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Boyds, Halliwell Landau, MacRoberts and Mills & Reeve have taken the plunge of joining a new referral panel set up by the UK arm of US title insurance giant First American
The firms are among six to sign up to the panel, which is linked to a new product that combines title insurance with outsourced due diligence. The product is now being launched by First American's UK arm First Title. Their decision to join forces with the insurer will come as a surprise to many lawyers, who see title insurance as a threat to their role. The product, aimed at corporate-style transactions involving large portfolios of property, is the latest culmination of First Title's efforts to crack the UK market since launching here in 1996. It has been masterminded by First Title's group legal director Philip Oldcorn and Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker partner Nigel Heilpern. They see it as an aid to large-scale, complicated deal structures as it will tackle due diligence more quickly and at a lower cost through a combination of title insurance and outsourcing to panel firms via electronic deal rooms. Meena Heath, director at legal procurement consultants Genesis Coordination, assisted with the panel selection, which chose firms for quality, capacity to deal with high volume, reasonable price and a wide geographical spread.
"There are things you can do with title insurance that you can't do with opinions. It's not competitive. It's a tool that lawyers in the US use" Philip Oldcorn, First Title
Speaking at the Mipim conference, Halliwells partner Nancy Brown told The Lawyer that she would lead a dedicated First Title team from Manchester along the same lines as her firm's volume mortgage practice, which processes mortgages for many high street lenders. Boyds partner Andrew Warren said the product was not a threat to his firm's business. "In Scotland, what we recognise is that this level of business, with very corporate-driven structures, will migrate to large firms with the corporate strategy to deal with that. Clients I come across are structuring their legal teams so that they have a main corporate adviser and tiered advisers below that. "The scale of the market and the deals being done are changing. We've got to adapt to that." However, scepticism that title insurance will become the UK norm in all property transactions, as it is in the US, is widespread. "There are things you can do with title insurance that you can't do with opinions," argued Oldcorn. "It's not competitive. It's a tool that lawyers in the US use. There are a thousand reasons why we do it and it runs in parallel with lawyers."