I went on a course last year called the PSC, for people aiming to qualify as solicitors. My own background is that as a Legal Executive I decided to go further and complete additional examinations as well as the Law Society’s requirements and hope to enrol as a solicitor having now jumped through all the necessary hoops. It is a less usual (although more and more popular way) of becoming a solicitor; many Legal Executives do not feel the need to do further qualifications. As an instinctive student I quite enjoyed the additional learning. Working in a legal practice means I am governed by the SRA (Solicitors’ Regulation Authority) Rules in any case so we are all in the same boat professionally.
So, I was on this course, and because it was run by a large City-style provider in London, I was blessed with the company of many young trainees working in-house at US banks and in commercial departments at magic circle firms. Our first seminar was on the changing landscape in legal services and instantly one lovely young lady proclaimed “Oh I wouldn’t mind Tescos doing legal services for something easy, like conveyancing”. Having spent the last ten years of my life mainly focussed on this area in my professional career and knowing exactly how challenging it can be, I simply referred her to the data on negligence claims and dabblers in property matters (who presumably take the same unenlightened view that it is “easy” law).
The general public are led to believe by various internet firms and home moving sites that conveyancing is a simple paper exercise which anyone could carry out, but as conveyancing lawyers do it every day and everyone uses one, you may as well do that. This is so far from the truth. Whilst the work is transactional, there are any number of pitfalls associated with this including the obvious (making sure your client is not committed to buying a new house without having sold the old one) and the less obvious, like ensuring the plans provided by the Land Registry do in fact reflect the whole of the land you are buying.
The law around this is not just land law (think rights of way, payments to local churches, covenants against building on certain land) but contract law (how else would you buy something so important if there was not a contract) and the law of trusts, because all property is held on a trust of land. The concepts of co-ownership and beneficial entitlement to property exercise all residential property lawyers in their daily grind (imagine a row over who put more deposit in later — did your conveyancer give you the correct advice on this?), as do having an understanding of what happens following death and divorce — as of course these circumstances are often the trigger for a house or piece of land being sold. There is the further complication of landlord and tenant law — if you buy an investment property with a sitting tenant do you know if you could get him or her out of the property? Not all tenancies are the same. What about the field next door? Who owns the stream and is that a public footpath across the bottom of the garden or just a friendly neighbour walking his dog?
You see my point. None of this is simple. I haven’t even mentioned listed buildings, conservation areas and planning problems yet. And our profession is being denigrated by those who think that as long as the person dealing with the file has a checklist in front of them, it will all be fine. There is so much intelligence involved than that, and I for one, am fed up of hearing the expression “just a conveyancer”. If it was that easy I’d be out of business.