Opinion piece: So this is why most conveyancers are slow and inefficient

If you’ve not actually said it, you’ve no doubt thought it: “Most lawyers are slow and inefficient.”

We don’t disagree, but the burning question is, “why?”

Typically, it’s because of an historically sceptical attitude towards the benefits of technology and how it is implemented. Businesses are underpinned by the quality of their technology, and if people saw how law firms typically use it, they’d start to understand why their service levels are often so appalling.

Our experience of speaking to and hiring lawyers from a range of firms give us an insight into how they are run and their sheer incompetence when it comes to the systems they use.

Or don’t.

Surely everyone uses case management software?

No doubt you’ve worked with someone with a rose-tinted view of the good old days when client details were on card indexes.

Sadly, for more lawyers than you’d imagine, many of them continue to struggle in this pre-computerised world with paper files and no case management systems whatsoever.

We recently interviewed a solicitor who was running over 100 cases herself, no case management system and everything (including emails) was printed out. It was no surprise to learn that her average exchange times were over five months and she spent most of her time dealing with phone calls from complaining clients.

And the law firm owner’s solution to this problem – work at the weekend.

Electronic documents – will they ever catch on?

Conveyancing involves a LOT of documents.

Analysis of recent cases found that each, on average, involved about 130 documents plus 300 messages and emails with clients, agents and other lawyers.

Yet the vast majority of law firms are still not scanning documents centrally and so that even if they do use a case management system, their lawyers waste hours looking through their paperwork manually. Sometimes, and it is rare, lawyers take it upon themselves to scan documents themselves.

And you wonder why it takes so long to find out what on earth is going on?

Poor quality software

It’s a running joke that the only software lawyers can rely on is Excel and Outlook – the first to create financial statements and the other to remind them of expiry dates.

The problem is that the quality of legal software is generally pretty appalling. Lawyers try to cover up how bad it is with excuses like “it’s just not configured properly”.  But frankly, this is optimism triumphing over reality.

We know this because we regularly have people come and try and sell us some of their terrible software, most of it looking like it was last updated in 1995, but with the promise that they “are bringing out a web-based version very soon”.

Then you get the equally hopeless newer products that are so basic and are promoted by salespeople who know so little about the process that we’re amazed to see if they are able to sell the stuff at all.

Which they typically don’t.

Back of the queue

Finally, when partners bite the bullet and actually do buy software, the way they implement it often beggars belief.

We know a firm who, to save money, bought only two licences for six lawyers, so each had to wait in turn to use the system.

We talked to one lawyer who spent hours learning how to write code herself to implement a workflow system “because no one else would”.

The problem is that for most traditional law firms, residential property isn’t the sexy side of the business. The commercial department may well soak up any meagre consultancy budget the software salesman managed to wring out of a senior partner’s grasp.

One lawyer told me that whilst their department was the first to implement their new software, this was four years ago and they were still waiting for the consultants to make the changes asked for in the first place.

Even when case management systems have been implemented, sometimes it is done in such a way as to make it counter-productive. We know a firm where they configured the system so users could not change the due date of a task, so management could monitor those who were falling behind.

The problem was that overdue tasks therefore joined an ever-increasing list, making it impossible to prioritise. Despite service complaints, the management team has not changed its approach.

Enquiries –a spotlight on how bad things are

If you want to see how technology currently plays such a minor role in conveyancing, let’s go back to basics.

Enquiry handling.

Anyone who knows anything about sales progression knows this is where lawyers fall down. Forget “intelligent” software that shows when a search has been ordered – it’s the nitty-gritty of resolving enquiries where the grief really arises.

Next time you are talking to a lawyer, ask to see a summary of the enquiries on a case. Then sit back, make a cup of coffee (or three) because it’s not going to happen. Most lawyers have no technology solution whatsoever for tracking enquiries.

Which, given they are the most time-consuming aspect of a deal, is a bit surprising.

How do we fix this?

It will be driven by client demand as expectations of immediate access to information is fast becoming the norm. Whether ordering a pizza from Deliveroo or booking a washing machine repair, clients expect to track what is happening and will require lawyers change.

It will take time, but it will happen.

So the next time you’re getting frustrated listening on the telephone to a solicitor rifling through a file to see if a local search has been returned, forgive them. No doubt their senior partner will be on the golf course congratulating themselves they have just started using online banking.

Heaven forbid they might start actually scanning documents.

  • Peter Ambrose founded The Partnership, a conveyancing organisation that works closely with estate agents
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33 Comments

  1. Rob Hailstone

    Another problem is that there are upward of 4000 law firms that carry out some residential conveyancing transactions over the course of any one year. Looking at Land Registry statistics, 2000 plus carry out very few (sometimes a handful) transactions each year. Will the majority of those firms be able to invest in modern technology and efficient staff? Unlikely.

