I’ve never made any secret of my opinion that the core problem in conveyancing is a lack of usable data to help lawyers make better decisions. When combined with a completely manual process of dealing with risk, this results in the almost unmanageable chaos that most property lawyers face every day.
Given the increased risks we are facing, it’s more critical than ever to review how we capture and use the data within our businesses. Conveyancing needs to embrace the concept of “Straight Through Processing” (STP) which has been in use in the financial sector for decades – data being processed with no human intervention involved at all.
Clearly, conveyancing has some way to go, but the following real-life example shows why we must start to adopt such technology concepts.
We all make mistakes
Recently, a third party insisted we sent their documents to our client. Although all our communication is through our online portal, we didn’t have a choice and we dutifully put those documents in the post. To an incorrect address. Naturally, we had to contact the client, apologise for our mistake and ask the recipient to destroy the documents. It was not a good look.
We investigated what had happened, and it became clear that despite our process whereby three different people check the client details before instruction, they had not spotted the mistake. Given that we deal with hundreds of new cases every week, it was understandable, but obviously unacceptable.
As we had been successfully using this checking process for years, this made it a training issue, so we explained to the individual the importance of slowing down, taking more care and double checking their work.
Only we were wrong, and it’s a salutary lesson for anyone involved in the high risk stakes that is Conveyancing 2024.
What caused this?
We need to start with the understanding that people are great at communication, lateral thinking and displaying empathy to clients. However, when it comes to gauging risk or dealing with data, two critical areas in conveyancing, this is not where their strengths lie, which is why mistakes occur.
Ensuring we hold and use accurate client data has always been central to our business, but we are still relying on people to make sure this happens. Our clients complete their details on an electronic form and then someone checks them to make sure they match the information we hold, updating any discrepancies found.
Obviously in this case, we missed that.
But our mistake was adopting an out of date approach to quality control, which relies on an individual signing off the details of a file. The idea that by putting someone’s name on an approval drives accountability and therefore better behaviour is an embarrassing throwback to 1950’s thinking.
Why did we use that process?
The reason behind why this happened is a critical lesson for firms.
For years, we’d been providing clients with PDF forms to complete without problem. Some completed them electronically, but most printed them out, filled them in by hand, scanned them and uploaded them to our portal. Which worked fine until lockdown, when they didn’t have access to the printers in their offices, so we changed them to fillable PDFs.
This change enabled clients to instruct us, and although it didn’t speed up the process or reduce risk, it solved the immediate problem. Although filling in PDF forms in a browser is irritating and meant we had to spend a lot of time explaining to clients how to download them, it was good enough. There was an added bonus that there was no process change required for the team, who were checking the forms manually anyway.
Although we had solved the immediate problem, we knew it was a short-cut and one that would have to be dealt with in the future.
How did we deal with it?
We have just finished a six month project to build online forms from which we can extract the data and update the information we hold in our case management system. We have given the control to where it should be, the client, and ensured we are no longer responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the data we hold on them.
If you’re relying on you or your colleagues to ensure the data you hold on your clients is accurate, you’re spending too much time making up for a flawed process.
Reducing the risks involved in conveyancing starts with ensuring any data you are capturing throughout the process becomes the responsibility of those providing it, not you.
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: email@example.com, 01483 579978
The Partnership are an award-winning property law ﬁrm. https://thepartnershiplimited.com/about-us/