hronicle The Journal of The Council for Licensed Conveyancers
Charles Christian talks to the CLC Technology Matters
Sarah Beenyâ€™s property overview
review David Kempster. Will Conveyancers benefit from technology?
review NAEA Peter Bolton King on Web 2 technology
Charles Christian Author & Publisher
ÂŁ2.50 Edition 60 Spring 2010
Welcome Welcome – April 2010 Welcome to the Spring edition of the Chronicle. The recent volcanic eruption has highlighted to many, I am sure, how much we rely on modern technology. A sizeable number of the population, including myself, were left stranded abroad for several days - and it is only when you are unable to take advantage of the technology we have grown accustomed to that you realise how extraordinary many of these developments, that we have come to rely on, truly are. The legal and property sector is no different and in this edition we take a look at the increasingly crucial role modern technology can play in our industry. Charles Christian gives us his views on how embracing technology will be imperative for the future of the legal and property sectors. Dominic Cullis, Chairman of the Legal Software Suppliers Association, examines the case for operating a paperless office and we review the benefits of accountancy and conveyancing software packages. We are also pleased to welcome Matthew Noble to our team. Matthew will be providing regular information in our CLC Fileshare section. A CLC qualification trainer and course designer, Matthew will be viewing life from a student’s perspective and offering useful hints and tips in the run up to the next set of examinations. Details of the successful students from the last set of final exams can be found inside Fileshare on page nine and we wish them all the best as they begin their journey as licensed conveyancers. The CLC have been busy embracing technology too. As Victor Olowe updates us on page six, we are currently in the process of introducing a Management Information System which will reduce the need for labour intensive administration processes and provide a faster, more efficient service for all our customers. The final touches are also being made to our new website, which will go live in the coming weeks. The next edition of the Chronicle will be available in July – in the meantime, if you have comments about the Chronicle please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Moggan Editor
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The Chronicle is published by the CLC (Council for Licensed Conveyancers). The CLC accepts no liability to any party for any error, omission or misstatement in any material published. © CLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in any part is not allowed without the written permission of the CLC.
In this issue
Net Gains Peter Bolton King discusses the impact of the Internet on estate agents... 10
XCHANGE Charles Christian briefs Nicola Laver on the future of legal technology
Victor Olowe - Managing Information Technology The Matthew Noble column
Peter Bolton King, Chief Executive of the NAEA TV personality Sarah gives us her personal view on developments in the property market. It’s time to join the revolution
The dream of the “Paperless Office” has been around for decades, and yet still remains elusive, says Dominic Cullis
Technology Matters Article by Nicola Laver
“Developments taking place will cut out huge swathes of time and effort that used to delay things.” Charles Christian has not been called the UK’s leading commentator on law office technology for nothing. After spending more than 30 years writing on legal technology his name is now synonymous with legal IT expertise. Christian, who publishes the Legal Technology Insider, is also the author of Legal Practice in the Digital Age which, although written 12 years ago, contains sentiments which still stand today. Who, for example, can refute the statement that “clients are becoming increasingly demanding in terms of the quality and speed of service they expect”; or that “with digital technology you cannot afford to make your selection, install the new system – and then sit back and do nothing for another five or 10 years until you feel it is time to buy a replacement system”? So what has materialized in legal IT since the book’s publication? “The key advances in the last decade have been digital dictation – it’s become the hot technology that everybody buys,” Christian says. The other he identifies is “devices that do what they have done before but deliver it in different or alternative 4
ways”. The Blackberry is a classic example – and he predicts that technology will become even more lifestyle friendly in the future. Knowledge However, for every Blackberry there are numerous innovations that never quite storm the market as expected. An example Christian points to is voice recognition software. “Voice recognition was the great white hope of the 1990s,” he says, “but it never materialised and digital dictation came along instead as the alternative. However, now we are seeing it starting to creep back again.” Another trend in recent times is the outsourcing of secretarial work to places such as India, but what are the advantages of such practices? Christian believes this is to be a contentious topic as people tend to have strong views either for or against it. However, he is acutely aware that the technology behind such ventures is only as good as those operating it. “It’s not the technology that’s at fault – it’s the service around it,” he says. Similar problems can be inherent in the conveyancing industry,
where a lack of local knowledge can be viewed as a disadvantage. Christian insists that there are certain aspects of legal services where local knowledge is important – and this is where the approach of a local practice has the cutting edge as they do not require an additional system in place. A man who insists on enjoying everything he does and a self confessed entrepreneur, Christian began his professional life as a barrister before leaving the profession after growing frustrated at its lack of willingness to embrace new ideas. “At the time when briefs being handed down no longer worked, I was quite gobsmacked at how old fashioned and resistant to change it was,” he explains. “I thought I’m going to be prematurely old if I stay at the Bar, it just wasn’t dynamic enough.” Christian insists on being passionate about all his endeavours – and it was this passion that led him to launch the successful creative writing webzine www.ink-sweatand-tears.com, something he hopes will become a driving force behind creative writing in the UK. Meanwhile, he is bullish about the big changes afoot in legal IT today. He lists “the move towards econveyancing, land registry, searches and all of those elements, and the eSDLT submissions,” as all being key, while looking forward to “other developments taking place that will cut out huge swathes of time and effort that used to delay things.” Patience In terms of conveyancing, Christian recognises that the whole process “could be speeded up substantially but, in reality, there will always be limitations as to how fast the customer actually wants the process to be”. He continues: “Most people
