Transformative workflows embedded within our case management software
Created and managed by Lawyers for Lawyers. Ochresoft Intelliworks software is content-rich, scalable, cost-effective and provides compliance best practice with ready-made workflows for conveyancers. Itâ€™s comprehensive so nothing is forgotten and takes care of all of the details in each file helping to make you more efficient and grow your business. Our technical team can have you up and running within a matter of weeks with flexible pay-by-case pricing, onsite training by ex-practitioners and free smart updates. To find out more from our team of experts contact us on 03300 366 700 or email email@example.com
When it comes to delivering highly focused, in-depth property intelligence quickly and efficiently, SearchFlow has got it down to a ‘T’ – an idiom used to explain that something or someone has everything accounted for, down to the smallest detail. And that’s where SearchFlow comes into the picture as the market-leading provider of conveyancing search solutions. Part of land and property Landmark Information Group, SearchFlow’s comprehensive range of searches, surveys, identity checks, legal checks and conveyancing insurance solutions are all designed to help clients seriously streamline the many aspects of conveyancing process. Now for the main feature: a Modern Law supplement showcasing the corporate face of SearchFlow, some fascinating market intelligence and, importantly, the skills and expertise of the people that make SearchFlow the great company it’s grown into over the last 25 years. Modern Law has been privileged to meet the movers and shakers as we take a look at the different areas of the business and the people and opinions behind the company’s success. We meet Sales Director, Tracy Burtwell, to discover what makes her tick and to share her insights into SearchFlow and the wider search industry. As Tracy says, “One thing that struck me when I first joined is that clients are everybody’s priority; something that has never been forgotten over the years.” And keeping clients satisfied and happy is a major factor in keeping SearchFlow at the summit.
We get up close and personal with Personal Search Operations Manager, Louise Robinson. There’s a snapshot A-Z of Conveyancing for residential and commercial transactions while Kris Clark, Head of AI at Landmark Information Group feeds the geek in us all by discussing the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the conveyancing market. To bring matters down to earth, property law guru/veteran, John Outram, shares some of the most memorable moments from his forty-year career, including an encounter with an angry farmer brandishing a shotgun and being challenged to a duel! But there’s so much more… So, devour this Modern Law supplement cover to cover and you’ll realise not only what a great bunch of people work at SearchFlow but, crucially, that they know their stuff and that’s why it’s such a great company to do business with.
Poppy Green Co-Editor | Modern Law Magazine 01765 600909 @Modern_Poppy firstname.lastname@example.org
Modern Law caught up with SearchFlow’s Sales Director, Tracy Burtwell, to discover what makes her tick and to share her insights into SearchFlow and the wider search industry.
A voice of the industry: an interview with industry veteran John Outram
After four decades in the property law profession, John Outram describes the major changes that have affected conveyancing since the 1980s and shares some of the most memorable moments from his career.
Up close and personal We spoke to Louise Robinson who recently joined as Personal Search Operations Manager, to find out more about her and to discuss how the team is scaled for future growth to maintain its position in the personal search market.
Putting experience into practice
The A to Z of Conveyancing
Alastair Waters, Head of Product and Service Delivery, Ochresoft, describes how a heavy caseload inspired him to craft case management technology for conveyancers.
From the day–to–day searches to the more unusual or nonstandard due diligence or information services available, we provide a snapshot into the A-Z of Conveyancing for residential and commercial transactions.
19 Case Study – Streamlining property searches 30 20 Avoiding dirty money
With the 5th Money Laundering Directive on the horizon, SearchFlow is addressing the need for firms to avoid regulatory penalties by employing rigorous and effective procedures to prevent money laundering.
Utilising digital data to assess and manage environmental risks AI is starting to play a key role in data creation and is one of the drivers for why data, resulting in the term ‘big data’, has grown exponentially in recent years. Mark Taylor, Senior Consultant at Argyll Environmental, tells us more.
Feedback from the frontline In conjunction with various regional Law Society groups and led by Landmark Information, a series of roundtables have been held across the country to hear directly from the property law frontline as to what the key issues are that are making an impact on today’s conveyancing practices.
An update: The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme was designed to provide regulators, lenders, insurers, and most notably, home movers, distinguishable standard of excellence in regards to the provision of residential conveyancing services. Without doubt, accredited practices also benefit from the established benchmark. Joanna King, Legal and Compliance Analyst, Ochresoft Technologies, tells us more.
