The other evening, I was settling down to watch the latest Ridley Scott blockbuster based loosely on reforming the Home Buying and Selling Process, (quite a niche Netflix channel I admit) when my phone pinged with an email.
I tore myself away from the on-screen action and read a pretty vindictive message about us on social media, making all sorts of libellous allegations about our thieving, fundamental ineptness. I figured I’d let it pass, I mean – welcome to Conveyancing 2022 – this goes with the territory. A few minutes later I got a notification from our client portal. Same client. Same complaint. When I got a message from Google, the “Break The Emergency Glass” social media daddy of them all, I figured something must be up.
The cause of this mid-evening anguish? Yes – it was that cruel mistress of technology once more.
Sometimes technology bites back
I see too much King Canute-type thinking about technology in conveyancing, typically along the lines of “technology doesn’t replace expertise” or “we need good lawyers, not technology”. This demonstrates a certain lack of understanding because what we’re actually talking about is the delivery of the right information at the right time. Which is why we have a client portal – about 1500 people use it every day to find out what’s going on and be notified of progress – they like it, and it seems to work.
The one thing those High Priests of Paper have got right is that technology in itself does not solve every issue and you need smart people to fix things when they go wrong. In this particular case, the money the client had paid on account just didn’t show up on his financial statement. We don’t know why. We’re blaming the heatwave because it was responsible for everything else that went wrong in July.
What makes it all the more frustrating is that years ago we implemented a technology to avoid such issues occurring. We have a live financial statement available to our clients on the portal throughout the transaction – we’re one of the only firms to do so. My theory was that if clients saw the financial statement building during the process, they’d be fewer issues at the end.
The issue came to light as we were gearing up for completion – that magical time when all the balances are adjusted on the financial statement, and everything just works out. As part of this process, we would have spotted this issue but naturally our client saw it first. As the money on account was not showing, the client believed we had over-charged him for that amount.
You can have some sympathy, because when you see figures online, you expect them to be 100% correct. Obviously you have to ignore the word “DRAFT” written in 60pt Arial across the statement, as well as the red banner at the top that reads:
“This is in draft format, so some of this stuff might change because this conveyancing thing is actually a lot more intricate than people might think and even at the last minute we might be sent an email from the other side asking us for an extra allowance of £12.76 because hey, these things happen.”
What can we learn from this?
There’s a couple of interesting points here. Firstly, we had been working together with this client for nearly two months, during which time we had numerous conversations, messages and letters and had clearly built-up trust during that time judging by the tone and nature of the messages. But, a small technology glitch caused that trust to disappear instantly.
Secondly, that trust was so devastatingly broken that rather than pick up the telephone to us to check, the assumption was that we were attempting to steal from him, and, in his eyes, all our other clients as well. An opinion that he felt needed sharing amongst as many people as possible. Although, we fixed the issue in 30 seconds, when we called to let him know, he refused to remove many of the comments.
The reality is when a service such as conveyancing is seen as problematic, technology will only dig you partly out of the hole. It’s not the all-conquering superhero we wish it would be.
When it lets you down, it’s just more fuel to the raging fire and the liberator turns assassin, ably assisted by social media.
Technology really is a tricky mistress.
Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of conveyancing services.