CLC Chronicle would be horrified if it was instant. You could get up this morning and buy a house and have the deal done by midday. Technically you could do that but you wouldn’t want to do that because you’ve got your chain, you’ve got the moving, there’s all the other things associated with it and you’ve got all the practicalities of it.” However, Christian is clear about the benefits that Content Management Systems (CMS) can bring to conveyancers. “Theoretically, it should reduce the amount of time lawyers spend on it,” he insists. “So it should be quicker, good for the public and also good for the practice because it means they can still be competitive without dropping their standards.” But therein lays one of the inherent problems in the legal profession: lawyers are not always good businessmen. Christian explains: “At a lot of law firms, their business systems are relatively poor and frequently they don’t realise how little they are making. They can be bad at looking at the top level figure, the total bill that goes out without really taking into account the full cost of doing it. “They don’t quite have the systems and would probably be horrified to discover how little profit they are actually making.” Competition So what is the future for conveyancers in terms of legal technology? Christian says: “If conveyancers remain competitive on their pricing, without sacrificing quality, then there will be a positive future. But a lot depends on timescale and the nature of the computer-savvy younger generation who are more used to doing things computerised and the fact that the older generation will probably still like to have the local knowledge.”
However, he adds: “Whether the high street practitioners remain the independents or whether they become the branch of Tesco is a different matter but there still remains this need for a local service with local skills. I think, as well, the likes of Tesco are cute enough to know and recognise those issues. A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by Epoq Legal, revealed that nearly half of consumers said they would be more likely to choose a law firm that offered online access to legal services. Yet, ultimately, we are still in a profession where many traditional lawyers have an inherent fear of technology, which can prove a stumbling block to the IT advancement of some practices. This is something Christian has little empathy towards. He says: “You can’t have too much sympathy for them because CMS are not exactly new – they’ve been around since around 1980. They’re burying their head in the sand. I think it comes down to a lack of business sense and a lack of business knowledge that they just don’t realise they’re running their businesses on an old fashioned model.” This leads to the question of whether or not the regulators should have a role to play in encouraging legal professionals to embrace technology. He explains: “Unless you change the regulations to the point of them saying unless you embrace technology you can’t have a practising certificate, there’s not much more you can do”. Intelligence At the end of the day, choosing the best technology for your firm should not be rocket science. Christian offers sensible advice: “Try and get some peer to peer intelligence; don’t rush into it. With a lot of decisions made in the legal market generally, price
is the key factor. Firms will select on price without realising that that’s not the sensible way to do it.” And he urges firms to do their homework on the supplier and find out what after-care support they provide. I asked him whether he believes technology really influences the behaviour of conveyancing clients. He explains: “We live in an age where people naturally look for things on line and this extends to the purchase of legal services.” As to the future, Christian believes that the Legal Services Act could well be a catalyst for technological innovation. “I think one of the biggest things will be that if we start to get external investment into law firms then they are going to be bringing in modern business models,” he explains. “The sort of gentleman, amateur-type, approach of law firms is going to go and it will be run on a far more professional business-like level and that is going to transform how a lot of firms work.” This, in turn, will lead to greater diversity in the models of future legal practices. He says: “Different organisations will use different models. Some will go for bricks and mortar, or bricks and bytes, others will be all digital. Some may offer purely online services.” And it is this diversity, says Christian, which will make the legal services market very interesting as it opens up to a whole new range of different business models.
pdate by Victor Olowe
“It is critical to distinguish between doubt and good judgement about the capability of a promised technology to deliver the desired business benefits.”
As we approach the end of the first quarter of the year, and in view of the focus of this edition of the Chronicle, it is timely to reflect on the CLC’s progress in achieving one of the key objectives in the business plan 2010 - to utilise information technology more effectively to improve efficiency and customer service keeping pace with current developments. A New Direction It is pleasing to note the positive response from the profession to the increased usage of electronic communication by the CLC to keep the regulated community and students abreast of key developments. Although we knew that this method was a key tool to enhance communication with the profession, there was always the nervousness that this new approach may not be well received. Particularly as the method signalled a new direction of travel for us as an organisation with regard to our service delivery and I am aware that some may regard a reliance on technology for communication as providing an ‘impersonal‘ or ‘inferior’ service. However, convinced of the overriding benefits we proceeded to launch this approach. To date, the use of e-shots has improved speed and responsiveness while reducing costs. Feedback received so far has been overwhelmingly positive which I hope will be validated by the findings of the recently concluded customer survey. This small example has reinforced the importance of appropriately harnessing the capability of current and emerging technology to deliver better business results.
