Mary Rose Mulliner of Hatchers Solicitors reflects on her return to private practice after 12 years at Land Registry
A few years ago my view was to the River Mersey. Today I look out to the River Severn. Two rivers but one thing in common – they are the backdrop to the offices where I have worked and continue to work as a lawyer.
Then it was as a Land Registrar for Land Registry, now it is as a solicitor with Hatchers Solicitors LLP in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
I joined Land Registry in 2001 having previously worked in private practice as a commercial property lawyer. The world of private practice I left in 2000 is very different from the one I rejoined this year. The Land Registry I left in 2013 is very different from the one I joined in 2001.
When I joined Land Registry my knowledge of land registration was probably no better than other private practice lawyers. The learning curve was steep – to see the registration process from beginning to end was an eye-opener.
There was also the need to gain a detailed knowledge of areas of law that rarely troubled me in private practice: adverse possession, plans and boundary disputes, rectification and indemnity, fraud. As Land Registry lawyers are heavily involved in disputed applications, litigation skills also needed to be acquired.
Dealing with lay and professional customers brought its own challenges – when I became a Land Registrar one of my roles was to deal with complaints that had not otherwise been resolved.
Although I took early retirement from Land Registry my legal brain was not yet ready to retire. I decided to rejoin private practice to put to good use all that I had gained at Land Registry.
When I was at Land Registry applications got into difficulty because the professional and lay customers lacked familiarity with or understanding of that particular type of application. My hope was that my knowledge could help bridge that gap.
From offices to open plan
Before I left private practice in 2000 my dealings with Land Registry were by phone, post or through DX. The effective legislation was the Land Registration Act 1925.
When an application was lodged you expected nothing back by return and when an application was completed you received a Land or Charge Certificate. With rare exception the speed of conveyancing transactions reflected low-tech communication. There was even the occasional personal completion. Fee earners had their own office and their own secretary, the latter keeping the unwanted at bay where the occasion required!
When I joined Land Registry the lawyers had their own offices and secretarial support. Open plan working followed together with voice activated typing or self-typing. With a direct dial number at the bottom of letters customers could and did talk direct to named lawyers.
I joined with reform of land registration on the horizon. The Land Registration Act 2002 and the Land Registration Rules came into force on 13 October 2003. Among the many provisions were those for an independent adjudication system and for electronic conveyancing.
There was a lot to learn, for Land Registry staff and practitioners alike. Since those far-off days the adjudication system has bedded in, producing far more cases than originally envisaged.
The move from low tech to high tech has advanced in leaps and bounds with applications lodged electronically, correspondence made electronically and deeds and documents stored electronically. Land Registry practice materials have also moved from paper to electronic.
An outcome of those advances is an expectation that applications will be dealt with quicker. In addition to those process advances there have also been advances in the Land Registry/customer relationship. The advent of customer teams has enabled a better understanding between Land Registry and customers to develop.
When I joined Hatchers there was no step back in time to my old private practice days. Instead it was a move to a familiar environment.
At Hatchers I sit open plan and where needed do my own typing, so just like Land Registry. At Hatchers much of my communication with clients and other conveyancers is by phone and email, so just like Land Registry. When instructions are received there is the requirement to verify ID and so help reduce the risk of fraud, so just like Land Registry.
Transactions are dealt with quicker than in my old private practice days – a combination of information being available electronically, whether draft and title documentation from other conveyancers, local and other searches, or Land Registry search results and information, and an increasingly flexible banking system.
Clients also seek speedier transactions, so just like Land Registry. Moving transactions along more speedily is assisted by precedents being kept electronically, so just like Land Registry.
The difference I have experienced in rejoining private practice is that it is only once you have become a customer of Land Registry that you really appreciate the benefits of what it has to offer.
MapSearch is a really useful tool to get you started, giving you a broad picture of what is and what is not registered and identifying title numbers. In somewhere like Shropshire there is a surprising amount of unregistered land in existence and old title documents may well not reflect the position on the ground.
The ability to undertake searches electronically and receive an immediate result speeds up transactions as does the ability to order official copies and deeds and documents online. Lodging applications electronically is more cost effective – not just because of the reduced fee you pay but the reduced time taken to put the application together.
The time taken to return completed applications varies from next day to some months when it is a first registration, but where a completed registration is needed urgently Land Registry endeavours to do what it can to expedite it.
I have seen the benefits of setting out clearly in a covering letter what you are seeking to achieve when lodging a complex application. I have also seen the benefits of carefully checking the completed application when it is returned. I know from my Land Registry days the importance given to the quality of the work produced, but mistakes do happen and it is good to know that Land Registry deals with them as a matter of priority.
My return to private practice is a happy one. I have gained a great deal of satisfaction in being able to share my Land Registry knowledge and experience with clients and colleagues.
My legal career began many years ago at a time when it was expected that you stayed with the firm you trained with and gradually climbed the partnership ladder. I could never have envisaged the route my career has taken but have no regrets.
Legal careers today have a welcome flexibility, so a move from Land Registry to private practice or a move to Land Registry from private practice is quite possible and for my part to be recommended.