Total number of partners: Four
Total number of staff: 300
Main practice areas: Conveyancing, commercial, personal injury
Key clients: Major institutional lenders
Number of offices: One
Southport-based firm Barnetts and senior partner Richard Barnett are evangelical about how the profession can take advantage of the e-conveyancing revolution.
In November ministers published plans for transforming the home moving process in draft regulations for the Home Information Pack (HIP). The idea behind the pack is to speed up the buying process and help reduce the number of sales that collapse post-offer – currently 25 per cent – by preparing in advance information such as searches, deeds and, controversially, a home-condition report.
In recent weeks, press commentators have been sceptical, arguing that buyers would not be likely to trust forms completed by ‘cowboy’ inspectors, nor would lenders have any confidence in the packs.
Conveyancing practitioners also fear that the preparation of packs will fall to cheaper, non-legally qualified staff.
Barnett claims the profession’s worries are “much ado about nothing”. “If solicitors can incorporate the HIP within the conveyancing process we can provide a truly magnificent solution for everyone,” he says.
Although Barnetts’ offices are based in the North West, the firm has national reach. Its workload comprises conveyancing (70 per cent), personal injury (25 per cent) and commercial (5 per cent).
The firm is a partnership in name only and has a corporate structure headed by chief executive Joe Whelan. Barnett says: “The problem with firms that are based along traditional lines is that they are inward-looking.” At Barnetts, all “partnership issues” are kept well away from the efficient running of the business, he adds.
The firm concentrates on volume work, which is why it has 300 staff but only 20 qualified solicitors. “A lot of what we do is almost an administrative function and does not require legal input, except at certain points in the transaction,” explains Barnett. “We have commoditised the whole process.” The only areas that are heavily lawyered are the commercial and professional indemnity teams.
It is an approach that has apparently resulted in impressive growth. The firm claims to have banked more than £2bn of mortgage transactions during the previous 14 months, despite fears of a slowdown in the housing market. This has led to a 110 per cent growth in turnover during the last financial year. In 2002 the firm increased its staffing levels by 84 per cent.
Barnetts prides itself on meeting the needs of its busy clients, staying open until 10pm every night of the week and closing at 4.30pm on weekends. Clients moving house can go online to receive the latest news on their sale or purchase, as well as being automatically updated by SMS text. Remortgages are dealt with swiftly, and the firm aims to complete most of its cases within 24 hours of being instructed.
“It’s because we understand the process all the way through – not just what we do but what our clients do as well,” Barnett says. “We are interested in working creatively with all our partners to present a much more user-friendly system to accomplish what we are trying to achieve.”