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    1. Robert May

        but if someone builds a cost effective solution to a need they will adopt it in the same way as  small  agencies gobbled up a solution that allowed them to branch out into lettings in 2007.

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      1. P-Daddy

        Peter has made some fair observations based on the obvious and a title like that on a property forum is bound to get everyone agreeing. But he misses the point as others are highlighting. As we all know, ticking boxes is only as good as the data input going in.

        For years a number of firms I have had dealings with sent email updates…but they are now disappearing as they were so often out of step with the actual transaction..but a nice thought. Fees fell and not site visits happen to resolve the obvious on many occasions. The real issue is that there are now so many unskilled operators in the conveyancing world accelerated by the call centre lawyers :-)…call centres mess everything up!

        The absolute fear that the conveyancers have of being sued by the mortgagees and the issues with PI will not be dealt with by software. They need to approve efficiently, not keep sending repeated variations of  enquiries, in the hope the other side will slip up and exonerate them; stop hiding behind indemnity insurances. With modern conveyancing and Land Registry, we should be getting clean Titles registered in the first place! This is not advocacy, yet they are ensuring it is to protect their conveyancers. It has been law to register all Titles and transaction for so long now, yet the system is becoming more convoluted despite tech and a consumer led society! The humans are the weak link.

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        1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

          You are absolutely spot on.

          Suffice to say, the point that I’m making is that lawyers are almost working with one armed behind their back.

          There are numerous issues with conveyancing, with skill levels being one of the core problems – although we have to be careful about how we judge the abilities or otherwise of those doing conveyancing – definitely a subject for another article.

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  2. DayBook93

    It’s also how they use technology, as an example even rudimentary email is being used by them all, many though dictate this for thier secratary to then send. Alongside Peters great business, there is a company trying to solve this major issue with technology for industry and the consumer from a collaboration stance not a disruptor, technology that helps the entire customer journey with a single log in. The future is bright for conveyancing, you might need sunnies!

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  3. Robert May

    This has to be my favourite article of year.

    There is a strict set of rules for introducing new technology into  an industry, it has little to do with the tech that’s been developed.

    To paraphrase Eric Morecambe; all of the notes to a solution are here they’re just waiting for someone to play them in the right order.

     

     

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  4. LandlordsandLetting

    I believe the main reason they don’t bother to speed up their processes with new, in fact, current technology is because they can always BLAME THE OTHER PERSON’S SOLICITOR for their ridiculous delays.

     

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    1. NV26

      I totally agree! Let’s be honest – they prefer to send enquiries by post so that they can buy themselves a couple of weeks while they wait for the replies to come back to them the same way! They might as well use a carrier pigeon!

       

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      1. Thomas Flowers

        Most conveyancers I know have not cracked that technological advancement called a telephone yet?

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      2. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

        I’d love to disagree on this point but I simply CAN’T!!
        We have first hand experience of this where people deliberately refuse to accept documents by email and admit that it’s because it buys them time …what can I say ?! 

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  5. smile please

    Tec,h such as online update systems do not work.

    Recently we were sent a confirmation email the solicitor was acting for the vendor. They gave us log in details how to track the case online.

    I cringed, but thought lets give it a go  ….. after 15 mins i gave up trying to log on, called the CRM provider …. Another 15 mins, they could not log me in ….. Called me back later in the day they managed to log me in! (can you see how much time already wasted).

    When i log on the only thing the CRM shows is tick boxes for milestones. Its a pointless update!

    When my staff “Chase” a sale they want to know what is outstanding, if enquiries what the enquiries are, also want to know timescales, also want to know what they are doing in way of chasing outstanding info. This is why we need to speak to the solicitor.

    The point of updates is so agents can help obtain outstanding info and move the case along. To be honest the calling for updates help keep the solicitors (both side) buyer and seller accountable to their part of the process.

    And the simple reason solicitors (most of them) suck, is they do not like being held accountable.

    I have said it so many times, until the attitudes of solicitors change the process will not, and why would they want it to change its a good little number they have going!

     

     

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    1. CountryLass

      Exactly! I used to just work as a Sales Progressor when I was part time, and every week I would call for each sale.

      In one case leaving my manager open-mouthed as I (slightly) lost my temper and tore strips off a solicitor for outright lying to me for the past week saying that she had sent replies to enquiries to the buyers solicitor, when she hadn’t even sent the enquiries to her client…

      The solicitors soon learned that after calling them, I was then calling the other side and both buyer and seller so if it didn’t all stack, I was calling back. Repeatedly. And they also learned that if they told me of the enquiries that I might be able to help, such as clarifying an issue of a supposed ‘ransom strip’, finding copies of documents etc.

