Property law, according to recent Law Society research, accounts for 40 per cent of the work of solicitors registering practice areas: conveyancing solicitors alone make up 14 per cent of the profession (and that’s not counting the 1,000+ licensed conveyancers). But the area of property law is also considered by insurers as ‘a perceived high risk area’, as the Law Society’s professional indemnity insurance practice note puts it, and is the most complained about area of law to the Legal Ombudsman – so why are so many solicitors drawn to it?
What skills are required?
James Vernor-Miles, Partner at Hunters (incorporating May, May & Merrimans), says that because property lawyers work in a transactional environment, they need to know their role among all the moving parts and the transaction parties.
“An important soft skill is empathy – buying a home should be exciting and fun. You should not treat every transaction the same way. Property transactions tend to involve high figures and high emotions, so be efficient and manage your workload; if you’re too busy, or if new work is too complex, either don’t take it on or ask for help. Always be courteous, especially when figures and emotions are running high; never assume you (or your clients) are the top of the food chain in any transaction matrix. Try not to make enemies: if you’re successful, you’ll come across the lawyer on the “other side” again – down the line, your clients will be grateful you’re dealing with, if not a friend, at least not an enemy. Keep up to date on what the market is doing and be aware of the “spin” that might be applied by agents, banks, surveyors, newspapers etc.”
What are clients looking for?
Hunters (incorporating May, May & Merrimans) Partner Peter Robinson says the most frequently encountered complaints are poor communication and (perceived) delay. “It doesn’t really matter whether you did / didn’t delay something; what matters is whether the client thinks you delayed something, because you failed to communicate the reason for the lull.” If lawyers correctly manage a client’s expectation at the outset and adjust that expectation whenever necessary, there should be no complaint, he says. “If, at the start, you tell the client that a matter is likely to take 10 hours, and then in the first hour, you discover a horrendous lease defect, you must adjust expectations immediately. Give clients bad news as early as you know it. They can take the news and, eventually, should thank you for spotting it earlier, rather than later.”
Peter Robinson says his property department looks for those who enjoy property law and want to practise it.
“Choose property. Don’t expect to be welcomed into a property department if it’s your second choice to practise in. Most firms have a property department, but if they were all “good”, professional indemnity cover for property work would not be so expensive. You have to want to do it to be good at it.”
Read the full article published in Property in Practice, The Law Society, here.