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24. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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As it was summer and everyone seemed to be on holiday, I thought I’d contact lots of lawyers and talk about how they manage enquiries.  I know this might not spring to mind as the best entertainment that a wet August in England has to offer, but I had few options.

Concerns were raised on a couple of occasions that the profession was being dumbed-down to an industrial process, with enquiry raising being a Pink Floyd-like “brick in the wall”.  This mirrors many of the more vociferous comments on social media, typically blaming those who “don’t need no education

Things did get curious when people were asked how they raised and managed enquiries, as the answer was always 100% technology-based.  Typically people store responses in folders, create documents with tracking tables or some hardy souls used email threads, but to their credit, they did apologise for this state of affairs.

So much for technology being the devil that won’t save us, eh?

Dealing with that particular devil

The reality is that it’s time for one of those long looks in the mirror, because it’s not technology that the issue here, but how it is used. The concept of offering pre-drafted enquiries that can be selected for a specific property, seems to be at the heart of concerns.  This approach is often seen as indicative of a lack of training, education, qualification or a heinous mixture of all three.

But here’s the thing; the Law Society’s protocol forms have been around for decades – templated questions that reduce the enquiries raised by the buyers.  Before their introduction, any information would be more random and unstructured than it is today.  Maybe some readers were marching down Whitehall waving anti-TA6 flags, bemoaning the dumbing-down of conveyancing.

I can’t work out what the gap is between enquiries on a protocol form and specific enquiries but I don’t think we need a London Underground employee with a tannoy to warn us about minding it.

Let’s not scare the horses

As a technologist, I look for how technology can reduce risk and time and effort.  When an experienced lawyer tells me they raise specific enquiries from scratch, this concerns me.  Not because it’s wrong, it’s just risky and inefficient.

This is because, and let’s not shout this too loudly for fear of scaring the horses, the enquiries they raise are going to be like those they raised on other similar properties.  If not identical.  The problem is typing them, or, heaven forbid, dictating them, in a letter is just plain repetitive, boring and error-prone.

It’s a tricky argument to say that because technology can make your life easier and less risky that it’s dumbing-down.  In the same way, Outlook is really good at setting reminders but I don’t see many souls manning the barricades campaigning against it undermining proven memory skills.

But what about the answers?

Although its popular to rail against the use of templated enquiries to reduce risk, it’s time to mix metaphors and throw the whole pack of cards in the air and address the elephant in the room.

Hopefully the horses have got over their last scare, but little do they know there’s another one coming down the bridlepath.  When it comes to responding to enquiries, it’s a pretty simple multiple-choice test, with only four answers.

  1. To follow
  2. Deferring to our client
  3. Awaiting third party
  4. The actual answer

If you ever wonder if your role has been dumbed down, think how many times you have answered number 1, sending this tennis ball of worthlessness back to the other side, obviously copying in the agent so they can share in the sheer futility of it all.

If you’ve nothing of value to say, then don’t waste valuable calories typing or dictating it, when they could be used to post photographs of gifted Milk Tray boxes on LinkedIn. Surely it makes sense to template these responses?

Let’s give technology a break

It’s time we reached the conclusion that there is no shame in using technology to make you more efficient.

We need look at what we are doing with our time and whether it’s worth it.

One of these should probably be NOT talking to me in August about the arcane practices your firm has always insisted upon using for managing enquiries. There are far more enjoyable things to do.


Peter Ambrose is the CEO of The Partnership and Legalito – specialists in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing software and services.

Peter Ambrose:, 01483 579978

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The Partnership are an award-winning property law firm.