CLC Chronicle There is no doubt that embracing new technology presents both new opportunities and new risks, however it is the ability to manage these risks that is the key critical factor for successful organisations. Challenges It was interesting to note during a recent BBC2 programme, titled ‘Inside John Lewis’, the increasing contribution of the company’s online business to their overall turnover. I am aware that embracing technology is not confined to the retail sector as it is evident that certain parts of the property sector are clearly not shy of leveraging technology to deliver new ways of working and increased consumer benefits. It is also interesting to note that the biggest ‘county court’ in England and Wales is Money Claims Online, an internet enabled site run from Northampton. The continuing question that faces all businesses is how best to adopt and adapt to new and emerging technology. This is particularly important in the conveyancing sector where our aim is to meet the demanding expectations of consumers while taking full advantage of future opportunities in the legal services market. One of the key challenges that many organisations face is the extent to which new technology is successfully integrated into their business processes to deliver increased benefits to consumers and other stakeholders. This is a challenge that we are also facing at the CLC as we endeavour to embrace new technology to improve our performance as a regulator and explore future opportunities, particularly with regard to the Legal Services Act 2007. As I reflect on our journey to date of developing a new management information system, I recognise
that our process may be similar to a past or current experience for some of you or perhaps may be food for thought for many others. Strong Leadership At the CLC we are currently in the phase of developing our management information system, commonly known as the ‘testing phase’. This is something I would also like to rename as the ‘maintain focus on the original benefits’ phase because the challenges that may arise during this time have produced a range of emotions from anxiety, doubt and cynicism through to euphoria. But the most worrying of these emotions during the development of new IT systems is doubt. Although doubt can be disguised as pragmatism, it has the tendency of sapping needed energy as you approach the final stage of the marathon that is the development of a new system. It is during such phases that clear and strong leadership becomes most critical to ensure that enthusiasm for the benefits to be delivered by the new system is not lost. A Shared Vision The discernment required at such times is critical to distinguish between doubt and good judgment about the capability of a promised technology to deliver the desired business benefits. However, exercising such good judgment becomes more difficult if the ‘doubt’ experienced during the testing phase of any new technology has simply been amplified rather than introduced during this critical time. This is why the leadership of any organisation must be fully persuaded about the benefits of embracing new technology before any development work is started - because it is the belief in the vision of the positive outcomes that the new technology can provide that sustains enthusiasm, and dispels
doubt and cynicism if problems do materialise during the development phase. In many ways, challenges in the development phase of new technology should not come as a surprise but should be anticipated. Nevertheless, I am determined to maintain our resolve during this challenging phase of our system development and to ensure that it succeeds in the interest of both the consumer and the profession. I am confident that the new management information system which will be in place later this year will enable us to deliver better services to our customers and other relevant stakeholders. I hope many of you will adopt a similar determination to embrace appropriate technology to fully harness emerging new opportunities in the legal services market and to successfully ride the winds of change.
FILESHARE We welcome to the Chronicle, Matthew Noble, a trainer and course designer who, in his first column, takes a look at the use of technology to facilitate learning and offers some useful examination tips on land law …… Modern technology, increasingly an integral part of office life, permits a diverse approach to course delivery, thereby facilitating practical learning in a realistic environment. Teaching, training and methods of study have similarly evolved, embracing the best that technology has to offer. Online resources As a trainer and course designer, I use a range of electronic resources, including Lexis Nexis Butterworths (www.lexisnexis. co.uk), which provides access to legal encyclopaedias such as Halsbury’s Laws of England, a particularly useful resource providing narrative on both case law and legislation, a precedent bank (invaluable when drafting and reviewing complex leasehold clauses) and up to date legislation and commentary via Halsbury’s Statutes, which gives it an advantage over the Office of Public Sector Information website www.opsi.gov.uk, which is not always as current. Westlaw (www.westlaw.co.uk) is similar to Lexis Nexis, in that it provides access to and commentary on case law and legislation, together with an online version of ‘Chitty on Contracts’, an invaluable resource for all those taking the law of contract course. The Law Commission website (www.lawcom.gov.uk) contains links to consultation papers and reports, 8
which may be valuable sources of information on specific areas of law. Conventional methods Online databases are constantly updated, which gives them a clear advantage over textbooks, which also take up more room. Such is the speed of legal developments that a textbook may be out of date not long after it comes into print. This is not to suggest that textbooks themselves are superfluous; they analyse and evaluate the law in detail, enabling a deeper understanding of a topic than may be available through an electronic database. Furthermore, as a textbook is not dependant on an Internet connection, it arguably facilitates studying, in that you are less likely to check emails when reading a book. With this in mind, I recently acquired a copy of M.P. Thompson’s Modern Land Law, 4th edition (Oxford University Press, 2009). Described as an ideal textbook for undergraduate study, it is a comprehensive, yet accessible, analysis of the current law with focus on recent developments in both legislation and case law and also the Law Commission’s own proposals for reform. Ideas and analyses are clearly written and presented, which enable students to understand, evaluate and apply the law. Modern Land Law focuses on the facts of cases as much as case law. Some may regard this as obviating the need for access to an online database, where such information appears in great detail, while others may criticise what could be seen as an unnecessary distraction, particularly among trainers who exhort students to refer to the ratio decidendi and not
the facts of the case when quoting case law in examination and essays. Examination Tips One area of land law, which has attracted much criticism over the years, is the law surrounding the creation of implied easements, the Law of Property Act 1925 s62, which was originally regarded as a word-saving provision, but has had far-reaching consequences. To what extent are the rules governing the creation of implied easements in need of reform? In answering such a question, the structure is of paramount importance. The first step is to reword the question. There are two issues to be addressed here. The student should firstly explain what are the rules relating to the creation of implied easements, dividing this between the grant and reservation of such easements, both legal and equitable, and secondly how (if at all) these rules should be reformed. No reference need be made to easements created by prescription or express easements, as these are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Lastly any answer to this question should make reference to the Law Commission Consultation Paper No 186, which provides excellent source material.
