Confessions of a cyber conveyancer: Good tech doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ conveyancing

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 or create documents with tracking tables. Some hardy souls even 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: it’s not technology that is the issue, 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.

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 it’s 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. Contact:

3 Responses

  1. I doubt there is any conveyancer who doesn’t use some form of technology to alleviate the drudgery.

    The issue is the overuse of irrelevant standard enquiries because the person sending them has no legal thinking skills but can press “SEND” on their rinky dink, all singing, all dancing case management system which at the same time sends a standard email or SMS to client, estate agent, mortgage broker saying “we’ve submitted enquiries and are waiting for replies”. It isn’t conveyancing. It’s hell on earth.

  2. What I find odd is the amount of time wasted on social media by commentators saying they have just received 78 enquiries is that a record? When in the amount of time they have wasted typing that missive they could have sent the list to their client and progressed their sale, which is surely what we are trying to do? What is best for our clients, not our social media profiles.

    Yes they are frustrating. But good grief there are probably about thirty far more important, far more pressing issues dumbing down the legal profession today which need urgently fixing long beofre the matter of additional enquiries would be mentioned. Perspective as they say in Ratatouille.

    1. Thanks David. I’ll be sure to check in with you next time I use social media to express my frustration, just to make sure you’re ok with me deciding how best to manage my own time in writing a 2 minute post before then spending 2 hours of my time working through a list of enquiries that were raised because the buyer’s solicitor was too lazy or incompetent to read and understand the paperwork sent to them.

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