Monday 13 June 2016 12:51 pm

Why conveyancing is where it's at for legal eagles, but bad luck if personal injury is more your focus

Fees for lawyers with a head for conveyancing were as safe as houses last year, research out today has found.

According to the study by chartered accountants Hazlewoods, fees for law firms which specialise in residential conveyancing rose by 15.4 per cent on average in 2015, while those specialising in commercial conveyancing also received a 8.7 per cent boost to their fees compared with 2014.

Hazlewoods notes that the strong UK property market has helped to deliver a steady stream of income for conveyancers.

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"The property market continues to be a crucial area of work for law firms," said Patricia Kinahan, partner at Hazlewoods. "With the market currently showing few signs of slowing down, firms specialising in conveyancing have been reaping the rewards.

"Property has been especially hot in the south east of England, with prices reaching unprecedented heights across London and its surrounding areas – benefitting the small and mid-sized firms which service the industry."

However, Law Society law management committee member Nigel Haddon told City A.M.: 

Conveyancing firms are enjoying a buoyant economy in which both residential and commercial property work is flourishing. Many firms could be doing even more, but there is a skills shortage dating back to the global financial crisis, when large numbers of conveyancing specialists were laid off; some returned, but many retrained and now work in other fields.

A word of caution is appropriate though. Many firms I’ve spoken to this year have remarked on a slow-down, perhaps caused by referendum-induced uncertainty, by increases in stamp duty in the buy-to-let sector, or just a sense that we may be not far from the end of this cycle.

At the other end of the spectrum, those focusing on personal injury (PI) defence work witnessed a five per cent drop in income, with Hazlewoods remarking that long-term structural changes in the market were most likely to blame.

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Kinahan remarked: "With proposals to raise the small claims limit in PI cases just one of a further raft of changes proposed, uncertainty is going to continue to affect PI-focused firms for the foreseeable future."

In the 2015 Autumn Statement, chancellor George Osborne revealed plans to tighten the rules surrounding personal injury claims, particularly for those seeking damages for minor soft tissue injuries caused by traffic accidents

Hazlewoods also found that those with a knack for wills and trusts saw their fees increase by nine and eight per cent respectively.

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Kinahan said: "It's good news for everyone to see more people taking legal advice on wills and trusts – the risks to individuals of handling it incorrectly can ripple out for generations. It also has the effect of reducing the burden on the courts of handling avoidable litigation.

"Going DIY on a will really is a false economy, and the profession will be delighted to see that message gaining traction."