Ask anyone with an interest in technology how it’s going to change the lives of conveyancers and they’ll say that integration is the future. ( They might also say AI but that’s a bit tricky so let’s park that thought for now. ) Thing is, no-one asks what integration actually looks like and what is the problem that it’s actually trying to solve.
For example, if you want to streamline client onboarding and your case management system (CMS) doesn’t support this, you have to look elsewhere. This is because the harsh reality is that it’s simply not practical for CMS vendors to provide every feature or integration that their clients might ask for.
Given that this means that we’re all going to be using multiple providers for the foreseeable future, I thought we should look at what integration should achieve and what’s the absolute minimum we can get away with.
Let’s face it, as property lawyers we’ve learned that the bare minimum of everything is probably a realistic goal to strive for.
What does integration look like?
First, we need to work out where we’re starting from, because depending on your entertainment preferences, without getting all Depeche Mode or Mr Carson about it, there has to be a master and a servant. Obviously the CMS should be the starting point, but this assumes you have one. If you’re still struggling with the conveyancing Holy Trinity of Outlook, Word and Windows folders, then it’s fair to say that integration won’t be high on your list of achievable outcomes.
Some argue that integration with a CMS alone is justification for the use of a particular tool, but in reality, vendors report a patchy take-up of these integrated offerings. The technology must address a problem worth solving, otherwise, the best integration in the world is not going to encourage people to use it, despite what you might read on LinkedIn.
We need to consider how integrated does software need to be before people will benefit from this. This depends on the problem being solved, for example, to order a search requires just the property address, which can be easily be pasted into a form – as you’ll need to add more data, any benefit of ordering searches “directly” is not exactly compelling. However, returning new information such as expected return dates and a breakdown of costs is definitely valuable.
Therefore, as it’s not matter creation, but returning data where integration adds value, it’s worth considering options where a direct link to the case can be offered instead.
The data integrity challenge
Taking a leaf out of the regulator’s book, the choice of integration will depend on the outcome, such as mailmerge eliminating data rekeying which reduces the chance of errors. It sounds blindingly obvious, but what happens, for example, when your onboarding tool returns client details to your CMS that do not match the data you hold and needs manual reconciliation.
Which is the heart of the matter, because as lawyers, we have no leeway; clients rightly expect 100% accuracy from us, whether it’s the data we hold, the reports on title we write or the spelling in the emails we send.
We learned this the hard way. A few years ago, a client re-submitted a new bank details form on our portal because he had made a mistake on his first attempt. Naturally, because this is conveyancing, we sent the £1.6m proceeds of sale to the bank based on the details on the incorrect first form. The difficult telephone calls we endured over that weekend convinced us to change our portal so clients had to enter their bank details themselves. Which solved the data problem.
However, integrating a third party supplier that relies on capturing client information will not eliminate the need to reconcile and it’s worth remembering that effort will be required to make the data consistent with that held in the CMS.
Will integration improve the speed of conveyancing?
This is the £64m question, but it can be boiled down to this. How many hours of lawyers’ and their assistants’ time is spent manually processing or rekeying information from clients, which could be better used on conveyancing work. Anything that removes mistakes and the duplication of checking will free up time and speed up the process.
Although integration should reduce data errors, this must be weighed up against the time-savings that a non-integrated offering might provide. Indeed, they might promise to integrate their solution in the future. But you will of course need to take their promised timescales and double them.
Then double them again.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 01483 579978
The Partnership are an award-winning property law ﬁrm. https://thepartnershiplimited.com/about-us/