Matthew Noble, NCAS Legal. Tel: 0872 040 9150 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2010 CALENDAR MAY
8th and 15th Saturday Revision Days
21st Final Accounts Examination Final Probate Examination 22nd Foundation Land Law Examination Final Coveyancing Law & Practice Examination 23rd Foundation Law of Contract Examination Final Landlord & Tennant Examination
NOVEMBER 6th and 13th Saturday Revision Days
NEW LICENCES We are pleased to offer our congratulations to the following candidates who have qualified to apply for a CLC licence. A full list of the successful candidates from all of the January 2010 examinations can be found at www.clc-uk.org In addition, eight licensed conveyancers have been granted a Managers licence - resulting in six new practices being set up - while three probate licences have also been issued.
JULIE SIMS TRACEY CIPOLLA CAROL CONNOLLY SHARON WHYTE MARK POTTER CHRISTINA-JOANNE PALIN JULIET HOWES KAREN HOWICK CLAIRE TERRILL REBECCA HOLLOWAY SARAH GOODWIN AMY JONES VERONICA GIESEN RACHEL TARBUTT VEGA RAM FRANCES BUNDY LOUISE BRAME SARAH LEAVER CAROLINE CLARK ELIZABETH ASPIN CHARLOTTE APPLEBY
GILLIAN TWEEDIE DEBORAH INGHAM MARYAM SAUD SAMANTHA-JANE YEARWOOD DENISA BALDWIN MOHAMMED AMBIA THOMAS INGLETON SUZANNE MOORE JOANNE LIPSCOMBE SARAH COOK HOLLY OSGOOD KATIE FORSDIKE JOANNE FREEMAN CORAL ARMITSTEAD ELEANOR MARRIOTT KIMBERLEY BORLAND MARK NORMANSELL CAROLINE HARTWELL MICHAEL STONE REBECCA SCREECH MARC LANSDELL
MARY HOFFMAN EMILY KIRK JUDITH MOORE New Licences
ELIZABETH CARROLL LINDA HEALD NICK LARCOMBE LOUISE JACKMAN ALISON SHEDWICK PAMELA O’BRIEN JOHN YALDEN JOHN MOOREY
Web 2.0 technology (interactive information sharing) has opened various possibilities and formed some perceived threats for estate agents. The increased ability of consumers across all sectors to trade with each other on auction sites poses a significant challenge to estate agents but the ability to communicate through social media has also created opportunity.
review Regulated, experienced agents – as all National Association of Estate Agent (NAEA) And Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) members are – offer their knowledge of the market. They help to unravel the complexities of the house buying process and provide the reassurance of an intermediary bound by a strict code of practice and rules of conduct. Ultimately, technology cannot alter these facts but it can assist in the process. An estate agent’s experience is critical in a number of areas. Achieving the right pricing level takes years of expertise, and we have seen DIY vendors who have sold themselves short due to a lack of awareness of the local market. This knowledge is critical in terms of comparable market prices but also in respect of awareness of other influencers such as infrastructure plans for the area. Even assuming that the pricing level is pitched correctly, selling and negotiating does not come naturally to everyone regardless of whether there are experienced users of ebay. Selling property is significantly more challenging than any other consumer item not only in regards to the costs involved but also because of the emotional attachment people have with their homes. There are various online solutions popping up which claim to facilitate “instant sales” and lower costs. But, in addition to missing the experience of an agent in this, there is the security concern of inviting strangers into your home. The Internet does not allow
Net gains In this quarter’s column, Peter Bolton King, the Chief Executive of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), discusses the impact of the Internet on estate agents...
