The average property law firm handled 84 cases during the first quarter, an increase of 9% on the previous quarter and the second highest average caseload per quarter since records began in 2011.
This is according to the Conveyancing Market Tracker (CMT) from property data company Search Acumen.
While first quarter figures actually represent a 12% decrease year-on-year, reflecting a slower housing market as economic conditions have stagnated, this annual fall is overshadowed by the long-term shift in market dynamics which has increased pressure on legal practitioners.
Search Acumen’s analysis shows the average firm is handling more than double the number of cases each quarter than it was to a decade ago, when the average quarterly caseload per firm stood at just 40 cases in Q1 2013.
The fact that caseloads remain near historic highs, despite the challenging economic conditions, reflects the ongoing imbalance between total case volumes and the number of active firms available to handle them.
Over the last decade, the number of active property law firms has fallen by 8% from 4,402 to 4,045. During the same time period, the average number of cases per quarter has rocketed by 93% from 176,110 to 339,346.
While active firm numbers have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels (increasing by 2% from 3,961 in first quarter 2019 to 4,045 in first quarter 2023) this rise falls far short of enabling firms to keep pace with the scale of long-term growth in caseloads.
High case levels recorded in first quarter 2023 (339,346 across the entire market over the quarter, up 10% on the figures recorded in fourth quarter 2022 and near historic highs) are also symptomatic of significant administrative backlogs in registering property transactions.
This means cases continue to stack up on lawyers’ books even if the number of new cases they are processing reduces.
According to Search Acumen, the figures show the scale of task facing conveyancers and HM Land Registry as they fight to catch up following the 2020-2022 property boom, catalysed by the response to the pandemic, and highlights the need for faster digitisation of the legal property process.