       

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  6. NotAdoctor32

    What is needed is not a system that relies on manual updating but a system that automatically updates agents, buyers & sellers when actions are taken.   Eliminate the 2nd class post brigade and drag/drop forms to be signed in minutes rather than weeks.

    Something that anyone can log into and see the actual real-time progression of their case.

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  7. sanctuary45

    As a full time sales progressor I’m dealing with solicitors all day every day. Most of their attitudes stink to be frank, they won’t take calls from estate agents, don’t return calls when a message is left, they don’t respond to emails or when they do the info they provide is pointless and not what was asked for. The reason I’m calling for the updates in the first place is not to harass them, it’s to offer help in moving things along that are outstanding and to manage their clients expectations in terms of what stage it’s at and if they need to do anything. Pretty much every solicitor I speak to still uses paper files, surely the most inefficient way ever of dealing with a complicated process. Massive changes are needed in terms of their attitudes as well as the technology they use if the process is ever to be streamlined and made more efficient.

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    1. smile please

      You hit the nail on the head.

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    2. CountryLass

      Preaching to the choir, Sanctuary, preaching to the choir…

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  8. Carl Brignell

    Wow. What a strange and dangerously misleading ‘opinion’ piece.
     
    If you want technology then go and have a closer look at those conveyancing ‘warehouses’ within the industry. These corporations are light years ahead of most smaller firms of solicitors in terms of technology, case management systems and online tracking but, as everybody knows, they are also the ones that cause most of the problems and hold ups. 
     
    Sadly technology is often used as a distraction tool within the conveyancing industry to compensate for the lack of qualified, available or compassionate lawyers on the front line. Agents that choose their conveyancing partner off the back of a systems demo from the local BDM have only got themselves to blame. 
     
    Arguably Purplebricks have developed some of the best interactive estate agency software available, does this make them the best estate agents?

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    1. CountryLass

      I think that is partly due to the set-up of those companies. If the existing local solicitors had the proper tech and did away with paper files then things would be much faster.
      My current place always used paper-filing and didnt use any of the system they purchased properly. I came in, reorganised, made sure that the (expensive) software system was actually being used properly and suddenly everything is more efficient and up to date!

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    2. sanctuary45

      The conveyancing factories definitely have the technology, but due to the way they have set their businesses up – stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap – the people working for them don’t really stand a chance and no amount of fantastic technology is going to speed the process up or make it more efficient due to the the caseload each individual has to deal with (100+ cases per person in some places).

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  9. htsnom79

    If I place the lawyer, sales control is a doddle, does that mean that I am getting a premier service to the detriment of clients/agents not having a referral relationship or am I just recommending best in class individuals that experience has guided me to?

    One thing I’m doing more of than ever before is using the client as a battering ram with bad lawyers on the basis ” they”ll put their bill in soon enough make them earn it”

    I am almost employing the client as staff for the duration of the transaction, it’s amazing how a lawyer will warm to an agent after a couple of weeks of me deploying their client in making them accountable, much easier for them to talk to me than their customer and they get the benefit that I manage expectations and emotional need

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  10. Fairfax87

    Conveyancers are slow and inefficient.. why?  Let me give you one small example to illustrate.

    Purchase agreed – everyone wants to proceed quickly. Does your average Conveyancer:-

    1. Get money on account on the phone the same day, get Terms of Business emailed over and returned the same day, and then order searches immediately, using the excellent mapping tools offered by search companies or the ability to download a filed plan of the property for £3

    OR

    2. Send out Terms of Business by post, with a request for £350, and await them to come back. Do nothing until they do. Only order searches when the contract papers arrive, which might be in two weeks time.

    You all know what the answer is – it’s that type of approach, end to end.  Technology is hopeless without a complete mindset change.

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    1. sanctuary45

      I’ve never understood the mentality of conveyancers waiting for the contract to order searches when like you said above, they can download a plan for £3 and get on with it. Heck, I’m sure most agents would even happily pay the £3 themselves to speed things up! And if the conveyancers won’t do that, it frustrates me more than anything else that they don’t then chase the sellers solicitor for the draft contract, they just sit and wait for it to come in. Usually 1 quick call of less than 30 seconds will get the draft contract issued.

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      1. aSalesAgent

        I raised this point with Peter Ambrose during one of his Rightmove webinars. I understood it that solicitors acting for the buyer do not want to be responsible for obtaining the wrong plan and subsequently submit searches incorrectly — but is the same solicitor not responsible if they act for a seller and send the wrong plan? Surely if a buyers’ solicitor gives the plan to the client to check, the solicitor could then get on with the searches and recheck the plan when they receive it from the seller’s solicitor?

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        1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

          Hi aSalesAgent

          Yes – it is incredibly frustrating that the buyer’s lawyer cannot just get the title documents themselves due to the liability.