the proper vetting of an applicant but a good agent knows their clients well and can match to them to a particular property and its vendor. Buying a house is, on the whole, the most significant purchase that most consumers will ever make both in an emotional as well as monetary sense. An anonymous contact met on a web portal with no frame of reference can never offer the same reassurance as an established, regulated branch of estate agents during the process of negotiating a house sale. Finding a buyer is only the first stage of the house buying process. The progress of a property transaction is a convoluted and time intensive process; expert knowledge is required to navigate the pit falls of a chain of buyers and sellers. Good agents have the experience and contacts to ensure that the process can be moved along, especially in a situation complicated by issues such as short lease. Where I do feel that the Internet offers a benefit is its ability to market properties more efficiently through web portals and the NAEA/ ARLA has developed its own site, PropertyLive.co.uk, for regulated agents. Our intention is to offer an alternative to the number of property portals that have sprung up but are run by developers and businessmen with no experience of estate agency or the property market. The internet also allows consumers to share information, to discuss the house selling and buying process. This has the benefit of highlighting
best practice in the industry, thereby raising standards and making the process more transparent, something that we have lobbied for extensively over issues such as HIPs and Stamp Duty. But, ultimately, I do not think that auction sites or classified ads can ever replicate the knowledge and skill levels of our profession that are invaluable to consumers during the buying and selling process. Increasingly we are seeing our agents using Twitter and its ilk to spread the word about properties coming onto market. Twitter and other social networking sites are an efficient medium by which to transfer information about properties coming online. Obviously the vast majority of agents currently use e-updates to email accounts but web 2.0 also facilitates this process very efficiently. It is harder for most agents to develop ongoing communication with the consumer through social media as once the house buying/selling process is over then invariably return business will not accrue for some time. The marketing industry in general is wrestling with the potential of web 2.0. And there is no doubt that it is a game changer for the sales and marketing initiatives of those of us working in the property sector. But I feel that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges that currently exist.
review Back to Square One by Gaby Hirsch
Do you remember conveyancing before the introduction of the CML Lenders Handbook?
For many, simply reading that question will send a shiver down their back. Prior to the introduction of the Lenders’ Handbook, each lender would have its own detailed instruction manual with mortgage offers that were often complex with specific conditions of particular relevance to the conveyancer. If a lender wanted to change the legal requirements for the conveyancer then they would simply reprint their conditions. In 1999 the CML Handbook was introduced after consultation with the Law Society and now applies to almost all domestic mortgages where the lender and borrower are represented by the same conveyancer. This was a dramatic change and made the life of the conveyancer a lot easier. In the first few years it appeared that when lenders wanted to make a change they would do so primarily through changes in part I with significant and important changes predominantly during the early years, following feedback from the conveyancing industry. It now looks though as we have come full circle. There have been no Part I changes at all in the last two years and yet in the last six months there have been over 500 changes to Lenders requirements under Part II, with no formal notification to the conveyancing industry. There have only been two versions of the Lenders Handbook in the last four and a half years. It is almost impossible to see how conveyancers can remain aware of changes to lender requirements, given that the only way to be sure would be to repeatedly print the Part II requirements for specific lenders on a weekly basis and compare these with previous
versions to identify any changes. On January 1st 2010, the situation became yet more complex for conveyancers as a number of Lenders now have their individual requirements under the Building Societies Association (BSA). Some of these Lenders have moved from the CML, others have requirements with both organisations. Increasingly, it appears that lenders are updating their requirements through changes to Part II with the CML or Special Requirements with the BSA, to alter their legal requirements. As if to compound problems for conveyancers, the uplift in frequency of changes is happening at a time when there is a greater chance of being sued by lenders for non-compliance with lender requirements. The Telegraph has recently reported that “claims against solicitors have risen during the recession”. One silver lining is the progression of the use of technology in managing risk. This has given rise to the development of an on-line tool that enables conveyancers to search and then view all of the changes to lenders’ requirements across a specified date range. LENDERmonitor covers both the CML and BSA lenders and enables a conveyancer to quickly and simply identify any changes that a lender may have made across the period of their transaction. In carrying out a ‘Pre-Completion Search’ prior to signing off on a transaction, the conveyancer can be assured that they have addressed an area of risk that until now was near on impossible for them to manage. At least something has moved on in the last decade! For more details and a 30 day free trial, visit www.lendermonitor.com
property Sarah Beeny writes on the property sector â€“ as she sees it The more technology advances the more important it is for it to be innovative. Gone are the days when a complicated website that does little for an end user will survive. With so many websites and tools now available to help you create something new, it is truly important to consider the experience that the user will ultimately have. It is also essential to ensure that the userâ€™s whole trip from arriving at your product to leaving it is a pleasant, simple and, most importantly, useful time. Fundamentally, with both websites I have started, www.tepilo. com and www.mysinglefriend. com, it is the very fact that the
end user is considered at every step of the way that I believe has made them successful. However, technology in itself is not necessarily a remarkable and wonderful thing. In the right place at the right time it can transform lives for the better but one needs to ensure that it is really doing something for someone. There are all sorts of things that are great â€“ online marketing, socialising, banking, shopping and accounting to name but a few. However, there are gaps in the market that are still waiting for some bright spark to come up with a really good innovative solution. Take theatre tickets, for example. The days when you picked up the phone and were able to find out availability for a show and then book a ticket are now sadly gone, replaced by the need to wade through seemingly endless different websites. The internet has certainly not made everything easier for the consumer. Property is an area that has been slow to embrace technology. Perhaps our homes are such a
massive investment, both emotionally and financially, that we have felt comforted with the systems that our parents used and understood. However, a recession is always a good time to look at value for money and I believe there is much change ahead for the whole building industry as it embraces technology to make things more efficient for us all.
