Lawyers Vs agents – we need a war, not a truce – Property Industry Eye


Peter Ambrose

The climate activist, Greta Thunberg, asks great questions.

In a recent documentary, she questioned whether planting trees reduces carbon dioxide.

The answer was, in the short term, no. It takes 15 to 20 years before they absorb more carbon dioxide than the area harvested to grow them actually produces. When it comes to solving that particular problem, ancient forests are more effective than young trees.
Which is exactly the same argument we hear from lawyers – old is good, new is bad.

Except that unlike trees, these older specimens typically contribute more toxic gas to the environment than reduce it.

Which is why, as we saw here last week, discussions between agents and lawyers typically degenerate into a “lawyers are lazy, agents are thick” shouting match. This latest spat came, ironically, after an article calling for “a truce between lawyers and agents” – the author obviously hadn’t read about the prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s visit to see Adolf Hitler in 1938.

Although, as Greta has demonstrated, direct action is much more effective, I’m not up for a trip to Warwick to superglue myself to the doors of PropertyMark just yet, but we do need to move past these outdated arguments.

Taking a knife to a gunfight

When arguments about lawyers start brewing, it take just a few comments before the traditionalists start wading in with the usual “not enough experience”. It’s at this point that “I Got You Babe” starts playing on the clock radio and Bill Murray learns that “it’s cold out there”.

For anyone planning to kick off another Groundhog Day rant after this piece, let’s be clear.

Conveyancing fees are too low and lawyers need better training.

But the real question is, what are we going to do about it?

Like the person who claims to worry about climate change but beyond buying vegan sausages does little about it, lawyers simply blame the evils of the market. They then to proceed to pimp out their solicitors, forcing them to walk the streets, offering their services to estate agents.

The problem is that solicitors are not sales people, so find themselves pants-down, cutting fees or offering bribes just to win work.
Law firms should be recruiting sales people to drive up the fees needed to reduce caseloads. This will mean reduced pressure on lawyers to deliver exchanges, giving them more time to communicate with agents and clients, which, let’s face it, is what most of the fuss is about.

More time being freed up will also help to solve the problem of young lawyers not being given benefit of the experience of senior colleagues. Expert lawyers need to stop complaining about the lack of expertise in the industry and take the time and effort to actually teach and advise those less knowledgeable than themselves. Even if those lawyers don’t work for their firm, because every deal has two sides and without solutions, no-one is moving house.

In conveyancing, ivory towers can be very lonely places.

What HAS the pandemic done for us?

Let’s get one thing straight.

The one thing that 2020 didn’t do was bring widespread technological change to conveyancing. As some bloke once said, “Advertorials and LinkedIn posts do not a revolution make”. I interview 3 to 4 candidates a week and most don’t use case management systems, let alone some new platform doodad.

What the pandemic has done has created more work than the industry can handle and the over-supply is taking its toll. As the lock-down roots start to show through the blonde curls of Sunak’s Stamp Duty holiday highlights, it has meant many are leaving front-line roles for other areas of property.

Put simply, the expertise that continues to leave the front-line must be found elsewhere. Whether those in their ivory towers like it or not, the only achievable solution is better technology. We’re not talking mailmerge and workflows here. We need to develop property meta-data and combine this with machine learning solutions to deliver risk-based models to identify and deduce problems with both properties and titles.

Sadly, those that cannot even begin to imagine this technology are too quick to dismiss it as a mythical silver bullet. That said, I guess Steve Jobs got a few sidelong glances when he suggested we would be viewing movies on a glass tablet streamed from a wireless network. “Yeah, but Steve, everyone wants to watch Coronation Street on ITV at 7.30 on Mondays”.

Conclusion

Those suggesting a truce between agents and lawyers where everyone puts down their pointy blame sticks and pretends to be understanding, have got it all wrong. Brutal bluntness rather than cosy “be kind” badges is needed, because law firm owners, like those football club owners who thought the European Super League was a good idea, have forgotten about why they are here.

The tiny handful of companies who are bringing change to the industry should be embraced, with their ideas nurtured and developed. The remaining dead wood that refuses to adapt should be boycotted by referrers and replaced with a much more sustainable species.

Something we know Greta would agree with.

Peter Ambrose is the owner and managing director of The Partnership specialising in the delivery of conveyancing service.



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