Artificial Intelligence meets Conveyancing Kris Clark, Head of AI at Landmark Information Group, discusses the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the conveyancing market, and how Landmark will be applying this technology into services.
Case management software supports consistent client service Barbara Jacobs founded her conveyancing practice in 2008. Here she explains how case management software helps to keep transactions on track, allowing her to focus on clients and apply her wealth of experience and expertise to deliver successful completions.
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Tracy Burtwell Modern Law caught up with SearchFlowâ€™s Sales Director, Tracy Burtwell, to discover what makes her tick and to share her insights into SearchFlow and the wider search industry.
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MLM: What is your career background? TB: My career began many years ago at good old Yellow Pages, an excellent career starter for a lot of people. It still holds true that the training I received there is probably the best training I’ve ever received in my career. I learnt the importance of understanding customer needs and creating value for their business. That ethos has never left me. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some leading companies, such as BT, where I served as Head of Sales for several years. I then joined Tyco Fire & Security, now Johnson Controls, as VP of Retail in Europe and UK and Ireland Sales Director. More recently I worked in the renewable energy sector as Sales Director for Viridor.
One of the biggest issues is the need to modernise and improve the process of purchasing property and land, with search being an integral part of the process
MLM: How did you get into the property industry? TB: I have a genuine interest in the property market, having bought and sold many times, and we all love TV property programmes! So when the opportunity arose to work in the sector, it really exicted me. SearchFlow ticked so many boxes. It’s the market leader, yet still has growth aspirations in a sector that‘s continually modernising. This, along with its association with the wider Landmark Information Group, was a winning combination that attracted me. MLM: What are the biggest issues in the search market at present? TB: One of the biggest issues is the need to modernise and improve the process of purchasing property and land, with search being an integral part of the process. The search industry has already initiated many improvements, especially in the field of technology, as fraudsters and hackers continue to attack law firms. At SearchFlow, we are working with our clients to provide the highest levels of due diligence through products that protect both them and their clients’ end-to-end in the buying process. MLM: What do you enjoy the most about working at SearchFlow? TB: It’s a company with heritage – over 25 years in fact – and we’re very proud of that. We’ve been around the marketplace longer than most and we’re seen as market leaders who drive through innovation. One thing that struck me when I first joined is that clients are everybody’s priority, something that has never been forgotten over the years. Another eye opener was the camaraderie. It’s such a fun place to work. We have some fantastic people here who are incredibly passionate about what they do, and in a linear business where people tend to move about within the industry, it’s a testament to SearchFlow that some have been with the company since the early days! It’s important to recognise the key roles our people play and we have a great programme called Owlmazing, named after our recognisable company mascot, where both we and our clients nominate SearchFlow individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of customer service each month. It’s great to recognise exceptional customer service and it’s great to share this success internally and externally.
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We work alongside clients and their business plans to help them secure more business – if they are successful, we too are successful
which is important to our clients, because if they’re buying the latest innovations from us they know it’s future-proofing them as well. MLM: Where do personal searches sit in today’s market? How are they evolving alongside official searches? MLM: What would you say is unique about SearchFlow? TB: What sets us apart is that we don’t just focus on searches. We know we offer the best level of customer services, and our two Customer Service Awards at the CXAs (Customer Experience Awards) are evidence of that. With one of the most knowledgeable, longserving teams in the industry, we can really focus on how to add value to a client’s business. We create bespoke value propositions that resonate and truly benefit clients by providing market intelligence to help clients make informed commercial decisions. We work alongside clients and their business plans to help them secure more business. If they are successful, we too are successful. We’re currently working on a variety of different propositions, one of which is to offer early ordering of searches to speed up transactions for new build projects. We also provide a concierge service for those clients who need something a little more bespoke. Plus – our Portfolio Team is amazing – offering an efficient and timely service for those clients needing high-volume searches for large projects. And we do all this in the knowledge that we have a stable, profitable organisation backing us by investing in new technology,
