One legacy of the recession is that there is a shortage of trained conveyancers now times are improving.
It is generally accepted that the recession is now over, and that the conveyancing famine which was caused by it is at an end; so is it not reasonable to assume that we should now be able to enjoy a veritable feast of new conveyancing transactions and healthy fees?
The answer – sadly – is that perhaps we can’t just yet, and that in fact one less palatable legacy of the downturn is likely to cause us problems in the coming months and years. In the depths of the conveyancing crisis between about 2008 and 2012, entire teams of staff were being made redundant, without any immediate prospect of re-employment, and this led to many experienced conveyancers retraining or leaving the profession completely.
Additionally, many firms were simply not taking on new staff and training them up, meaning that there was no natural intake to fill the gap left by the leavers. The result of this was predictable to most law firm managers, who whispered in dark corners about the eventual upturn in the property market and the future difficulties in recruiting experienced staff – and unfortunately, that is exactly what has now happened.
The conveyancing market is busy again (I deliberately won’t use the cursed word ‘booming’) and many firms are trying to recruit additional staff to cope with the increased demand; however, it’s very much a buyer’s market, and good staff are increasingly hard to find. Despite being a successful mid-sized firm, operating nationally in certain sectors, we have found that experienced conveyancers are less likely to want to relocate to the Kent coast.
Even the offer of a London-equivalent salary and the availability of decent housing at a fraction of London prices is insufficient to persuade them; those who are available are snapped up before their CVs even hit the desktops of the recruitment agencies.
One recruitment consultant, speaking to me recently, said they were ‘as rare as rocking-horse sh*t’ – which although not exactly eloquent, sums it up nicely. The result of this is that, although we are getting the business in, we are increasingly struggling to process the volume (this has led to the situation where, in some cases, we have had to turn business away).
So what is likely to be the effect of the shortage of conveyancing fee-earners, and what can we as law firm managers do about it? Much as it might be a bitter pill to swallow, it’s also likely to be a simple question of Keynesian economics – increase the salary on offer, and the supply of candidates is likely to increase. Alternatively, increase the cost you charge for conveyancing, and the supply of instructions is likely to decline, meaning you will be able to undertake fewer transactions at greater fees, naturally managing the demand.
It is also essential not only to do everything reasonably possible to retain your existing good staff, but to start or increase your training programme for would-be conveyancers; sometimes, the best and most loyal staff are the ones you have been able to train and promote yourself, where they (and you) are known entities.
Even though much of this seems to be taking the gloss off the recovery, it’s also not going to be a long-term problem: there will be an improvement in the recruitment market, as the honeymoon period passes and the equilibrium is restored; training programmes will begin to take effect as newly qualified fee-earners start in their new roles or seek advancement elsewhere; and the conveyancing market itself will again balance out, as it always does.
In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for those rocking horses…
Ed Foster is senior partner at Fosters Law