SPG hits back at Hazelwood’s figures

The Sole Practitioners Group said the SRA data did not provide a breakdown between sole practitioners who are incorporated and those who are not. Over the five year period, according to SRA data, the number of incorporated law firms has actually gone up from 2,583 (24% of the total) to 4,225 (41%) – a rise of 63%.

SPG chair Kemi Mosaku reported that the organisation has had an increase lawyers wanting to set up their own sole practices, and work with the SRA has successfully minimised the red tape involved.

She added: ‘For a lawyer who is an entrepreneur setting up in sole practice has never been easier and is more attractive than switching from employment in a law firm to being a consultant in a so called virtual law firm where they cannot build their own brand and are not in charge of their own destiny.’

Tony Roe (pictured), a member of the Law Society’s Family Section and Small Firms’ Division committee, said Hazlewoods’ figures were ‘entirely out of context’.

‘I am not sure how useful it is to be presented with this sort of press release, particularly one which does not set out all its sources or data upon which it might rely,’ said Roe. ‘Many SPs are converting to limited companies or setting up as them in the first place – often on the advice of accountants.’

Land Registry unveils expansion plans

The chairman of the Conveyancing Association has called on the government to create a new portal to help fill the void left by the collapse of Veyo.

Eddie Goldsmith said conveyancing consumers suffered from a “lack of knowledge” about the process and he would like to see a “government initiative” to create an information portal.

Speaking to Legal Futures at last week’s Conveyancing Conference, he said the portal could include “signposting to the best way to sell property” and “education on the all methods of home moving”.

Stressing that the Conveyancing Association did not yet have detailed plans for a portal but was interested in all the options, Mr Goldsmith said the government portal could direct consumers to a further portal, designed by the conveyancing industry.

“We need to create a trusted e-community for conveyancing, which would sit on top of all existing case management systems and integrate with them,” he said.

He said that, unlike Veyo, the new portal would rely on “buy-in” from all the stakeholders involved in conveyancing, including estate lenders, lenders, brokers and the Land Registry.

The Law Society and Indian technology giant Mastek pulled the plug on Veyo this time last year, costing the society £7m. Veyo attempted to combine a case management system with ‘chain view’, which would allow all the parties involved in a conveyancing transaction to see the progress of a chain

“I’m still not sure what Veyo was intended to be,” Mr Goldsmith said. “It seemed to be another case management system for conveyancing – one that was neither needed nor asked for.”

However, he said there was still a need for a portal which offered “greater transparency” on the progress of a chain.

Later at a panel session, Graham Farrant, chief executive of the Land Registry said that following the government’s decision in the Autumn Statement not to proceed with privatisation, there had been a recognition that the service “might actually be quite important”.

Mr Farrant went on: “If you want to build a million new homes, we might be able to help identify some new sites. Actually, the best way to do that is having a complete land register.”

He said the government had asked the Land Registry to try and register the remaining 17% of unregistered land by 2020, and asked it to look at ways of improving the conveyancing process.

Mr Farrant said the intention was that the Land Registry would work with other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Justice, and the industry on ways to make conveyancing, faster, cheaper and simpler.

“Leasehold is the number one issue. You all know that if there’s leasehold in a chain, it can probably add five weeks to it.”

Mr Farrant said some form of register of leasehold interests might help, along with limiting the use of restrictions between landlord and tenant. In the meantime, he said the Land Registry was forging ahead with its plans for a central portal for local land charges.

Mr Farrant said work with the first local authorities on the project would begin next spring, heralding the start of what would probably be a “five-year roll-out”. He described centralising land charges as a “big job”, involving 326 local authorities and 30 million records.

The chief executive added that his ultimate goal was a fully digital register, including mortgages and local authority information.

“What a difference that would make to local authorities, estate agents and conveyancers. Your practices are heavily digitised, but our interface is not digital enough, although we’ve been making some big strides. The world is changing, the profession is changing and I think we’re nearly ready.”