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TB: Increasingly it can be far quicker to turn around personal searches rather than using the official process. More and more Local Authorities are going digital which means we’re able to conduct a personal search online from our offices rather than make house visits. The quality of the information is search code complaint so we have 100% confidence in the reports we are suppling. Very few lenders still require an official search and in today’s market, where the consumer demands speed of transaction, this is a more cost-effective and quicker service. We have one of the largest in-house Personal Search service teams in the industry, which has grown more than three-fold over the last two years. MLM: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the conveyancing sector – today and in the future? TB: In addition to our focus groups, and to drive our business forward, we hold regular Customer Advisory Groups. In a fast-moving market, it’s important to listen to our clients and understand what is impacting their business. When I visit clients, usually around two to three times a week, there’s rarely a conversation that doesn’t revolve around risk, whether it’s fraud, choosing which reports are going to give the most comprehensive data to their clients, or to make sure they have the right
insurance products to mitigate any risk. That’s why it’s essential to assure clients they have the very best advice on which products and solutions are going to mitigate risk. MLM: The government is focused on improving the overall homebuying process – what can search providers do to support property lawyers? TB: The government white paper didn’t identify one single issue that needed fixing to improve the homebuying process, it was more a series of themes. There was a call to discover why it now took longer to complete the average purchase – 14-16 weeks compared to 11 weeks ten years ago! Search providers have already done much to speed up this aspect of the conveyancing process, however we still need to work with the rest of the market to join the processes together. SearchFlow conducted focus groups with clients, conveyancers and estate agents to identify what the blockers were and how we could remove them. That helped us to understand what a transparent joined-up process needs, i.e. data, and access to data. Having this throughout the chains is the key to speeding up the process. We therefore invested in delivering a completely proactive user interface to most of our client base with total migration due to be completed by September 2019. And our launch of real-time dashboards, gives us an up-to-date position on all search orders and reports, meaning our team can be far more proactive in providing order updates to our clients; this has resulted in incoming ‘chaser’ calls to our Customer Service Centre dropping by a massive 40% year on year, with fewer people calling to find out what’s going on because we’re telling them in advance or they can see it there and then in their online order dashboard. It’s made a big difference. MLM: Looking to the future how do you see the industry changing over the next five years? TB: We live in a world where we expect instant actions and results, so it’s logical that the property market must follow suit. As a leader in our market it’s incumbent on us to understand what will drive this to be faster and
One thing that struck me when I first joined is that clients are everybody’s priority, something that has never been forgotten over the years better – and to get there first! We’ve been experimenting with chatbots to enable 24/7 digital interaction for our customers to supplement our more traditional Customer Services model. We’re working with new technologies, such as AI and machine learning, to integrate and improve the services we offer. We see this as our responsibility; our clients are lawyers and that’s where their strengths lie, and they look to us to invest in development technology on their behalf. MLM: What professional achievement are you most proud of in your career? TB: I have to say, when you make a career in management there is nothing more satisfying than seeing people you have led or mentored at any stage, succeed in their careers. MLM: What achievement are you most proud of at SearchFlow? TB: Without a doubt that must be winning two Awards at the CXAs: Gold for Customer Contact Centre Small and Silver for Customer Experience Transformation. This gave me so much satisfaction, not just because we were competing against big boys like Lloyds Bank and Vodafone, but because it was recognition that we had listened to what mattered most to our clients and built systems to provide the best possible levels of service for them.
is the Sales Director at SearchFlow
MLM: What advice would you give to someone looking for a career in the property search industry? TB: A career in property search is now much more than simply
about providing searches. It’s a marketplace set for change. So, if you’re looking to make a difference by providing high levels of customer service in a fast-paced environment, which revolves around the tech innovation, with great rewards, then it’s a career that won’t disappoint.
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A voice of the industry: an interview with industry veteran
After four decades in the property law profession, John Outram describes the major changes that have affected conveyancing since the 1980s and shares some of the most memorable moments from his forty year career, including an encounter with an angry farmer brandishing a shotgun and being challenged to a duel.
