Roger is the Conveyancing Services Director at Connells Group, one of the largest providers of Estate Agency and related property services in the country. He is responsible for all the Conveyancing propositions offered throughout the Group and also has responsibility for a range of other legal services the group provides.
He has been at the firm for six years. Connells Group has just under 500 estate agents branches and their Home Conveyancing division handles around 30,000 completions a year.
Roger describes himself as “a poacher turned gamekeeper” having spent many years as a partner at Shoosmiths Solicitors prior to eight years as Legal Services Director at Countrywide and a year at Rightmove working on Home Information Packs.
When he’s not working Roger has a penchant for travelling to obscure places including a recent three week trip round all of the ‘stans. He’s currently deciding whether a tour of Chernobyl will be next on his holiday list.
So how is to have swapped sides?
“A lot less stressful! I have every sympathy with Conveyancers, I really appreciate how hard it is for them to do a very tough job. There’s never a dull moment, that’s one thing you can say about conveyancing, there’s never a dull moment. There’s always a lot of change to deal with.”
Do you think those previous roles have helped you in your current role?
“Enormously, I think the panel firms would say that I understand what their challenges and issues are and therefore that makes it much easier to work with them effectively because I fully understand what the problems are. Whether its branch issues, customer queries, issues with other lawyers etc. it’s much easier to sort them out. Some of our main competitors have now got previous Conveyancers’ operating as panel managers, which I think shows the value.”
Do you think there are things that can be done to improve the conveyancing process?
“I think it’s always going to be a case of evolution rather than revolution. We actually found with Connells that Home Information Packs improved the conveyancing process, but because it was a revolution and all highly political it all got canned. That’s a shame because it was helping the process.
“I think the only way we can improve the conveyancing process is by making changes here and there. As an example, At Connells we have been getting our lawyers to talk to other lawyers by email. There’s still quite a lot out there who don’t want to correspond via email, but from our experience by getting lawyers talking to each other via email on transactions, they are a lot more collaborative, and get things done. Such changes don’t have to be revolutionary but it can still have a positive impact.”
Tell us more about the TMSecure system you’ve recently implemented.
“We historically used quite a manual process for instructing our lawyers and never really wanted to have the initial cost of technology and ongoing software fees unless it was going to bring in real benefits to us.
“When we were working with Home Information Packs, we found that delivering packs electronically to all lawyers worked really well. We developed software that could take large amounts of information out of our estate agents software and deliver it to lawyers.
“The TMSecure platform is an extension of that, which will enable all documents to be delivered from our estate agency software to the lawyers alongside a collaborative desktop. What we’ve tried to do is build a platform that adds value to Connells but also adds value to the Conveyancers as well. We wanted something that aided collaboration.”
How well has it been received so far?
“We are still in process of rolling it out, but so far, so good. Our Conveyancers aren’t backwards in coming forwards with feedback and so far, we’ve had positive feedback in terms of ease of use and functionality. We’ve got a number of developments in the pipeline.”
From your side of things do you think there is anything Conveyancers can do to make the process easier?
“There can be a ‘ping pong’ approach sometimes when dealing with issues. Rather than picking up the phone to another lawyer to negotiate and resolve a problem, a formal letter goes out and then a formal letter comes back the other way. It takes a long time. It would be great to sort things out in a less formal way.
“Better co-operation between Estate Agents and Conveyancers is also critical — we have an excellent set up between our Burchell Edwards branches, their case progression team and Be Legal Property Lawyers that all really work well together, for the benefit of the customer.”
“I really get frustrated with lawyers who just dabble in conveyancing once in a while. I think one of the really positive things that’s happened in the last 18 months is that dabblers have been gradually pushed out of the market, because lenders just don’t want to deal with them anymore.”
Sep Rep is obviously a very big issue at the moment. What’s your view on that?
“I am not a fan of separate representation at all. I don’t think it’s in the customer’s best interests. I think in an ideal world we’d want all those who are serious about conveyancing and deal with it all the time to be on lenders panels, whether they are big or small, providing they pass the appropriate anti-fraud tests. I know there are many who want to make separate representation the norm but I can’t get my head round it. It seems to reek of protectionism for those who just dabble in conveyancing, without much added benefit to the lender. The HSBC experience has illustrated that.
“I think that those firms who dabble in conveyancing will continue to be cut from panels, as they should be, in my opinion. I think the vast majority of firms who deal with conveyancing day in day out do not need to worry.”
Do you think the conveyancing market will change over the next few years and become more influenced by players like the Co-op and Tesco?
“Those with significant financial muscle and access to customers have been able to tap into the Conveyancing market for over 15 years now, as Licensed Conveyancers, and indeed, I was one of the founding partners of Hambro Countrywide Conveyancing in 1997. Getting access to customers at the critical decisions points on house purchase is key in Conveyancing, and Tescos would struggle with that. In addition, I know from personal experience how challenging it is to build a significant conveyancing operation in house – it takes a lot of very hard work, so I’m not convinced that Tescos and the like will have a big impact.”