The dream of the â€œPaperless Officeâ€? has been around for decades, and yet still remains elusive, says Dominic Cullis, Chairman of the Legal Software Suppliers Association. But is The Paperless Office a realistic goal for law firms? And should it really be a goal at all?
review Paperless dreams by Dominic Cullis Although the exact origin of the term “The paperless office” is still the subject of some debate, the basic idea was that office automation would make paper redundant for routine tasks such as record-keeping and bookkeeping. Although the widespread adoption of personal computers helped to make this goal more realistic, these predictions have yet to be realised. In theory, however, this model could lead to significant cost savings, less clutter, easier information sharing, increased productivity, and reduced environmental impact. But for law firms, in particular, is this vision of the paperless office really achievable? Although a total and absolute paperless office is probably an unrealistic goal now and for the foreseeable future for most practices, firms can certainly reduce the amount of paper that they are holding and storing by adopting some quite simple and cost-effective technologies. Although some law firms remain sceptical of these new developments, the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA) is confident that its members’ software solutions can keep electronic data both secure and accessible as the trend towards electronic data grows. The LSSA is already working with a number of law firms that can see the benefits of this shift towards electronic data. Manchesterbased Licensing Legal Solicitors provides a good example. The firm, which deals exclusively with liquor, entertainment and gambling
licensing and regulatory issues for the hospitality/leisure industry, has already taken some steps towards the paperless ideal by creating a secure web-based storage system for PDF licences, so that its clients can log into the system to view and print these documents at any time. Despite this kind of innovation, there are still areas where paper is required for compliance with SAR, SRA, LSC & HMRC legislation. As a result, there will always be various reasons for keeping a hard copy of certain documents: maybe for legal reasons or maybe because having a hard copy is preferred within certain scenarios, such as the company’s board meeting. What is evident, though, is that by storing all of the company’s documents within a Case or Document management system, firms will have the ability to catalogue and index the information contained within the system easily. This can then provide the system’s users with rapid access to specific documents and, additionally, any related documents. Likewise, paperless reporting can offer many benefits to a practice, including reduced storage requirements, immediate comparison of past accounting periods, months and years, the possibility of secure and encrypted off-site storage of reports to assist with Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery planning, and remote access to accounting reports for the auditing accountant - which can help to reduce audit costs significantly. Despite these benefits, many firms remain concerned about data security. In reality, however, electronic files, if used correctly, actually tend to be more secure than their printed counterparts, as firms have easy access to a range of highly effective
security options that simply aren’t able to protect a stack of papers. Additionally, electronic filing means that lawyers can easily work on a file from home at the weekend, without taking the paper file home. That means there is much less risk of leaving a folder on the train or having it stolen from their car. Not only that, but having an electronic file stored securely offsite also provides a complete and immediate Disaster Recovery Plan, in the event of a fire, flood or other disaster at the law firm’s offices. For all of these reasons, and as technology advances and the applications that handle these new methods of working become cheaper and more efficient, it is almost certain that firms will start to adopt them as standard working practices. About the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA) The Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA) is the UK industry body for legal systems developers and vendors. Representing most of the leading UK suppliers, the LSSA sets and maintains professional standards within the legal software industry, and also manages areas of mutual interest between lawyers and software providers. The LSSA also has numerous links with legislative bodies - such as the Land Registry and the LSC - and is committed to developing clear channels of communication so that law firms can gain the maximum benefit from their selected software solutions. For more information please visit www.lssa.co.uk
review It’s time to join the revolution by David Kempster
Technology has clearly revolutionised the way that we communicate with one another, says David Kempster, Marketing Director at MDA SearchFlow. But do the latest developments in this area offer any unique benefits for conveyancers in particular?