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Inspired by his property law lecturer at Hull University, John Outram set his sights on a career in conveyancing and went on to study at Chester College of Law. The young graduate then joined Sheffield law firm, Taylor&Emmet LLP, as an articled clerk in 1980. At the time he joined, Taylor&Emmet was a relatively small firm, employing approximately twenty people. During his time with the business, it grew its conveyancing business significantly and increased headcount to 220 employees. Asked about the changes he’s seen in legal practice, one of the major differences John cites is today’s specialism in conveyancing: “Back in the 1980s, solicitors were more akin to GPs in that they worked with clients over a longer term and provided a broader range of services. This meant that, while property law was my main focus, I also got involved in wills and probate, family law and even a little bit of criminal law, depending on the clients’ needs.” In the 1990s, John Outram was asked to head up a branch office in Ecclesall, Sheffield, which focused on conveyancing. “We thought we could provide a better, more personal and efficient service with teams of three to five people, headed by a qualified lawyer, who would take responsibility for a client’s property transaction from start to finish, with the lawyer doing all the legal checks,” recalls John. “I started with three files and an empty filing cabinet and built the business from there.” At the time, this was a gamble because the UK had just emerged from recession. However, John and his partners set about building strong relationships with local estate agents and the conveyancing business soon became well-established and, by 2015, had grown significantly. “Part of the satisfaction of my career was being involved, as a senior partner, in growing the practice from a very small business to a major high street player,” he says. More turbulent times during John’s career included the recessions of 1989 and 2008, “In 1989 mortgage interest rates soared to 16 per cent and people were very grateful to be able to fix their interest rate for two years at 11 per cent,” he recalls. The younger generation, fuelled by the press, complain about how easy it was for the previous generation, but do not know the pressure of dealing with huge interest rates. “Following the crash of 2008, many firms reduced their conveyancing business and some went out of business. Now in 2019, we’re seeing uncertainty around Brexit cooling the property market.” When asked about the major changes in conveyancing practice over the past four decades John cites the Legal Services Act of 2007, the introduction of technology and management of cyber threats. Legislation has tightened up the management of risk around money laundering and fraud and introduced the regulation of the profession by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
John describes how this changed the risk management of property transactions, “Back in 1984, a taxi driver could bring in a brown paper bag filled with cash to pay for a house deposit. Now we have layers and layers of identification and monetary checks that we have to get clients to pass through before a property sale can be completed. The penalties for conveyancers failing to do so are draconian.” “Regulatory compliance and cyber security are the two things that give partners sleepless nights,” he says. “If your firm is found to be non-compliant, or you lose a client’s data or money, then everything you’ve worked for could be destroyed overnight in terms of reputation.” Asked about the most complex task in conveyancing, John believes that it is vital to get everyone involved in the purchase to understand the process. He emphasises that good communication skills come to the fore here: “There are so many parties involved that educating everyone about what has to be done to get the right result is a challenge. If there’s a delay, everyone thinks it’s everyone else’s fault.” John advises that while the work of estate agents is starting to become more controlled, other non regulated parties, such as management companies and freeholders can also add to the time and cost of the conveyancing process. “Most grumbles about conveyancing are about the speed of a transaction, but there are so many things that can go wrong; the risks and penalties for failure are enormous. In 1984 conveyancers didn’t have to check ID, or whether someone was using criminal proceeds to fund a property purchase.” While acknowledging the importance of managing risk, John describes how multiple ID, anti-fraud and antimoney laundering checks have added to conveyancing timescales. Someone wishing to buy a property today must provide ID to their estate agent, mortgage advisor, lender and conveyancing solicitor – at each step of the journey. “Surely, there could be some governmentbacked scheme to bring all these checks together so that it’s a more joined up system, which would save duplication and a lot of time” John suggests that national identity cards could provide one route to smoothing part of this process, however, he agrees that this is a knotty issue as many would argue against this on the grounds of civil liberties, “It’s a case of being proportionate rather than treating everyone as a potential criminal,” he comments.
IT has made an immense difference, in particular the open access to the Land Registry
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There remains a place in conveyancing for seriously good communicators who are open to changes from technology and legislation With the government pledging to modernise the homebuying and selling process, we asked John for his views on what needs to change to enable this to happen. “Conveyancing is set in a legal framework which has remained for a hundred years, albeit with a bit of tinkering around the edges,” says John. “Some would argue that we should adopt the Scottish or other system. However, I am cautious on this point as it might speed up the conveyancing process, while making it more expensive for the consumer. There is no easy answer.” We asked John how he viewed the impact of technology on the industry. Having begun practice before the introduction of the mobile phone, personal computers, or even fax machines, John agrees that the use of technology has driven huge changes in conveyancing, while asserting that core skills must be retained: “IT has made an immense difference, in particular the open access to the Land Registry. When I began my career, property owners had Deeds, which proved their ownership. Deeds usually included every signed and sealed document from the date that the property was built and conveyancers had to check through all the historic transactions. Now, instead, there is electronic registration at the Land Registry, which can be accessed online by anyone who cares to look. While this increases convenience, it also introduces fresh risks.”
