Wednesday, 30 June 2010

"Conveyancing Factories": Can Solicitors Compete?

In short, the answer is, in my view, no, and law firms should not even try. Here's why.

With any type of service, quality and price are undoubtedly the main drivers influencing customers'/clients' choices. Most people believe the old adage that "you get what you pay for". Nevertheless, many buyers and sellers of property, not to mention those remortgaging their homes and/or transferring ownership, are perfectly happy to instruct the cheapest firm, wherever they may be located and regardless of the service offered. It is the end result that matters most, not how (and if!) they get there. Conveyancing is, despite the personal attachment, not to mention the financial importance of the transaction, viewed no differently to the weekly shop. Price is king.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those that desire a bespoke, personal, local service and are, if necessary, prepared to pay for the privilege. For them, the "experience" or "journey" is key.

Finally, there are those somewhere in the middle, who are simply after the best compromise that they can get. Their expectation is that both price and quality of service will be "average"; a sort of halfway house.

So, should Solicitors try to compete on price? I believe the answer, for the vast majority of High Street practices, is no, at least not entirely. Such firms are unlikely to ever reap the economies of scale enjoyed by the out of town, high volume/bulk conveyancers. For this reason, being the cheapest is simply unattainable. No matter what they do, their competitors, especially with the proposed introduction of alternative business structures (i.e. "Tesco law"), will undercut them, possibly even offering conveyancing as a loss leader to grow their brand. Even in the current market, a Google search for "cheap conveyancing solicitors" lists numerous firms offering fees "from £89" and this ignores the cost of advertising and marketing and referral fees. In any case, it is your bottom line and reputation that counts. More work does not necessarily mean higher profits at the best of times, and reducing fees is hardly going to help! The adverse consequences attaching to a loss of goodwill should not be underestimated either.

It does not follow, however, that you should not give Clients the service they actually want (not what you think they want) and adjust your pricing structure accordingly. I have commented elsewhere on how this might otherwise be achieved and will revisit this conundrum in future posts, but here are just a few ideas. You could, for example, offer different levels of service to different Client types. Another possibility, depending on the types and values of properties in your target area, could be to offer the same fixed fee, irrespective of whether it is a sale or a purchase, freehold or leasehold and with or without a mortgage etc. Simply calculate your average conveyancing fee, which case/practice management systems should readily support, and give the comfort of clear, straightforward and transparent pricing.

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