SPG talks to First American

The Solicitors Property Group is to meet the title insurance giant First American to discuss the group's plans to establish a network of solicitors property centres.

The move follows the announcement that a second US title insurance company, Stewart Title, has joined forces with marketing firm Conquest Legal Marketing in a bid to establish a rival network of centres.

News of talks between the SPG and First American, which recently joined up with the Halifax to offer a remortgaging service backed by title insurance, will lead to speculation that the two are considering a similar joint venture to the one embarked upon by Stewart Title and Conquest.

Neither side, however, will reveal what issues are on the agenda, and they are both playing down the significance of the meeting, although the SPG has poured cold water on an offer by Conquest chair Richard Berenson for it to become involved in his scheme.

SPG executive officer Leslie Dubow said his group was unhappy with Conquest's plans to issue shares for the planned network of property centres to non-solicitors. He added it was still the group's aim to work alongside the Law Society in developing property centres.

Solicitor and First American director Brian Marson said: “We believe solicitors property centres are definitely viable as a proposition, providing they are set up and run to provide a true service to the public.”

However, he added that a meeting of 250 Surrey solicitors last Tuesday to discuss the idea of establishing SPCs was “depressingly downbeat”.

Conveyancing work is carried out by just over a quarter of solicitors in England and Wales, but reactions from solicitors at the Surrey meeting, organised jointly by the Surrey Law Society and the SPG, showed there was still much confusion about the concept.

The Law Society is considering appointing management consultants to draw up a business plan for property centres, while the SPG is to release a prospectus suggesting a national network of centres offering full estate agency services.

But after the meeting, some solicitors expressed doubts about the ability of English Law firms to band together.

And in a Law Society consultation exercise on the issue, 200 out of the 600 respondents said practice rules relating to conveyancing should not be changed.

Despite this, Richard Hegarty, chair of the society's property and commercial services committee, predicted there may be substantial changes to the practice rules as early as September.