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In response to the increased legislation, John has recognised the positive impact that using a case management system has; allowing large amounts of data to be managed in the background, so that key details are not omitted. He explains that case management technology has helped to speed up the process, by handling routine data entry. “The benefit of using case management workflows is that it encourages conveyancers to enter a lot of the required information up front. Conveyancers are prompted to input essential legal and regulatory information, which avoids errors later in the job. That’s why we use Intelliworks for example. It gives us a better handle on the process and ensures that we capture all the relevant information that we are legally required to record.” As someone who has worked in the industry prior to mainstream computing, John notes the irony of the fact that completion takes just as long as it ever did. “In 1984 my firm had a maximum of one page of terms and conditions. These days, T&Cs probably run to fifteen pages as a result of the requirements of legislation, HMRC, SRA and various layers of consumer regulation. Layers of compliance have added three to four weeks onto the conveyancing process.” John acknowledges the benefits that technology can bring to the conveyancing process, but is swift to
It requires a good communicator to get all of the people involved in the chain to work together towards a successful completion – the technology is an ‘enabler’ along that journey
emphasise the fact that real people still lie at the heart of each property transaction. “The people involved in the chain are experiencing life, death, marriages, babies, changes of job and holidays to name but a few, with all of the associated emotions. It requires a good communicator to get all of the people involved in the chain to work together towards a successful completion – the technology is an ‘enabler’ along that journey.” Looking after the people at the heart of the legal process has always been John Outram’s mission. Indeed, John shares two particularly memorable incidents when emotions boiled over. “I was once threatened by a farmer with a shotgun while trying to resolve a right of way dispute,” recalls John. “On another occasion, I was challenged to a duel by the husband of a lady whom I was representing in a divorce case.” When asked for his advice to junior solicitors considering a career in conveyancing, John offers these words of wisdom, “Be flexible. As a result of anticipated government intervention in the market and the adoption of technology, things are unlikely to be the same in five to ten years’ time. There remains a place in conveyancing for seriously good communicators who are open to changes from technology and legislation.”
John Outram John studied law at Hull University and Chester College of Law before joining Taylor&Emmet as an articled clerk in 1980. He was chosen to head up Taylor&Emmet’s first conveyancing branch in Ecclesall, Sheffield, in 1990 and, as a senior partner in the firm, helped to grow the business to a staff of 220 in 2015. Now retired from full time practice, John continues to provide consultancy services to conveyancing, search, insurance and legal technology companies,
is a Consultant at Taylor&Emmet
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Up close and personal SearchFlow is one of a few search providers who have an in-house nationwide personal search agency – PSA. In the last year, PSA has experienced significant growth and the popularity of personal searches shows no signs of slowing. We spoke to Louise Robinson who recently joined the team as Personal Search Operations Manager, to find out more about her and to discuss how the team is scaled for future growth to maintain its position in the personal search market. Modern Law: When did you join SearchFlow? Louise: In July 2018; I’d previously been a client services director for an Outsourced CX Solution provider and was excited at moving into the fast-paced world of property. Outside of my work life I spend time renovating properties in both the UK and Europe, so I fully appreciate the role of search providers and how their assistance is pivotal when it comes to purchasing properties. ML: Personal search volumes are continuing to increase – can you talk us through the trends you are seeing? Louise: PSA is going through a massive growth curve currently as the popularity of our searches continues to grow. Both the Local Authority Search and the Drainage and Water searches are produced in such a way that all the information that is key for our clients – and the buyer is in an easy to read report, which clearly demonstrates the areas that are of the upmost importance. PSA has seen a 32% uplift in order volumes in the last 12-months alone and I’m enjoying supporting the team in managing further expansion. Since I joined PSA SearchFlow, I’ve already increased capacity both with the internal team and those working out in the field at the local authorities with an additional 15 new starters joining our department across a variety of roles. ML: What does a typical day look like for you? Louise: My time is split between the office and being out in the field to support our Searchers who are visiting the local authorities. The past few months’ focus has been on evolving the technology within the department, so we have slicker processes and systems to manage future volumes and ensure the team has the tools to become even more effective. Innovation and data for me are the key areas where we can start to lift the great foundation of PSA and take it to the next level to handle more bespoke solutions for our clients.
