Life is extremely busy, and we would all like a magic wand to make our lives much easier. But, is technology really the answer? I believe technology is only a partial solution to the problem.
Clearly, technology is likely to speed things up, however both the approach and the product must be chosen with great care. Each have their selling points and limitations; it is a case of finding what is going to work for you.
When a seller ticks the “not known” box on the TA6 or gives incorrect information regarding boundaries I always wondered whether:
- It was because they were not told when they purchased who was responsible for boundaries, OR
- Did they read their report when they purchased?
Although I would expect the answer to be in the affirmative to both issues, clients are usually more focused on their plans with the property rather than ensuring the process is correctly undertaken to prevent future risks to them and their family.
Now, although technology is of great assistance to move things forward, we need to compare this to the advent and advantage of electronic signatures. It is also important to deal with the feeling some practitioners have (as I hear very often) that “I don’t have time to learn anything new.” So there is some resistance to change and to doing things electronically.
I am of the view that there is a deeper issue we need to look into as conveyancers and that is to make sure clients understand what they are purchasing. With any report, it is important have your end audience in mind and it must be set out in a way that it meets their particular needs. Practitioners sometimes forget to consider that with a 40-page report filled with legal jargon and sometime not explained in plain language plus a hundred enclosures which without layman explanation may mean very little to the recipient, that all these can be quite boring and cumbersome. We can template the life out of reporting and using whizzy technological ways of putting them together, however it is quite simply the content of the report that counts. The real frustration can be explained by the drawing below:
Given the nature of the content of the reports, there is plenty of room for misunderstandings, confusion and misinterpretation.
Conversely, if you consider general advertising, the language and terminology used is framed so that they are understood by a 12-year-old (at least it works on my children who tend to repeat the silliest of adverts!) Clients don’t always voluntarily admit that they need more help and therefore it is left to conveyancers to try and mind read to determine whether the information provided is too much or too little. There are however, some clients who make it clear that they do want to be helped at each and every step.
The “prop tech” must offer Conveyancers flexibility to ensure that it offers more than a ‘tick box’ exercise. Clients want to know how the legal information translates to or affects them. Often a drop down or a box ticked for a specific topic related paragraph will only go so far and clients need additional explanation. Individual conveyancers will also have their own ideas of what their report should contain or what the client needs to know. It also begs the question as whether there should be an industry standard report like an RICS Home Buyer’s survey? We only have to look at the #claddingscandal on Twitter to realise that a lot of complaints have been received about leasehold and the inner workings of the same and “why weren’t they told” what the legal jargon actually means in lay persons terms.
Perhaps we also need to consider some creative use of informative podcasts/videos to supplement the information we are providing to clients.
We know when our clients have read through what we send because they will ask questions about it. Conveyancing is one area of the law that a lay person cannot really “have a go” at doing it themselves (it’s not like representing yourself at court and even us conveyancers can’t do it ourselves where there is a mortgage involved!)
It’s now high time for conveyancers to charge adequately for the very risky and volatile business of purchasing/selling a property. It is also clear that consumer legislation will provide more protection if you bought a sandwich, but not if you bought a property. Not only are we legal advisers, but the government have also made us detectives (AML/Source of Funds) and tax collectors (stamp duty). Clients often also look to us for the practical side of the transaction.
I’m always eager and ready for the latest technology, especially where it makes life easier (trust me, I live with gadget man who has to have the latest tech!). I am lucky at Setfords to have a team that is dedicated to finding the latest technology to help consultants and clients to work more effectively. I hope that all conveyancers can find something that will make them productive but also ensure that clients have received an adequate amount of information.