James Boyd is Chief Executive of the conveyancing department at Birchall Blackburn Law, which has witnessed 68% growth in conveyancing transactions (from £4.5m to £7.6m) over the past year. He told Today’s Conveyancer how the firm achieved this and – how it can build on it....
So how have you achieved 68% growth over the past year James?
"Success to date is a result of an unwavering commitment to clients so, while we’ve centred our conveyancing department around speed of delivery, we’ve also kept that personal touch. That’s how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market. Often, when a consumer rings a law firm regarding conveyancing matters it’s like ringing a call centre but at Birchall Blackburn Law we ensure we have someone – a person – waiting at the end of the phone. And we’re proactive – at least once a week we’ll call clients and let them know how their case is progressing. Moving house is an emotive and stressful time for people and we never lose sight of that.
"Consequently, our ratings speak for themselves – on a comparison website, for example, 95% of our ratings are five stars. And that means people don’t just choose us on price – they choose us because we’re good at what we do. Price looks after itself if you get the service right.
"And, because our clients are happy, staff are fulfilled too. It’s a virtuous circle, really."
Where has all the extra workload come from?
"The market is buoyant across the country – it’s not just the South-East any more – and, in that buoyant market, people are coming to us because they recognise our high service levels and approval ratings.
"We’re also developing closer relationships with estate agents and financial brokers – the teams in our various offices are getting out and meeting people so it’s more of a joined-up approach and we’re taking on more introducers."
Do you think the market is picking up post-election as well?
"It is – there’s a lot more confidence now we have a clear government in place. I think the banks are relaxing too, and introducing new products to encourage people to buy houses."
What’s the market like in Lancashire?
"The market is a lot more buoyant here – it’s definitely picking up, particularly at the first time buyer level."
How long have you been with Birchall Blackburn Law and what changes have you made to the conveyancing department?
"About 14-months now – this job was attractive in that Birchall Blackburn Law has a good reputation in the market so part of my role is to make people aware of that and get our name out there.
"And I’ve been working with staff as well, letting them know what our business plan is and extolling our clarity of purpose. We have regular appraisals and all our staff members have a clear personal development plan over a five year period so they can see how they’ll progress. I also ensure they have varied workloads and are involved in transactions from the start right through to completion so their jobs are challenging and interesting."
How are you coping with the 68% growth in terms of extra workload as a firm?
"It has its challenges. We have to make sure we have consistency across our eight offices – that people are working in the same way and delivering our service in the same manner across them. It shouldn’t matter which office a client goes to – the service level has to be the same. It’s all part of protecting our brand."
Are you taking on a lot of new staff to cope?
"Yes – we’ve brought in over 70 expert people in the last 12 months. We want to grow our own talent too so, last year, we set up an apprenticeship scheme with Manchester Metropolitan University and through that we’re bringing people in with different backgrounds – so that could be a marketing or IT degree. We’re currently recruiting more people that way. And we now have two members of staff dedicated to training. We want to encourage staff keen to grow with the business who can see their long term future here."
What qualities do you think people require to succeed in conveyancing?
"Good personal skills are important – vital in fact. So it’s an ability to talk to people and work proactively rather than reactively."
How will you maintain and build upon this growth? You’ve announced that you’re looking to break the £10m barrier in 2015/16.
"We’re investing a lot in IT to make sure we have the systems in place to deal with the heavier workload but also to improve the way we deliver the service. And we’re making sure our staff have the right support. But really it’s a case of learning – what was good last month; what was bad; what was indifferent? – and evolving."
For more information about Birchall Blackburn Law log on to www.birchallblackburn.co.uk
Conveyancing: other useful links to help you find a solicitor
Law Society: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/
Solicitors Regulation Authority: http://www.sra.org.uk/home/home.page
Legal 500: http://www.legal500.com/
Legal Week: http://www.legalweek.com/