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23. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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You’re in the kitchen and a screw drops out of the bottom of a chair and it needs to be put back before it gets lost.  Although it’s got a Philips head, you grab a sharp knife from the nearest drawer and the job is done.  You know you should have gone to the garage for your toolbox, but, hey, that’s quite a walk.

Sure, you broke off the tip of the knife so you have to hide it under its undamaged friends, but no-one’s going to notice that minor blemish.

Which brings us onto the tools that conveyancers are using today.

After an exhaustive study of over 15 firms ( having read a survey where buyers claimed they would pay £1000 for a Home Information Pack, I no longer worry about representative sample sizes ) it’s clear that the range of appropriate tools to help lawyers is limited at best.

Which means they are forced to use technology to solve problems that they really shouldn’t.

So what sort of things are we talking about?

It’s time for a bit of honesty.

Like every part of the law, there’s a lot of administration in conveyancing.  From form filling, monitoring submission deadlines, transferring data between documents, it’s a big part of our working lives.

While humans are great at interpretation, translating ideas and recognising the potential for problems in the future, when it comes to handling data, they are always going to lose out to computers.  Always.

The problem is having the right technology for the right problems is, and always will be a challenge.  I have not spoken to a lawyer who has told me they have all the tools they need for their job.  Indeed, it’s usually the opposite; “our case management system is OK” which is lawyer-speak for “it does the bare minimum but there’s no point in complaining because no-one listens to us conveyancers anyway”.

Which is why, Outlook, Excel and Word are the kitchen knives of choice and goes a long way to explain why property lawyers are working such long hours.

Outlook, designed to send emails and for setting appointments, has been shoe-horned by lawyers into task management, offering slim pickings when it comes to prioritisation and integration.  Lawyers joining us from other firms explain how they used it for deadline reminders but it got awfully clunky awfully quickly when they had more than a dozen action items in a day.  Which they did.

Excel, designed for financial planning and budgeting, is the most widely used data storage software in the world – if something involves data, Excel is the master; if you’ve not experienced the joys of the @Search function, you need to watch some videos explaining on YouTube – it’s a modern miracle.  However, in conveyancing, it’s usually used for creating inaccurate completion statements, due to formulas being deleted by mistake.  Its other main use is for tracking cases which are expected to exchange this month.

However, when we are looking for the go-to software that no lawyer can live without, we always end up with Word.  Designed for creating letters and reports, this amazing software is never more than an icon click away from the hand of a lawyer.  It makes creating checklists, Reports on Title, Declarations of Trust, transfers and even SDLT submissions faster and more efficient – what on earth did we do before Microsoft gave us this thing of beauty?

So what’s with Word?

We know property lawyers can’t afford to waste time waiting for the perfect solution – this is completely understandable.

However, the concern is it appears they are starting to believe that Word is an appropriate tool for managing the critical area of pre-contract enquiries and it simply isn’t.  We know that enquiries are the first port of call when defending claims, and Word’s freeform approach to a highly structured process introduces risk, uncertainty and in our experience, a lot of confusion.

If you don’t have any other option for managing enquiries than Word, then obviously carry on, but please don’t fall into the trap of believing that it’s a good solution as it’s no more than a stop-gap.

After all, just because you can tighten a Philips screw with a steak knife, doesn’t mean you should.


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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