30th Jun 2017

Reflections of a Property Specialist

As she prepares to explore her next challenge, Property Specialist Carolynn Peace, reflects on a lifetime in law. 

On the count-down to changing my legal career for a very different one in the south west of France I’ve been asked to blog about the changes I’ve seen in my time. I qualified in 1990 and accepted a job offer from the firm where I had trained, working in property litigation for a High Street lender.

Twenty-seven years later I remember the lunch I was taken to by our then managing partner when I agreed to take on a conveyancing caseload “till Sarah comes back from maternity leave”.  I have lost touch with Sarah but accept she is probably a granny now, and here I am in the last few days of my legal career trying to push through exchanges so I can hand over my cases to colleagues in good order.

Over that time, there have been so many changes in the world of property; I’ve seen a couple of property recessions, where the market stagnated and negative equity was if not the norm, then all too familiar.  Needless to say, interest rates have been all over the place; I was a first-time buyer paying a mortgage in 1990 when interest rates were 14%, briefly 15%. I have not looked up the statistics for possession proceedings at that time, but I know that some of our clients were victims of this recession and, for many recovery took a long time.

Naturally technology has had a big impact on the way we carry out our work and the environment in which we exist.  On joining Berwins in 1998 the big topic of conversation was the “Millennium Bug”.  I accompanied Paul Berwin to the seminars and presentations he gave on the legal issues that would arise when the world went into meltdown at 12.01 on 1st January 2000.  A bank manager in our audience made the salient point that it was all very well knowing who to sue when our banking IT systems fell over, but he was more concerned about what would happen if he had the bad luck to be on a life support machine at that time.  We lived past then to fight another day but the recent malware attack on the NHS’s IT systems some twenty years on brought those conversations back to me.

One of the main topics of conversation in our monthly residential property team meetings these days is cybercrime.  How to keep our clients and ourselves safe against increasingly sophisticated and aggressive attacks.  With nearly £11 billion lost to cyber criminals in the UK last year, the 1990s can easily look like halcyon days of stress-free existence where a person’s word was their bond and money laundering was something that happened if you left a fiver in your jeans pocket before they went in the wash.  The necessary checks we now have to make on our clients’ identities and the source of the funds they are producing in a transaction can feel intrusive (and time consuming) to us but are necessary to keep us all safe – the link between terrorism and money laundering is well established, even if it feels remote as we sternly ask our 86-year-old lady client to explain why a £10,000 receipt is showing on her latest bank statement.

As long-standing colleagues such as Diane Scott or Jane Kendrewwill tell you, whenever two or more conveyancers of a certain age are gathered together they groan about client expectations “these days”.  Are clients more demanding?  I don’t think so but what they didn’t have in 1990 was a smart phone and the expectation that we all share of complete inter-connectedness and 24-hour accessibility and responsiveness.  At senior levels, our discussions are about how to meet client needs in this respect across all our service types without compromise to the quality of the work we do for clients and taking on board that our key brand value is care – which extends to our clients, our work and our own people who need some life-work balance so they can continue to delight their clients!

So, in summary, what’s really changed?  The economy has been up and it’s been down and housing bubbles have appeared and burst – and it was ever thus.  The gadgets we use have changed – I guess that’s a given, as otherwise you’d call in at the office and expect to see Bob Cratchett on a stool writing out a conveyance with a quill pen. The world can seem particularly scary, but talking to a 96-year-old client recently about his wartime experiences puts the turbulence of the current times in to context. 

the Berwins conveyancing team under Jo Randall’s leadership will carry on doing Berwins and their clients proud.

I firmly believe that clients want and deserve a good working relationship with a competent and communicative conveyancer who knows their stuff, will fight their client’s corner when needed and will guide their client through the process.  That’s the principle on which Berwins has successfully operated for over 30 years and, I am sure will continue to do so for the next 30. I know that the Berwins conveyancing team under Jo Randall’s leadership will carry on doing Berwins and their clients proud.

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