Conveyancing shake-up

Banks could cash in on changes to the way the legal sector is regulated and buy conveyancing firms.

The draft Legal Services Bill, published in May, proposes to reform the way legal services are regulated by establishing the Legal Services Board and put consumer interests at the heart of the regulatory framework.

The draft also outlines arrangements to open up the legal profession and facilitate alternative business structures which would let non-lawyers run law firms for the first time.

Edward Goldsmith, managing director of Goldsmith Williams, says: “This presents a raft of opportunities. Lawyers are generally considered slow and expensive but the conveyancing and remortgage side of the legal market is a 1bn-plus industry.”

Goldsmith predicts that once the bill is in place, high street banks and building societies will set up or acquire conveyancing firms, taking the services under their own brands.

He says: “Big firms will be able to provide one-stop shops for everything from estate agent branches, conveyancing resources and financial advice to Home Information Packs and money lending. It is also a chance for lawyers to seek investment and align themselves with strong brands.”

But he warns that firms which aren’t forward-thinking could be left behind and while the bill offers opportunities it will also cause casualties.

The bill may have an effect on solicitor referral fees which are currently the subject of a fierce debate in the legal profession because of their commercial aspect. Once the Legal Services Board is up and running it may have to decide whether the commercial value of referral fees outweighs the possible detriment to consumers.

Goldsmith adds: “The changes will blow the market open to competition. If lawyers think they’ve got it tough now they should see what’s coming.”