The UK housing market is flourishing at present, a predication few would have made during the murky depths of lockdown in April. When announcements came in May that the market could restart, many were hopeful we would see a recovery, albeit measured. The announcement of the SDLT holiday in July set a fire beneath the industry and what was expected to be a U-shaped revival become a sharp V, with property sales increasing to their highest figures in a decade writes Bronwyn Townsend, Marketing Manager at InfoTrack.
Despite the sector collectively exhaling a breath of relief as the number of transactions grew exponentially, it was short lived. We are now in the midst of firms teetering precariously on the precipice of breaking point. Why? The acceleration of people moving home has created a backlog which now threatens many being able to seize the opportunity the SDLT holiday presents. Transaction numbers are mounting and firms are trying to manage staffing levels. The rapid return to the market has caught many off-guard and there’s now a push for the UK government to extend the SDLT holiday beyond 31 March 2021.
We have long been hearing law firms should be embracing technology and embedding digital solutions into their practise. While the message has been clear and consistent for several years now, there is a sense of apprehension that lingers. Whether it be caution around instilling new processes, concerns regarding compliance or simply resistance to change, the uptake has been slow.
If there has been a silver lining to stem from the commotion a global pandemic has brought, it is the increase in adoption of technology among law firms. A state of change that might have otherwise taken six years has been expedited to six months. What it has meant for firms is they are now better equipped to work from anywhere. Remote working has forced cloud systems to become standard operation. Firms are finding ways to obtain the information they need online, whether that’s when onboarding clients, gathering signatures electronically or keeping home movers updated via apps and automation. It’s all creating a shift in the dynamics of how the conveyancing sector is operating.
Not everyone is on board yet though. Between messages from governments urging people to return to the workplace, the lifting of restrictions and the velocity with which the property market bounced back, some might be hopeful things will return to the way they once were. However, with new announcements across Europe and right in our own backyard across England and Wales about imminent changes to social interaction and ‘soft’ lockdown measures throughout autumn and winter, firms are gearing up for further changes.
OPPORTUNITY MEETS PREPARATION
Preparation is the best way forward and firms are looking at how they can engage additional measures to protect their businesses. Technology is a key player in this situation, facilitating improved processes that will support firms through this property boom and beyond. Law firms can come out the other side stronger, by managing their workloads with increased visibility, taking opportunity of automation to free up time for additional tasks, and employing technology that aids connectivity with their clients, other firms and key suppliers.
In March, the shift to home working and months of lockdown restrictions were unforeseen and implemented with little notice. With a third national lockdown upon us, firms now have the opportunity to get their houses, literally and figuratively, in order. Identifying the obstacles faced in 2020, firms are now in a more informed position to avoid them again.
Whether furlough of staff meant a reduction in visibility of your firms’ caseload, a lack of access to printers and scanners delayed progress on transactions, or you’re now faced with a shortage of time to get through the mountain of new transactions piling up, technology can help. Preparation and implementation of improved methods, technology and processes within your firm now will be of benefit beyond the present situation. They will also provide long lasting opportunities in a post-pandemic climate.
CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO
While the cause of the current situation differs from that which led to the 2008 financial crisis, a similar approach will prove a worthwhile investment. Take the time to prepare your firm so it is in the best position possible to overcome potential hardships like being overloaded with transactions now. What we saw in 2008 was that businesses who responded differently to the circumstances were seizing an opportune moment to lay down the foundations for their future.
Airbnb, Whatsapp and Groupon were all born out of the last major recession. It’s not only new businesses though, existing firms also made their mark. Netflix, Lego and Mailchimp all adapted and thrived. By challenging the status quo, they were able to carve themselves a unique position and achieved what few could at the time. They breathed new life into their business.
Now is the time to act. Law firms have the advantage of preparing for what are now foreseeable challenges. They’ve survived the trials of 2020 once already, they’re in the middle of another vastly different challenge and there may be more yet to come. Review your current processes. Ask your staff where they think improvements can be made and delve into whether you already have access to systems that can help. Are you taking advantage of the full offering from your technology providers? If not, book in training to ready yourself and get the most out of the technology you have. See where there are gaps and fill them, whether with existing or new solutions.
Readying yourself, your staff and your firm is one of the best investments you could make. Embracing technology will not only give you the time to stop and breathe during the biggest property boom in a decade, but it will also aid in future-proofing your firm. If you are prepared, you a ready for opportunity when it arises.