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Another area that I’ve been working on is around employee engagement; managing any large remote team requires hard work to create a culture that supports both the needs of the business but also our staff. We’ve increased capacity and we’re recruiting more over the next few months, so for me I’m working on managing that growth to ensure we increase resources at the right time and in the right places to manage demands. ML: What do you think is driving the growth in personal searches? Louise: I think there are a number of factors: we have a nationwide team of personal search agents meaning our extensive coverage allows us to offer excellent turnaround times – without compromising high standards, consistency or accuracy of search content.
Our customers like the speed of delivery and also the standardisation of pricing, which makes it easier for them to provide quotations to their own clients. Our personal searches also come with the protection of insurance that cover clients for any errors or omissions, which extends up to £5 million per single claim, so this provides added peace of mind. ML: What services are available through PSA SearchFlow? Louise: We access a wide range of searches including the Local Authority search, Local Land Charges Register, Planning Register, Highways Register and Local Plan. We also supply full Building Control information associated with a property, and answer all the enquiries on the CON29R form. ML: What do you like about working at PSA SearchFlow? Louise: I really like the ethos of the company; they invest in people and I like the culture. It’s very much one of inclusion and you’re given a level of autonomy to drive things forward and make positive progress. It’s motivating to have the freedom to really run. My Personal Search department is going through a growth curve and I am really enjoying putting the team structure in place to maintain this trajectory. PSA has a great heritage, having been the first organisation of its type back in 1984. I like working for a business that broke new ground, and continues to grow some 30+ years later. ML: What does a typical day look like for a PSA SearchFlow agent? Louise: Every council works differently and so agents have to be flexible, inquisitive and be able to work on their own initiative. All of our agents bring something different in terms of experience and skills, but one key thread is that they all care about what they are doing and take the time to consider what they would want to know if they were the buyer. I encourage all of my agents to be as inquisitive and thorough as possible. The volumes are high – we undertake thousands of searches every month across the country – and with it comes a great deal of responsibility, yet they all have an opportunity to shape their role. ML: How does technology fit with the PSA SearchFlow offering? Louise: The search process is being modernised in many areas. SearchFlow’s clients now have access to a sophisticated online ordering system. It uses AI to automatically determine the best option for a search, and if a personal search is quicker, it will advise the client accordingly, so they can make a decision on how to proceed with their order. We’ve also just launched a refreshed version of the PSA app, which includes more dynamic features to make it easier to use, view and track orders. ML: What drives you to succeed in your career? Louise: I think I get my drive from my family; we have saying that is ‘you get out what you put in’ – it’s something I’ve always done, and lead by example. Whether in my professional or personal life, I like
I believe that you can’t truly be successful unless you are passionate about your profession and I get a lot of satisfaction, whether that is providing excellent service to clients, seeing my team grow or individuals develop building momentum and thriving on learning and ultimately becoming successful to make my family proud. I believe that you can’t truly be successful unless you are passionate about your profession and I get a lot of satisfaction, whether that is providing excellent service to clients, seeing my team grow or individuals develop. ML: Who is your role model or the person that inspires you the most? Louise: Anita Roddick from the Body Shop; she always said, “If you do things well, do them better” and I can really relate to that. She was daring, challenged convention and was great at empowering her staff. I also like her approach to social responsibility. She pushed the boundaries and, from my point of view, I’m not fearful of pushing boundaries either – sometimes you need to really push yourself to make positive changes.
