in Legal Profession

Conveyancing – Booming or Busting – A Potted History

Residential Conveyancing jobs have been the number one area of law where Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment have successfully assisted law firms, solicitors, legal executives and licensed conveyancers for over 13 years. When we first set up Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment, back in April 2000, over 50% of our vacancies were from solicitors firms looking to take on extra conveyancing staff.

Since then, we have watched a cycle of recruitment follow. Mainly upwards, but with major blips.

Firstly, when the invasion of Iraq occurred in 2003, we watched as solicitors firms began to cancel their job vacancy postings. This was a temporary blip because secondly we watched as the property market boomed and boomed some more. Apart from the Gulf War and the occasional World Cup and European Cup, the demand for conveyancing staff did not diminish for 8 years.

From 2000 to 2008 conveyancing vacancies increased from being 50% of our vacancies to about 80% of our vacancies. We thought it would never end. Extra staff were employed, we invested in IT systems to handle the workload, purchased websites (www.conveyancing-jobs.co.uk is one of ours) and started to plan our retirement.

Alas, by about May 2008, we started to notice that our recruitment consultants were not placing candidates. At first we thought the consultants were doing something wrong. Did they have the wrong text in advertisements? Were they failing to put the work in? We stopped sighing whenever a law firm telephoned with a conveyancing vacancy and started to chase anything coming through the door.

At no point did we even think the market had dropped. Even with the Lehman Brothers and all the other dodgy banks collapsing did it register in our minds that the conveyancing market had collapsed at the same time as the financial markets.

Suddenly nobody wanted conveyancing staff.

We got angry telephone calls from candidates to ask why we couldn’t find work for them. What were we doing? Did we not care? Why were we advertising jobs that didn’t exist? Candidates started to get in touch with horror stories. Firms like Crust Lane Davis, a rapidly expanding volume conveyancer, collapsed. One of their partners went to prison. Mortgage practices which appeared to be fairly accepted and allegedly commonplace were suddenly becoming ‘fraud’. Mortgages ceased to exist. Nobody wanted the risk anymore.

There is a tale (possibly a myth) about an entrepreneur in North Wales who managed to persuade the local banks to stump up just short of £1 million to buy residential property. When he defaulted and the banks went to repossess the properties, they discovered that there was little value left. The properties had all been purchased less than 12 months beforehand, but already the sale prices had plummeted.

Between 2008 and 2011 we saw hardly any conveyancing posts. Conveyancing accounted for less than 2% of our turnover – the remainder being made up with our other areas of business – accountancy, legal cashiers, litigation solicitors, locums and specialist career coaching.

Conveyancing candidates registered with us by the bucketload. We started to hear sad tales of middle aged conveyancing lawyers who had been with the same firm for many years suddenly finding themselves on the scrap heap. Others commenced alternative careers. We came across conveyancers working as shelf stackers in Tescos, delivery drivers, salesmen, charity workers, care assistants and stock market traders.

At the same time solicitors’ firms started to exploit the situation by demanding that conveyancing staff took a percentage cut of the work they did instead of a salary, or worked only if they had their own ‘following’ of developer clients. Of course this rarely generated enough work to survive on or pay the mortgage.

This really was the dark ages in the conveyancing world!

However, this year (2013) we appear to be back in the boom times. Conveyancing candidates are getting increasingly harder to source, the market is much brighter post-2012 and recovery is well under way. Conveyancing is booming yet again in London and the South East, and as a result we are expecting a steady increase in demand across the country from 2013 through to 2015.

When will the next collapse occur? Will the generation made redundant between 2008 and 2011 get back into the legal profession? Who knows…

Jonathan Fagan is a solicitor, qualified recruitment consultant and Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed here – www.linkedin.com/in/jbfagan

(This article formed part of the October 2013 Legal Recruitment News which can be found at www.legal-recruitment.co.uk)

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk