do you think the biggest challenges and opportunities are for conveyancers in 2022 and beyond?

There is currently some uncertainty as to how the property market is going to develop in 2022, especially with the cost of living crisis looming.

One big question will be whether interest rates rise and, if so, by how much; and the effect that would have on mortgage availability and affordability.

That said, I expect that there will be more opportunities for conveyancers to work from home (whether some or all of the time).

The profession will also need to develop support structures that promote the mental and emotional welfare of their staff. I know many conveyancers who have expressed gratitude for the support they have had from their firms, and a few who felt as though they were isolated during the height of the pandemic. I also hope that, over time, there will be less stigma attached to practitioners calling out for help and support from others, when needed.

In your day to day role, what have you seen from law firms that has stood out for you in terms of innovation or adaptation in the “new normal”?

As I’m not really a “techie”, I’m answering this question from the perspective of conveyancing learning and professional development (which is my speciality).

Judging by the numbers who continue to attend my courses, I can safely say that conveyancers are still motivated to learn and develop professionally, despite the troubles of the past 12 months. However, they are also more willing to share their thoughts and concerns with other conveyancers online on forums such as LinkedIn. Indeed, the many connections I have made with conveyancers, especially over the previous 12 months, make me feel that I’m actually part of a supportive community.

Why do you think firms should enter the British Conveyancing Awards?

As a first-time judge, I am very much looking forward to the awards. An impressive number of firms were involved with the 2021 awards. I think the awards will provide another great opportunity to recognise the great work done by conveyancers, which will especially be appreciated given the preceding difficult 12 months. And recognition is a great way of motivating and inspiring not only the candidates, but also others in the profession. And, after attendance at my first awards ceremony, I will be able to elaborate on my answer.

Which of this years categories stand out for you and why?

There are several standout categories. Given how tough 2021 has been, I think it is great to see the Outstanding Employee Experience’ award, because 2021 has demonstrated how important it is for firms to actively and consistently look after the well-being of their staff. It will be great to see how firms have adapted their training over the past 12-months, especially because training is what my work is all about.

What are you looking for in the submissions and what differentiates a winning entry from the rest?

As a first time judge, I hope to be able to answer this question better once I know I have had chance to learn about the assessment criteria in the coming days.

Thank you to Stephen Desmond for their support for The British Conveyancing Awards 2022.

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