Lack of transparency.
Just a few of the more polite words that people use to describe the conveyancing industry today. It’s not particularly constructive to dwell on the other less polite words, but as the owner of a law firm that exploits technology, I like to think this gives us an edge when it comes to sharing information.
For example, last year we introduced our Enquiry Explorer which is designed to reduce the stress involved with the Black Hole of Conveyancing – pre-contract enquiries. Despite the concept being pretty simple, we’re seeing little evidence of other firms copying us, which is shame, because it really does make life easier for our lawyers.
When we raise enquiries on a purchase, our lawyers select them from a standard set, each with their own explanatory notes. We make the necessary adjustments to ensure they relate to the specific property; heaven forbid we raise an enquiry about a conservatory on a third floor flat – we’d never be forgiven for that – and rightly so. We send these to the sellers and display them on our client portal. When the sellers respond, we paste their answers into the system so the client can see progress.
Conversely, when we are selling, we paste the enquiries from the buyers into the system and those that we cannot answer, we set a flag to notify the client that there’s a question they need to answer. The idea is the client gives their answer, which we moderate and convert into something that the buyers will accept and life is good.
What could possibly go wrong?
We’ve had tens of thousands of enquiries go through the system since we started using it. Our clients love it. Our lawyers love it. In January, in a moment of immense generosity, we even opened it up to estate agents so they could see what was going on. And yes, they loved it too.
Last week, as we were slapping each other on the back and congratulating ourselves on our brilliance, we received a furious complaint from a client. “We’re not lawyers, why are you asking me about a Deed of Variation – I had to Google this. You should be advising me and you’re not. Why am I paying for this service?” If you’re in conveyancing, you know the drill.
We were, frankly, a little thrown. After all, no-one else offered such innovative technology, and besides, this product was award-winning, for goodness sake.
Once we’d got over the shock and upset, we carried out an investigation. We had received a response from the other side and had pasted it into the system as usual. The client had received a notification from us there were enquiries that needed answers, and once they had answered those that were allocated to him, he then went on to check the remaining that we were dealing with, as he thought he had to answer himself. Which was not ideal. Indeed, it generated a complaint which we had to deal with – the exact opposite of what we were trying to achieve.
What did we learn from this?
We made a change to the system that made it much clearer which issues clients were supposed to deal with, rather than giving them free access to all the enquiries. Our clever “drop-down filter” of who owns which enquiries, was clearly a step too far.
While clients crave transparency, unfortunately, when it comes to conveyancing, it is actually possible to have too much. When clients think that they need to answer questions from another lawyer and therefore feel aggrieved that we are not doing our job, this means transparency has gone too far.
The key was to ensure the transparency we offer enables clients to view (a) what was appropriate for them and (b) something that they could provide useful input to.
After all – who knew you could actually be TOO transparent?
Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.
Peter Ambrose: email@example.com, 01483 579978
Press enquiries: Tracy Holland, firstname.lastname@example.org 01483 579978