Building a career in property

After a tough few years, conveyancing is once again a viable career option for young lawyers and paralegals 

Catherine Henry, manager, BCL Legal

Catherine Henry index

The recent news from the Land Registry that house sales were up 17 per cent year-on-year has been welcomed by many. But for recruiters it comes as no huge surprise, as they have seen a distinct upturn in transactional conveyancing and remortgage roles, especially at assistant and fee-earner levels.

One of the big drivers has been phase two of the Help to Buy scheme, which is allowing first-time buyers into the market. 

Also, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the second part of 2013 has seen a good increase in lending, with lending in the UK reaching £17.6bn in October – the highest amount in five years and 37 per cent more than a year earlier. 

As a result, more firms are recruiting, giving junior lawyers real options. Volume businesses are inundated with instructions, while regional, high street and smaller practices are also busy. 

When the recession took hold, many lawyers left the conveyancing market. This means there is sometimes a lack of experience available and means firms are more flexible when it comes to a candidate’s background and transferable skills.

In terms of skills, the ability to handle a caseload of transactional files – such as freehold and leasehold sales and purchases, shared ownerships and new builds – is in huge demand. 

Firms with more traditional practices require conveyancers with experience of handling a caseload in excess of 70 files. The good news is that NQs or juniors who have three to six months experience of handling smaller caseloads will be considered if the firm has the facility to train and develop them.

There are several things to consider when thinking about a career in conveyancing. A commitment and an interest in residential property is really important. The sector has struggled in the past six years, so those coming into the market must be aware that hard work and dedication are paramount. Salaries are rising slowly and although work is coming in, some firms are still wary of recruiting. Targets and pressure are also part of the job, so being able to thrive in a fast-paced environment is important.

There are real options for career progression. Thanks to recent conditions, there are not that many mid-level conveyancers. That means the path is relatively clear for talented candidates. Also, a number of firms have internal training to fast-track keen young lawyers. This means graduates could be fee-earning in nine to 12 months.

It’s not hard to find articles stating we could be heading for another property crash thanks to the speed in which the market is picking up. But recruiters are busier than they have been in years. There is money being pumped into the market and confidence has soared.

Most firms are crying out for assistants and paralegals, so there are a lot of options if you can be flexible with your salary expectations. It’s also important to consider long-term objectives as well as money.