I have had the fortune to work in various different areas of the law during my career. I started like most young lawyers of my time treading the boards of the local Magistrates Court trying my best to represent people who in the main had little appreciation for my efforts. I then progressed into family law, running from court to court seeking injunctions only to be running back a week later asking for the injunctions to be withdrawn.
For the majority of my career however I have been involved in the litigation process mainly undertaking personal injury work. I have also undertaken sport related work acting for professional footballers and boxers. A mixed bag which has become even more extensive in recent times with my introduction to residential conveyancing. I have always had an interest in and enjoyed contract based work and therefore found the move into this area not so daunting.
My initial experience of this field of work has proved insightful. I have always looked upon conveyancing as uninspiring and dull. A view I know shared by many other litigators. I must say however that this is not a fair representation of what I have found to be a very demanding and often enlightening area of practice. The danger, I suppose, of viewing and drawing conclusions from outside observations.
So how does conveyancing and litigation differ?
To begin with and the most noticeable difference is the pace at which conveyancing proceeds. Unlike litigation where one is working within quite generous protocol and court timetables, the average conveyancing transaction time is around 6 to 8 weeks, during which the pressure to cross the finishing line is immense. The fear of a transaction collapsing and the general stress of moving has made the process even more pressurized and demanding. Letters coming into the office need to be answered on the same day otherwise the danger is that by the following day they will have been overtaken by events.
I equate the constant pressure to the buzz and work that goes into preparing for a large trial, making sure all of the witnesses turn up, collating and sorting trial bundles and generally ensuring all of the hard work undertaken during the previous 2 to 3 years is not put to waste.
The other major difference is the involvement of a large number of contacts and the obligation to keep everybody updated. In litigation there is of course the client, the ‘other side’ and perhaps an insurer at the beginning. In conveyancing you can have two firms of solicitors to communicate with along with the two sets of estate agents and the client. This has the effect of tripling the number of calls you would normally receive when working within litigation.
The third and major difference is the inconsistency in approach and application of the conveyancing process. Each practitioner has his or her way of drafting contracts, some firms follow the Law Society protocol, other s follow local protocols. It is clear that this is a process that is in need of reform. It is too focused on form filling and administrative tasks and far more cluttered with pointless obligations and requirements than the court process that has benefited in recent years from constructive reform.
The time has come for conveyancers to step out of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ and join together to demand reform and to make the process simpler and far more consumer friendly.