THE BRACKS Government plans a regulatory shake-up for conveyancing, with tough new laws designed to boost competition in the industry.
The proposed changes have been released for public review and include a new licensing scheme for non-lawyers. Under the proposed laws, the current ban on conveyancers performing legal work in a property transaction will be lifted.
This is a big win for consumers and well-established non-lawyer conveyancers, according to Law Institute of Victoria chief executive John Cain. “What it does is impose a regulatory environment on those non-lawyers doing conveyancing that hasn’t existed previously,” he said.
“So whereas anybody in the past could hang their shingle up without qualifications, without training, without professional indemnity insurance, and call themselves a conveyancer and do conveyancing work for consumers, they are not going to be able to do that now. They are going to have to do qualification, they are going to have some experience in the industry and they are going to have to have professional indemnity insurance.”
For consumers, it takes the “guess work” out of it and puts some security in there, said Cain. “They can be confident that if they use a lawyer for their conveyancing they are going to get good quality work and conveyancing work done on their behalf.”
Those undertaking conveyancing now have to gain accredited qualifications, and have at least 12 months’ experience as well as hold professional indemnity insurance. The proposed changes are a result of a review commissioned by the Bracks Government into the regulation of Victoria’s conveyancing industry.
Minister for Consumer Affairs, Marsha Thomson, said: “Our response to this report outlines our preferred options for improving regulation of the conveyancing industry.”
“It is important Victorian consumers have confidence in the conveyancing industry when making one of their largest investments — buying a home,” said Thomson.
For the legal profession, things will not change dramatically, said Cain. “These conveyancers have existed for some time, at least a decade, but it will mean they will have to have qualifications, so it might mean there are perhaps less conveyancers that establish short term businesses — that those conveyancers in the marketplace have established businesses.”
It is unlikely that people will be deterred from doing the qualifications and that there is therefore more work for lawyers, Cain argued, as current conveyancers will be “grandfathered in”. “So at least in the short term there will be the same number of conveyancers.”
But the Law Institute proposes that those conveyancers should be required to do the course or a course within three to four years of this regulatory regime commencing, said Cain. “If that was to be a requirement you might find that some that do not want to do the course may drop out, but there will be others to take their place.”
The Government’s response accepted the report’s recommendations to abolish the distinction between legal work and non-legal work in conveyancing, said the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Thomson. As well, it supported the proposal to put in place provisions to regulate the handling of client monies and require disclosure of actual or potential conflicts of interest, she said.
But, while the report called for a registration scheme for conveyancers, the Government preferred a more formal licensing scheme that would exclude lawyers who are already licensed under the Legal Profession Act, she said.