The Internet has transformed communications across a wide variety of industries, and conveyancing is no exception. New developments in electronic communications and the latest thinking behind the trading platforms of tomorrow are set to transform the conveyancing process. Although initially viewed with scepticism, browser-based interaction has now woven its way into many firms, but not all. Take property searches, for example; instead of manual paper chases and the associated delays in accessing records by post (or on foot) via a local authority, conveyancers can now access official local authority searches from any local authority in England and Wales from the desktop. At the same time, automatic address validation, easy-to-use mapping tools, and integrated invoicing provide even more convenience. Improving Efficiency The latest online mapping tools, for example, make it easy for anyone to identify the extent of a property: one click is often enough to outline a property boundary, while more sophisticated drawing tools give conveyancers the flexibility to mark up more complex areas. Clear and up-to-date plans can improve the accuracy of a search, which means fewer queries from information providers and less chance of delay. What’s more, the best electronic systems can now automatically identify and highlight searches that may be relevant to any given property, so that conveyancers can be confident that they are giving their clients the best advice at all times. Although some conveyancers remain sceptical of new technology and question whether electronic data will ever truly replace traditional printed documents,
the latest breakthroughs in digital communications are undoubtedly helping to ensure that electronic data is both secure and easily accessible. Already, electronic files are allowing conveyancers to be much more efficient, since important information is available at their fingertips, rather than in a filing cupboard or sitting in a post box somewhere. In addition, electronic documents can be shared with clients and/or associates easily, with the click of a button, or via transparent systems such as online file publishing. As a result, conveyancers can share files without the physical restriction of identifying who has the paper file, and can also enjoy a less cluttered office and reduced storage costs. Data Protection As the quantity of online mail and document traffic climb ever skyward – often at the request of the clients themselves, and not just between practices – document storage, retrieval and secure communications will become ever more critical. Stringent security measures will be needed not only for back up and data protection requirements, but also to foster trust between parties and to ensure that sensitive client and practice information is being adequately safeguarded. Additionally, if documents and communications are authenticated with accepted certification (such as a digital certificate), then the scope for fraud is also reduced - assuming this is backed up by pre-vetting and anti-money laundering checks of both the client and employee. In the conveyance of the future, the thriving, future-proofed practice is uploading, storing and transmitting encrypted and password protected files between parties. In this way, conveyancers will be able
CLC Chronicle to demonstrate solid audit and process control, thus making them more attractive, for example, to the lenders referring instructions to them and, perhaps, a more favourable treatment from PI insurers. Competitive Edge It is, of course, essential that technology and trading platforms don’t dispense with quality and due diligence. The Legal Services Act and Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) implementation from next year could force further sea changes in managing transaction efficiency and unit costs. Independent conveyancers clearly need to get to grips with these competitive models and respond, giving themselves the best chance to differentiate with quality, backed by technology. Practices must therefore look at their back office processes to ensure that accounting and client account reconciliation do not distract and eat up valuable resource and time. Some practices using paper search processing, for example, are writing off hundreds of pounds in unbilled disbursements: yet with electronic invoice management, nothing need be missed out. Integrated electronic invoicing can help to improve efficiency by streamlining payment into one daily Direct Debit. In fact, individual invoices (detailing matter number and VAT) can now be emailed the same day, thereby enabling conveyancers to invoice clients both accurately and promptly. Of course, there will often be various reasons for keeping a hard copy of invoices or other documents: maybe for legal reasons or maybe because having a hard copy is preferred within certain scenarios. What is evident, though, is that those practices embracing both access to electronic property
information together with Case and/or Document Management Systems are in the best position to extend their efficiency savings as new technology and trading platforms emerge in the coming years. Looking Ahead So what of the future? As previously mentioned, The Legal Services Act and ABSs could drive structural and further competitive change in conveyancing, including more widespread electronic process adoption. At the same time, changes in the way that property search information is stored, and released by local authorities through the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) will demand a cost effective solution for them to connect content to the conveyancing professional to effect exchange and completion. Whatever misgivings or positives individual conveyancers may take from HIPs, they have at least accelerated online communications and content delivery through the process. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle, and even if HIPs are scrapped under a possible change of government, it is unlikely that workflow and commercial relationships will go back to the ways of old. At the same time, further enhancements in Case Management integration, e-lodgement and registration, as well as a changing demographic within the legal community mean that online transaction management has become an everyday reality for most. Our e-conveyancing vision is of a fast, electronic network that links local authorities, the Land Registry, conveyancers, mortgage lenders, surveyors, estate agents, buyers and sellers, and which can be used to coordinate the entire
process of buying and selling from initial instruction to the final transfer of title. We see a future where homebuyers and sellers could track and validate what’s going on in the process, transparently and instantly, and where law firms and conveyancers will engage and trade online in order to accelerate efficiencies and facilitate best practice and commercial advantage, whilst still maintaining due diligence. As such, we expect to see lenders, surveyors, conveyancers, agents and information providers supporting and delivering a common flow of information from “cradle to grave,” driving faster speed to certainty and exchange. This kind of technology will form the DNA – the “Intel inside” – of effective information transfer for the property industry, as it will allow conveyancers to deploy connected, online, real time tools that are supported by specialist expertise and business connections in order to drive standards, efficiency and speed on behalf of the client. The future of conveyancing is certain to include an even greater emphasis on the electronic delivery of information, and an end to inefficient data-gathering that can often rely on sub-standard methods of collecting information. Conveyancing professionals therefore need to embrace this change right now, in order to face new commercial threats head-on and to appreciate the time and cost savings made possible by determining how they can access and manage search and other property information electronically, both now and in the future.
The News Service of The Council for Licensed Conveyancers
Thanks for your participation! We would like to thank all licence holders, non licensed conveyancer managers and CLC students who participated in our recent customer survey. Springboard Marketing, the independent company who conducted our research, reported an impressive response rate from those invited to participate and we look forward to acting on their findings in the coming weeks. Your feedback will help us as we strive to continue moving forward as a regulator.
of Premier Property Lawyers, for allowing us to use his case study in this promotion. If you would like to be considered for a future CLC case study – and are happy to potentially feature in future publicity material – please email email@example.com.
about your practice. Please look out for this email and follow the links and instructions as this information will be vital to ensuring that consumers gain the most up to date information on the new ‘find a conveyancer’ facility.
