Wake-up call to the high street practice

The concept of Solicitors Property Centres is one which has been discussed for years. And on the strength of the last few months, it looks set to stay firmly on the legal agenda.

A meeting of 250 solicitors in Surrey recently showed that, despite the importance of the issue, there is a startling ignorance about the SPC scheme within the profession. Many high street lawyers know very little about the subject, or simply, it seems, do not wish to know about any imminent threat to their livelihoods.

Conveyancing is unlikely to disappear overnight, but, increasingly, there are indications that clients want a faster and more competitive service. The shake-up has already started, with some major organisations looking to re-define the process and coming up with innovative solutions.

In a "while Rome burned" scenario, the establishment of Hambros' seven-day conveyancing operation, which took only six months to set up, was greeted with a couple of conferences on SPCs and a proposal to change the practice rules.

Groups such as the Solicitors Property Group have invested considerable time and energy into trying to alert the profession to the dangers ahead. But many solicitors have shown little interest or imagination – perhaps a glimmer of hope was that two-thirds of the 178 firms present at the Surrey conference later indicated that they were interested in joining an SPC.

It is time for the profession to wake up and realise where the market is heading. No longer can lawyers afford to be reactive – some hard decisions about the future have to be made.

In two or three years' time, when customers are choosing one of the more user-friendly conveyancing options (which will surely be available by then) over traditional high street firms, solicitors will surely regret their lethargy, and no amount of whingeing to Chancery Lane will help.