FREE CHAPTER from ‘A Practical Guide to Residential Freehold Conveyancing’ by Lorraine Richardson


Conveyancing is a process driven area of legal work. The use of property technology and digitisation has transformed the conveyancing landscape beyond recognition. We are consistently bombarded with ‘prop tech’ that, we are told, will be a ‘game changer’ for conveyancers. It is undoubtedly the case that harnessing technology to assist with the more mundane aspects of the conveyancing transaction has changed the work of the coalface conveyancer. However, has this innovation improved the process for the conveyancer or, most importantly, their client? Let’s consider some questions:

Is conveyancing today a quicker process than it was in 1991? No.

Is conveyancing today a less stressful process than it was in 1991? No.

So why hasn’t this exponential growth in the use of technology improved the conveyancing process for everyone working in it and the clients purchasing those services? There is no single answer to this complex question, of course, but here are some observations.

Some organisations have tried to distil conveyancing to a series of mechanistic, usually online, tasks to such an extent that they have forgotten that central to the process is people usually moving from one house to possibly their dream home. At its core, conveyancing is a people business. This requires the people carrying out conveyancing to have the appropriate skills. IT skills are a given. The ability to use a case management system properly and efficiently is also a given. But these skills can be taught. What is often missing is the ability to communicate effectively. We forget that behind death and divorce, conveyancing is probably the third most stressful reason for members of the public having to consult a lawyer. Remember that most people do not want to consult or pay for a lawyer; it is a necessity for them.

So how do we help those at the conveyancing frontline communicate effectively? They can have good telephone skills. They can have good typing skills and be able to email or send a pre-generated update. However, central to all of this is a basic understanding of the conveyancing process itself. It is simply not possible for someone at the frontline to communicate meaningfully if they do not know what stage the conveyancing process has reached, or the reason why a perceived delay might have occurred.

We must also add to this the fact that working in a legal office is different to many other office environments. Those in the conveyancing department will have to deal with a huge volume of communications received on any given day whether by telephone or email. But it is necessary for those working in the frontline to understand with whom they can communicate and what they can tell them. We might receive a call or email from the client, or a relative of theirs, an estate agent, a mortgage broker, even the client on the other side – but who are we entitled to talk to? It is necessary for anyone working in a conveyancing department to understand the professional conduct obligations imposed on firms carrying out conveyancing work which includes the all-important duty of confidentiality.

Therefore, at the heart of conveyancing, is the need to empathise with the client and to understand the conveyancing process itself. Many people working in a conveyancing department only work on a particular aspect of the transaction; often referred to as a ‘silo’ approach to work. A team member might only deal with file opening and client care matters, or preparing contract packages or work in the post completion team. There is no doubt that these people will gain an in-depth knowledge of their particular area of the process but this will result in team members not knowing what comes before their particular part of the process or after it.

Conveyancing is like a jigsaw puzzle. It is only once the last piece is in place that we see and understand the full picture. This Practical Guide aims to give those who only do part of the conveyancing process in their job or who are relatively new to the process the whole picture. It is hoped that it will also be helpful for those taking professional examinations such as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, Cilex and Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

So, does this mean that an experienced conveyancer does not need to buy this Practical Guide? Not necessarily. Conveyancing work is fraught with risk and the management of that risk is a constant battle for those who work in and run conveyancing departments. ‘Knowing what you don’t know’ is a key part of risk management. If a member of conveyancing staff is aware of a problem or a risk and is also aware that they cannot deal with it, they will be able to pass the file to a more experienced colleague which, in turn, will help the firm manage conveyancing risk more effectively.

We also cannot consider the conveyancing process without referring to some of the land law which provides the legal foundation upon which our procedure stands. In addition, throughout this Practical Guide, conveyancers will be prompted to consider practical issues and risks under the heading ‘Practice Points’.

There will therefore be various themes which run through this Practical Guide as follows:

  • Land law links

  • Risks and how to mitigate them (including in outline, issues such as Money Laundering, cybercrime and professional conduct)

  • Practice Points

This Practical Guide will focus on the tasks which paralegals and support staff are most likely to encounter and will consider:

  • Client care matters

  • AML checks and money laundering risks

  • How to draft contract of sale

  • Investigation of a freehold registered title

  • Pre-contract searches

  • Preparing for completion

  • Post completion

We will consider the freehold conveyancing process in England and Wales involved in moving from one residential property to another.

It is also fair to point out what this Practical Guide will not cover which includes: leasehold transactions, planning matters and unregistered title.

There are some excellent, comprehensive conveyancing textbooks on the market and this Practical Guide does not attempt or intend to replace that reference material. The purpose of this Practical Guide is to provide in an accessible, easy to use format, a straightforward explanation of why many of the steps in the conveyancing process are taken.

We will not reproduce any of the standard conveyancing forms, for example the Law Society Protocol forms, but, where relevant, we will provide links for you to find them.

There are also a number of extremely useful resources on the HMLR website explaining how to carry out a number of standard registration tasks, such as using the portal, completing some of the forms and the new Digital Registration process. We will not repeat those processes but will direct you to the appropriate resources.

Every conveyancing firm will approach the work of conveyancing in a slightly different way. There are a number of case management systems on the market, a number of different providers of the standard conveyancing forms and each firm has its own policies, procedures and attitudes to risk. Anyone working in a conveyancing department should ensure that they understand their own firm’s processes as they work through this Practical Guide. We will focus on what is considered to be best practice but readers must understand that their firm might have a different approach and if in doubt, should find out their firm’s processes and requirements in any given part of the transaction.

Virtually every issue covered in this Practical Guide could form the subject of a book. This Practical Guide does not attempt to explain the underlying law and practice in relation to all issues covered – there are more detailed textbooks on the market that carry out this function. This Practical Guide attempts to outline why certain steps in the conveyancing process are taken and point out to conveyancers some of the risks and pitfalls involved. This Practical Guide is not a substitute for studying the subject in detail but, rather, is intended to be a handy reference guide for conveyancers at the coalface.

There are many excellent, experienced conveyancers who simply do not have the time to explain the conveyancing process to those who work with them. Many conveyancing support staff and paralegals understand what to do in terms of process but many do not understand why they are doing it. The central purpose of this Practical Guide is to explain to those staff why they are taking the steps in the conveyancing process. We will see that the risks in conveyancing are many and varied. These are highlighted throughout this Practical Guide but are also summarised in Chapter 10.

If we had to summarise one message in relation to conveyancing in this Practical Guide it would be: ‘If in doubt, ask’.

The term ‘conveyancer’ is used to describe fee earners, whether qualified or not, who have conduct of conveyancing transactions.

The law is believed to be correct and up to date as at 30 March 2022.