Business planning in a volatile conveyancing market is critical for conveyancers
BY RICHARD HINTON
In 25 years of working with conveyancing firms, a perennial problem has been accurately planning the development of a conveyancing business. There always seems to be too many cross winds capable of blowing a plan seriously off course that conveyancers can neither control nor in many cases, anticipate.
Firstly, the delicate housing market can take fright like a startled horse at the smallest of scares or charge forwards on the merest whiff of optimism. With so many moving parts to the industry that politicians, lenders, the media and regulators all delight in tinkering with, there is no shortage of such stimuli. Conveyancers – for whom high utilisation rates are the difference between success and failure – are left trying to plan the size of their operation (with onerous lead-in times) on little more than a wing and a prayer.
Secondly, an individual conveyancing firm’s fortunes are inextricably linked to the behaviour of their channels to market and of the strength of their competition and yet here too, there has traditionally been precious little data of substance on which to plan. I don’t believe any conveyancer can calculate over time a geographical market share, measure their competitors’ performances or qualify their relationships with different estate agents who act as their principal introducer channel.
This then is crippling. Just how should a firm plan to define a target geography and position itself in it without this knowledge?
The simple truth is that these two constraints mean that conveyancers, who are already risk-averse professionals, typically behave cautiously and passively. Most conveyancers can’t convince themselves of the merits of meaningful investment in capacity and service delivery which in turn compounds their weak position in the value chain.
If that’s the problem, is there any sign of a solution? Recent developments would suggest there is some hope.
The advent of ever-more transparent industry data means that law firms are now able to dig a little deeper to gain market insight. New land registry data means a firm is able to better understand its target client base, relative performance and geographical markets and build confidence and accuracy into business planning.
Elsewhere, turning the forecasting problem on its head, some firms are finding better ways of making their staffing resources more flexible and less costly so as to de-risk any investment. The idea of outsourcing has been around for a long time, but models have now matured; the industry is more accepting and technology has delivered secure connectivity. Today firms are employing well qualified staff that uses a firm’s case management system remotely at about half the cost and with short notice periods.
The market position of conveyancers remains less than perfect, but firms should be encouraged to know that in the above mentioned two critical areas, there are positive changes that are starting to make a difference.