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21. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a few discussions about the use of technology in conveyancing with some suggesting that it does not make a difference and in their opinion, it’s actually makes things worse.  There were some amusing discussions on LinkedIn about the benefits of paper files and even the MP for Hendon got in on the act by asking the housing minister to introduce legislation to protect the rights of law firms to continue to use paper.

Which, as Alice would say, was curiouser.

Especially given the mood music, where everyone is talking about how generative artificial intelligence is going to be better at our jobs than we are.  The idea that paper is a good defensive strategy against the march of technology is not what you would call convincing.  It’s fair to say that had King Canute’s weapon of choice been a few reams of Brilliant White unbleached A4, the result would have been a soggy mess.

If the investment bank, Goldman Sachs are to be believed, 44% of legal jobs will be replaced by technology.  Which means if there are 10 of you sitting in an office, 4.4 of you will no longer be doing the job you are today.

So is there any good news?

The timing of this job shift is not clear.  The good news for lawyers is that it will come down to adoption, which is something the legal profession excels at doing spectacularly badly.  We digitally signed the first electronic transfer deed over two years ago and we’ve not been able to get other firms to agree to sign another one since.

As long as lawyers insist on not using case management systems, refusing to go paperless and continuing to support their favourite charities of DX and the Post Office, then this should keep the technology wolf from the door.

The problem is that while we can waste countless hours highlighting the shortcomings of ChatGPT’s ability to draft overage agreements, trying to deny that technology is not going to change things is all a bit futile.  The question should be, where do we draw the line between the technology that is beneficial and that which is not.

No matter how tempting, there will be very few that think we should stop using email.  If we ignore the inconvenient fact that it is the criminal’s tool of choice for defrauding clients, it works pretty well for sharing information.  In the same vein, the list of people fighting against the use of Microsoft Word is pretty short.  Case management systems are in theory pretty handy when it comes to finding and creating documents, although most of them are so shockingly old fashioned, there is an argument that you might actually be better off without them.

The correct argument is therefore not whether technology is bad and paper is good, but does the technology solve a problem worth solving?  For example, electronic form filling and signatures remove some hassle, but where technology has a vital role to play is finding gaps in the evidence.  Which is where we are going to see genuine advances.

What does this mean?

It’s definitely time to hold onto your seats, because the good news is that there are changes trundling down the road that are going to make a genuine difference for conveyancers.   The capture of information in a structured way so that it can be interpreted and analysed is absolutely vital and is not that far away.  Contrary to what you might read, a lot of this information is already being requested by lawyers; we just need to find a way to store it more efficiently.  Once this happens, it’s a relatively small jump for technology to start interpreting it.

Although technology may indeed mean that 4.4 out of 10 conveyancers are no longer going to be doing as much administrative work as before, technology will ensure you will be doing more communication and interpretation rather than filing.

It really is time to turn off the sprinkler system and set fire to those dusty bookcases.  To misquote JFK, let’s start asking not what you can do for technology, but what can technology do for you.

Yeah – not sure that really worked, but you get the idea.


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.

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