Empathy: it’s our superpower

I have a complex relationship with online communities. For my professional network, they provide beneficial opportunities to meet likeminded colleagues from across the profession. They’re a useful place to share news, event information, best practice and break down the boundaries between business owners. Obviously, there are recruitment benefits for both employers and employees. It expands our connections outside of conveyancing, into entrepreneurs, businesspeople and those we generally admire.

Then there’s the negative side. We have countless problems within the conveyancing profession, 2023 was a year to forget, redundancies were rife and people are really struggling. It can’t all be positive chatter online, but it is certainly useful to get a general sense of how people in our profession worlds are feeling. What the collective pressure-points are. I breathe a sign of relief knowing I’m not alone in worrying about the complexities of compliance, archaic processes and the perpetual challenge of an endless ‘to-do’ list.

One of the reoccurring themes I note more recently is frustration at the emotional role we play in the short time we work with each client. Specifically offering counsel, which can so often bleed into conversations not connected with conveyancing, burning through our time.  These conversations can be a complaint about the colour of a fence paint. Too many fish in the pond. The separation of a married couple. A deceased parent leaving a home to squabbling siblings. A reluctant sale due to financial difficulties. Whatever the worry, we are always working with people under immense pressure going through very unique times in their lives.

While this emotional baggage can be frustrating, it’s crucial to remember that we are on the brink of AI evolution which threatens to automate much of our day-to-day work. This isn’t a drill, Artificial Intelligence is an undeniable part of our future in law. But it cannot replicate a sympathetic ear. We must remember that our empathy and ability to listen to clients is the superpower that cannot be replaced.

Recently, I dealt with a case where my client was selling a leasehold property. When he purchased the property, the management company informed him that there were scheduled works on the site which would cost in the region of £5,000.

The budget was massively under-estimated and caused delays when the client came to sell as the accounts were yet to be finalised.  After considerable communication back and forth (which took months) the management company delivered a bill in the region of £18,000k.  Understandably, the client was devasted.  It meant that any equity in his property to fund his new purchase would not be available.  He had a young family, the apartment was no longer serving its purpose and they desperately needed a bigger home.

I met with him and offered advice based on my experience.  He spoke with the CAB, his local MP and arranged a meeting with the management company where they were able to reach an agreement in view of the excessive costs.  This allowed him to proceed with the sale and move into his new home.  The transaction was in no means quick or stress free, but we were able to provide the relevant and specialised knowledge specific to his circumstances. For this, he was truly grateful.

There is no machine that can replicate that result. Regardless how much information it has been fed. I would argue that this customer facing, empathetic, human element to our job is irreplicable and right now, with the seismic advances in AI and prop-tech, is the part of our role that we should be focussing on improving, embracing and even coming to love it.

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