Leonard Curtis Legal’s Andrew Gregory was a panellist at a recent virtual round table discussion for professional advisers. Hosted by Leonard Curtis Business Solutions Group and attended by Metro Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, the session explored the impact of the coronavirus for SMEs in the city region.

As Director of Leonard Curtis’ legal division, Andrew shared his thoughts on the legal landscape, what the team is seeing as lockdown continues and his expectations for the legal services market and society as a whole as we move forwards.

“According to one lawyer contact heavily in residential conveyancing, the property market has gone. No mortgage applications are being processed, there’s a handful of completions to finish off and staff are being furloughed. Clients are being advised that files will be kept securely, and activity will begin again when things pick up.

“Realistically, no one is expecting any further activity in domestic conveyancing until autumn at the earliest. That’s a long time to be out of the game and the wider implications are huge for the whole buying and selling market chains, mortgage providers, estate agents, lawyers. All of these businesses suddenly, are literally frozen.

“It’s a similar situation for the commercial property market. We’re seeing big agencies that have furloughed the majority of their staff because, let’s face it, who requires a valuation of commercial property premises at the moment? And who knows what its value will be in several months’ time? Again, the knock-on effect of this virus on the overall property market is immense.

“Picking up on the point made by Andy Burnham – about how we start to move on from this, how we start to pick it up again – we need to consider what the new ‘norm’ will be. We’ve all had to adapt to change – for better and worse – and companies have invested heavily to ensure their employees can work effectively and efficiently remotely.

“So, how many of these commercial properties will be fully utilised in the future? There are observations being made left right and centre about how we’ve learnt to work differently, and we’ll never go back to how we operated like we did before.

“Another legal area feeling the pinch is personal injury. We know from legal friends and colleagues that, because there are fewer people on the roads, there are fewer accidents. It’s obvious.

“At Leonard Curtis Legal, one area that we are experiencing a great deal of interest in is what I describe as exit strategies. They’ve certainly been a key theme for us over the last month or so in terms of enquiries and discussions that we’re having with clients.

“There are lots of SME owners out there who have worked tirelessly for years to establish successful and profitable businesses and are now seriously thinking about an exit. Some of them are in their sixties and seventies and now find themselves in somewhat of an enforced retirement and don’t know how they’re going to focus on going forward when we’re out of the other side of this situation. They had built businesses, with some significant value, that may now not be worth anything.

“This is becoming increasingly evident amongst law firms and I believe that we’ll see larger firms looking to buy smaller practices in the next six months or so.

“One thing is for certain, the Covid-19 pandemic has also forced innovation upon us. We’re all now using Zoom and other video conferencing software. I’d never used any of them until a few weeks ago and I’m increasingly getting into it.  It’s staggering to think that in March, the Zoom app was downloaded over 40million times globally2.13million on 23rd March alone, when we entered lockdown. This is a shift in behaviour that I can’t ever imagine will be reversed – even long after the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.”

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