Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

I KNOW I received that document …

Given the voracity of recent discussions around forms, allegations of vested interests and the inability of technology to improve conveyancing, an outsider might think that these are the key concerns amongst property lawyers right now. Whilst there is an awful lot of energy being expended on those topics, the reality is that on a day to day basis, it’s another issue that is far more pressing.

It’s a problem common to anyone involved in conveyancing, it’s been around for decades and when it comes to dealing with the ever-present threat of claims, is always front of mind.
It’s the gut-wrenching fear when we are trying to find that critical document we know we received, but is nowhere to be found.

Forget electronic signatures, this is the REAL issue

It would be hard to disagree that our lives have been transformed by the use of technology and we need to move past arguments about putting that particular genie back in the bottle. However, many firms I speak to are still using paper files and explain that it’s easier to find documents in a paper file than searching online. This does make sense, if all filing was accurate and every document was printed, as it reduces the risk of documents being lost.

The problem is where humans are involved in cloning electronic documents into their geriatric printed twin that mistakes occur. Either not all documents will be printed, or if they are, they may be incorrectly filed. Everyone has played the incredibly frustrating game of “Guess on which case has the Deed of Surrender and Regrant been mis-filed”; the client Paul Williams was buying 12a Acacia Avenue – do we search the “W” files, the “A” files, or even, heaven forbid, the “P” files?

Obviously, said Deed will be found three weeks later behind the photocopier.

Unfortunately, technology is not the natural saviour here and has, in reality, contributed to the problem. Even if you follow our approach that if it moves, scan it, just because a document is electronic, doesn’t mean you can find it. Scanning technology can read documents and tag the key items so you can search for them, but the problem is they need to be in a place where you can find them.

Sadly, the main culprit behind the heart-stopping fear of losing a document is the technology we love to despise – email.

Files buried in email subfolders

Ironically, while email is the most common mechanism for lawyers to communicate with each another, the risks it presents through its fundamental flaws can be business-killing. Spoofing, attacks through Outlook plug-ins, and its ability to outshine Amazon when it comes to the delivery of malware, all make email highly unsatisfactory.
But even if we put those terrors aside, the major problem it causes is in the transport of documents. With the best will in the world, given the involvement of humans, it is inevitable that not all attachments will be saved to a case management system, we can’t guarantee they will be saved to the correct case, and it may not be the latest version. They are more likely to be hiding in an email folder, which may or may not be related to the case, in the Deleted folder, a personal folder, or heaven knows where else.
While this does away with the need to spend an afternoon rooting behind photocopiers, trying to find a missing document is no easy task. Which makes dealing with an issue on a file from years ago rather more challenging, to say the least. Especially when the person handling the case may have left the firm and their email accounts and all their documents have been deleted.
You know the story.

How do we solve this?

Years ago, we were receiving documents by email and the following day in hard copy in the DX, so we’d spend hours scanning, categorising and filing documents we already had. We had to stop the problem at source – we cancelled the DX.

To reduce the volume of lost documents, we must take the same approach with email and stop using it to pass documents to each other. This is not future-speak – when did you last receive a contract pack from a developer by email? Or a mortgage offer from a lender? If we are content to use portals with developers and lenders, we need to address why we don’t apply the same approach to clients and other lawyers.

Client forms and accusations of vested interests are not the biggest issues we face today. We should be focussing our collective energies on reducing the stress of email overload and the risks involved in losing documents by taking the time to investigate what options are available.

2 Responses

  1. This scenario smacks of disorganisation and lack of training and protocols. It’s about teaching people to get into good habits at the outset. What happens (as with the firms that are working electronically/paper free) that have suffered from the cyber attack last year and are still unable to recover their documents?

  2. The most pressing issue in Conveyancing today is bad practice, of which the example here forms but a small part.
    And, to be honest this article is a bit of an irrelevancy and smacks of someone writing something for contractual or publicity reasons. Still at least Mr Ambrose had not insulted anyone this week which has to be noted as an improvement.

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