Ian White has been chair of the Property Section for nearly three years, and committee member for almost 15, since the launch of the Section in 2002. Retiring from the committee this year, he looks back at 15 years of involvement with the Section and the sector. 

Looking back in time can be an informative, if not always fruitful activity. 2002 seems a long time ago. Major events in the world included the deaths of Princess Margaret and later the Queen Mother, the launch of the euro in the Euro zone countries, the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and South Korea hosting the World Cup.

With our role as gatekeepers, anti-money laundering and more recently cybercrime and mortgage fraud have been, and remain, significant areas of engagement

In the legal world, the Law Society of England and Wales appointed its first lady president, Carolyn Kirby. Wait, surely that can’t be right – the Society formed in 1825 and yet it took 177 years to appoint a female president? Even bearing in mind the society didn’t admit its first woman solicitor until 1922, 80 years is an incredibly long time. The world and attitudes have changed a great deal.

There is strong evidence that the Law Society (and to a wider extent the profession) has been resistant to change. Sometimes change is forced from external influences; in the early 2000s the Clementi Review forced a sea change which ultimately saw the regulatory arm of the Law Society forfeited in favour of a representational role. Even now, there are many who still rue that day.

The creation of council members representing specialist practice areas was a new concept. I was elected from no fewer than 10 candidates to represent 18,000 commercial property solicitors across the country. It was a considerable privilege, but also a very big ask, and communication with the constituents very difficult indeed. So when the idea of a Property Section was proposed, it seemed a very positive way forward. No constitution was agreed at that time, but the essence of this membership group was clear – to provide the best possible content, contacts and training for property lawyers. Our overriding ambition was to make the Property Section their first port of call.

The Property Section has always worked best when it has been most useful and most needed. Our membership grew massively when home information packs were booming. While there was a lot of interest in the process, there were also fears about the further empowering of estate agents in conveyancing transactions. It was our wish to put the conveyancer at the heart of the process, from start to finish. The profession feared that estate agents would be at the forefront of the property market (some would say it was ever thus). We sought to put the property solicitor in their rightful place.

The advent of stamp duty land tax saw the conveyancing solicitor, in effect, become both tax assessor and tax collector. This provided another focal point for our work; help and guidance was urgently needed. A serious of roadshows offering just that were well received and strongly supported.

With our role as gatekeepers, anti-money laundering and more recently cybercrime and mortgage fraud have been, and remain, significant areas of engagement.

The annual property conference, about to reach its 16th anniversary, has been a very successful means of looking at innovation as well as new and ongoing challenges to the profession. Property in Practice, thanks to our managing editor Alice Trouncer and her team, has been a constant flagship of the Section, where quality and relevance have always been at the forefront.

Over 15 years, we have availed ourselves of new channels of training, particularly webinars, where ‘attendance’ has often been very high indeed. Now podcasts are being encouraged as the way forward.

The Section has built success on success. Now we are challenged to extend our work and our membership.

The Section committee has remained fairly stable over the past 15 years, in that three of us have been here from the start, offering a sense of continuity. New members with a strong range of specialist knowledge have been brought in. Twice in my time as chair, we have advertised for new committee members, and each time received an excellent response. Those appointed have added greatly to our work. In fact, I don’t think that I would be contradicted in saying that, overall, we now have a stronger committee than at any time since our inception. To that end, I think that my work is done. It’s time for the Section to reach the next level, with a new chair elected to move things forward.

I will continue to have links with the wider Law Society on the editorial board of the Conveyancing Handbook. I’m also continuing as coordinator of the Conveyancing Specialist Interest Group at Staffordshire University, which meets six times a year.

In my last contribution to a Law Society publication, I extend my best wishes for the future and thanks for all the support given to the Section to date.

I look forward to seeing you at the national property conference in October.