Find a licensed conveyancer “ The CLC qualification works for me as I’m able to earn money while I gain experience in the job.”
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Kavi Chauhan, Student licensed conveyancer and case handler for Premier Property Lawyers
The CLC qualification provides access to an exciting and rewarding career as a licensed conveyancer. Flexible study options offer students the choice of distance learning or college courses. Both combine learning with practical training in a fast-paced and challenging environment.
To fi nd out more about how you or your staff could benefit from the CLC qualification go to www.clcregulates.co.uk
Type of business We’re here to help you
New marketing campaign launched We are delighted to have launched an exciting new marketing campaign in the April edition of the New Law Journal. Campaigns such as this are vital to increasing awareness of how to enter the profession and we would like to thank student Kavi Chauhan,
Website Launch As part of our new branding work, we will shortly be launching the new CLC website. Ahead of the launch, we will be contacting all regulated practices to provide login details for the new site and instructions on how to update the information we hold
hronicle The Journal of The Council for Licensed Conveyancers
Advertise in the Summer 2010 edition of the Chronicle The next edition of the Chronicle will be published in July 2010. Display advertisement spaces are available in full page or half page only.
review It is more important than ever to ensure that your business is an efficiently managed operation. The benefits that accounts and conveyancing specific software could bring to your practice are outlined by two leading software providers. Patrick Carmody, Managing Director of Perfect Software, explains how accounts specific software can offer tangible benefits to conveyancers As Ben Franklin remarked, nothing is certain but death and taxes. These days, the tax collector no longer sends troops to pillage your house and family, she just demands exact accounting records in the “prescribed” format. Being model citizens (well, most of us), conveyancers comply with all these rules and regulations. Most of us keep our accounts on a professional, CLC approved, accounts package. But some of us still struggle on with a manual or spreadsheet system. I sometimes wonder why – the process can be laborious and time intensive. Of course, if you are happy with this method then maybe a software package is not for you. But, consider this – if you invested two weeks in marketing and client relationships, would it bring in additional business? Are all your cards up to date, showing the full history of the office and client transactions? Can you do proper “double entry” with just one posting? Are you able to get last months balances at the touch of a button? Do you know the profit on the business for the year? Or for the last few months? And have you got any residual
moneys on old transactions? Have you transferred all the bills due? This is before we consider the regulations - VAT has to be recorded and sent to HMRC. And at the year end, all the balances have to be tidied up and made ready for the annual audit. Bank reconciliations need to be made, and kept, every month. Occasionally, for whatever reason, you will have substantial monies held for a period of weeks. Is interest due? Or not? Can you push a button to find out? So, in summary, if you want to reduce your workload while increasing productivity and satisfy the taxman into the bargain, then maybe it’s time you invested in an accounts specific software package. There are lots of very good systems to choose from but, for heavens sake, do choose one of them.
and enhancing the moving experience for your clients * Remove duplication of effort in your business by linking to ID Verification solutions, search providers, Land Registry, Title insurers and an accounts provider, * Be affordable and able to demonstrate a clear business case for its use.
* Significantly reduce the time you spend on a file;
In fully engaging with technology and, in particular, a good case management solution, you can reduce the time involved in completing a file by at least 40 per cent over a manual method. This will provide you with the immediate benefit of a transaction with fewer interruptions, while the client gets a higher level of service without any additional effort on your part - it’s a ‘win win’ scenario! The Land Registry, search providers, title insurers and many other organisations involved in the sector are all working hard to deliver an improved, more efficient and more cost effective transaction. In some cases these initiatives deliver a cheaper comparable result to the consumer, or simply offer the opportunity for greater margin for the provider. I have observed an attitude shift in the profession over the last few years and I welcome this as practitioners recognise they are running a commercial business in the buying and selling of homes. Embrace technology for the role it will play in the viability of your commercial future – ignore it at your peril!
* Offer you a competitive advantage by winning you more instructions
Please note whilst the CLC recognises the benefits software packages can offer licensed conveyancers, it does not endorse or recommend any individual software package or provider.
Martin MacDuff, Managing Director of ConveyanceLink, explains the benefits case management software could bring to your business Conveyancers have undoubtedly come through a difficult trading period. The likelihood of unwelcome entrants to the market and the possibility of downward pressure on professional fees could be forcing you to consider your future viability. Used effectively as a business tool, technology will assist you in operating more efficiently and ultimately more profitably. A good case management solution will;
Are you paying too much? Value
Big on support, small on price Perfect Books is the Perfect Choice for the high street Conveyancer Our Specialist Accounts package is available from just £38.50 + VAT per month
Confidence x x x x x
Easily installed Conversions from many systems Established reliability Always up to date and compliant Support you can trust
“Setting up and learning to use has been very straightforward. My only regret is that I did not start using the system much sooner” High Street Practice, New Barnet
For your own trial version call us on:
01656 720071 or visit our website
01656 720071 www.perfectsoftware.co.uk Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 22
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