          It’s very tempting to do this – whilst we get our clients to check the title before we proceed, it’s something we are currently investigating with our insurance company.  Things do change in the industry (albeit VERY slowly) so we will push this point further.

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  11. V E A Comment

    They are getting slower and slower because they are scared stiff of getting it wrong and all the implications that brings these days.

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  12. Tim_Price

    I am not one to plug on a forum, but I feel it is relevant to highlight what we are doing to provide real solutions to many of the issues raised in this article. As a technology business OneDome has developed a platform to assist industry and consumers alike to provide a solution that addresses the many communication and process problems faced by all. We do this with a collaborative, not a disruptor mindset.

    The conveyancing element of OneDome is very different to the typical ‘Panel’ model many agents are used to seeing with the ‘usual suspects’ servicing the transactions generated.

    – Free to use for agents and conveyancers
    -Conveyancing transactions are processed completely on the OneDome platform

    Full integrations for key elements such as Land Registry and Searches
    Full digital documentation with e-signature
    Workflow managed
    Secure – no conveyancing fraud
    Secure messaging and conversation, one to one or related groups in one chat

    Agents can bring their conveyancing relationships within the platform
    Conveyancers, estate agents and clients are fully connected and informed in real-time
    Sales progression is vastly improved as all parties are directly connected to the real time activity of the conveyancer
    Technology has the ability to educate consumers and assist in expectation management as the case progresses

     

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  13. Tim_Price

    I am not one to plug on a forum, but I feel it is relevant to highlight what we are doing to provide real solutions to many of the issues raised in this article. As a technology business OneDome has developed a platform to assist industry and consumers alike to provide a solution that addresses the many communication and process problems faced by all. We do this with a collaborative, not a disruptor mindset.
    The conveyancing element of OneDome is very different to the typical ‘Panel’ model many agents are used to seeing with the ‘usual suspects’ servicing the transactions generated.

    Free to use for agents and conveyancers
    Conveyancing transactions are processed completely on the OneDome platform

    Full integrations for key elements such as Land Registry and Searches
    Full digital documentation with e-signature
    Workflow managed
    Secure – no conveyancing fraud
    Secure messaging and conversation, one to one or related groups in one chat

    Agents can bring their conveyancing relationships within the platform
    Conveyancers, estate agents and clients are fully connected and informed in real-time
    Sales progression is vastly improved as all parties are directly connected to the real time activity of the conveyancer

    ·       Technology can educate consumers and assist in expectation management as the case progresses
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWSIVhqQ-8c

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    1. PeeBee

      “I am not one to plug on a forum…”

      Erm… quite clearly you are exactly that ‘one’!

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      1. sanctuary45

        And to prove the point I’ll post it twice!!

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    2. sanctuary45

      Bearing in mind that the majority of conveyancing solicitors still use paper files, I can’t personally see them rushing to use this wonderful new technology which incidentally already exists in various guises and either hasn’t been taken up by them or has been taken up by them already but simply isn’t used.

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      1. Peter Ambrose (The Partnership)

        This is EXACTLY the problem, sanctuary45 – you’ve hit the nail on the head.
        Its the mindset that is the fundamental problem.  The challenge is integration into current workpractices and minimised disruption – we’ve got some ideas around this, but it’s a VERY long road …!!!
        The point of the article was to highlight the fact that there simply isn’t the genuine appetite for technology in the conveyancing world until firms start going bust due to client power.

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  14. Kassam46

    Perhaps estate agents can fully indemnify the buyer, their lender and their lawyer enabling them to proceed to an immediate exchange of contracts?

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  15. TwitterSalisPropNews53

    The answer is nothing to do with IT, as conveyancers have had the fastest IT for the last 20 years – email, but they do not use it promptly enough.

    The answer is simple: Conveyancers fail toi treat each file as if it were their own home move. Don’t close your file until you have done all you can to get from memo of sale to exchange of contracts as promptly as you can.

    By doing this, the following are automatic changes in your method of working:

    1. you don’t wait for money on account, you just crack on

    2. you don’t take the usual 2 weeks to send out contract packs or to reply to contract packs

    3. you raise an enquiry but in the sale sentence you offer a solution

    4. you raise far less petty enquiries

    5. you never say ‘we are waiting for’ but rather ‘we are chasing down’

    6. you don’t wait on daft FENSA and GasSafe bits of paperwork years old

    7. you don’t ask for indemnity policies for risks years and years old, but you apply common sense / you are not worried about the ‘what if we resell to a volume conveyancing outfit who asks for indemnity / you are confident in your advice

    8. you stop using daft tick box client website updates but instead are so hands on you are regularly providing constant communication to your client with a cc to the Agent

    9. you spot your colleagues who are not good enough and are letting you down, and you squeeze them out of your Team (they are asked to leave)

     

    Try it, it’s weird as deals really do progress so much faster.

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