is Personal Search Operations Manager at SearchFlow https://www.searchflow.co.uk/ find-a-service/search/product/ personal-search
Personal Search Facts: • There are 408 principal councils in the UK • This includes 26 county councils, 192 district councils and 190 unitary councils • PSA has a team of 35 personal search agents located across the country • Over 400,000 personal searches have been ordered via PSA over the last five years • In the last 12-months over 40% of Local Authority searches SearchFlow sold were Personal Searches • An average PSA agent travels 27,000 miles each year to collect the due diligence for client orders • Average length of service of PSA’s Searchers is seven years
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Putting experience into practice Alastair Waters, Head of Product and Service Delivery, Ochresoft, describes how a heavy caseload inspired him to craft case management technology for conveyancers. Alastair Waters began his career with a building society, handling a varied case load of property related matters before crossing over into legal technology and coding legal workflow processes for their mainframe system. He then moved into a conveyancing practice at BPE LLP. Two decades later, he talks about the current pressures on conveyancers and what he foresees for the industry. “The Ochresoft story began right back when I was practicing twenty years ago,” recalls Alastair. “I was working in conveyancing at BPE. It was a very high pressure environment. The volume and breadth of cases I was dealing with was staggering. I started thinking about how we could be more efficient and how we might use technology to streamline the conveyancing process.” This inside knowledge has stood Ochresoft customers in good stead. Many Intelliworks users praise the depth of the legal workflows and the way in which the case management software is specifically tailored to the conveyancing process: automating the uniform, prescribed processes, while still allowing the flexibility to adapt documents, terms of contract and client reports to suit specific transactions and clients’ needs. “I completely understand the pressures that conveyancers are under”, says Alastair. “When I first started working at BPE I felt that I didn’t have the tools to fully succeed in my role. The old manual process was incredibly long-winded. Tools are essential to help with aspects like generating documents and managing risk.” With his background in mainframe management, Alastair firmly believed that technology could make conveyancers’ lives easier, “I’ve always held the view that technology should be embraced as much as possible” he says. The software didn’t come together overnight, Alastair had to put in the hard yards to understand all of the processes involved in conveyancing, so that he could identify where he could apply his technical prowess in streamlining and automating the steps of the process that are common to all
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transactions: “I was doing it the manual way for about a year before my ideas and process changes started to come to fruition,” he says. Although the benefits of technology were obvious to him, Alastair found that he still needed to bring his colleagues around to the idea of developing the incumbent framework case management software to specifically deal with conveyancing. “It took about a year of working with the partners to convince them that we needed to change and invest time and money into developing specific process driven workflows.” Once he’d won the partners round, BPE encouraged and supported Alastair to focus on the development of the workflows and case management technology which he continued to refine over the next few years. Because he had first-hand experience of the pressures and challenges of conveyancing and because he shone at applying technology to solve the complexities of business process management, they started to look at how highly detailed workflows complimented by an optimised, focused case management system could be used to benefit other law firms. “I knew that many of the challenges I’d faced as a conveyancer must be replicated across our industry. So we saw that there was a potential market for us to commercialise and build on what we’d developed.” Alastair left BPE and helped found Ochresoft in 2005, where an ever increasing team has carried on building, developing and continuously updating the Intelliworks case management system and legal workflow, in response to customers’ needs as well as government and industry changes. There are two aspects to the Intelliworks product. The first is its robust cloud-based infrastructure which ensures that data, documents and emails are securely backed up, providing conveyancers with disaster recovery and secure access, so that they can work on their cases wherever they have internet coverage. The infrastructure also provides us with the integration capabilities that we use as part of our workflow
As the conveyancing landscape has changed and regulation has increased, it’s imperative that there is consistency so that law firms can manage their risks processes. “Our customers are looking for SaaS solutions to meet the business growth pressures that law firms are under. They want technology to shoulder the burden,” Alastair explains. The second aspect of Intelliworks is the conveyancing workflows, which are always kept up to date. “We monitor all changes to compliance requirements and add new content weekly, so that practitioners can rely on us to keep processes and standard documentation up to date, comprehensive and compliant. For example, at the start of May 2019, the Law Society relaunched the Conveyancing Quality Scheme and we analysed and made changes to the documentation and our workflow processes to reflect the new standards. We are always looking to update the system, so that practitioners don’t have to worry,” reassures Alastair. Alastair observes that conveyancers are becoming more business-focused organisations that are always looking for opportunities to grow. To support this, conveyancing businesses need to find ways to standardise, automate and guarantee consistency of service, as well as speeding up responses to clients. “I’m passionate about helping people, because I’ve done that job and I understand the pressures”, says Alastair. Alastair also notes that many law firms have adopted case management software out of necessity, in order to manage their transactions more effectively to compete and survive. “The market has completely changed. Regulation has intensified which makes risk management more complex and often overwhelming, and case management, particularly Intelliworks, can greatly assist.
with on-boarding to help law firms to capture new business, while managing existing client cases more efficiently: “Intelliworks comprehensive workflows free up conveyancers’ time to look after existing clients and take on new instructions,” Alastair asserts. One of the cited benefits of using Intelliworks is the oversight and transparency that it offers on the progress of transactions and the ease in which delays and issues can be identified much earlier. When asked about the challenges around getting seasoned practitioners to use case management technology Alastair states, “As the conveyancing landscape has changed and regulation has increased, it’s imperative that there is consistency so that law firms can manage their risks. Embracing legal technology comes from the top down, everybody needs to go on the journey together.” Looking ahead, Alastair believes that the trend is very much towards law firms adopting more integrated solutions and that this will entail more firms buying rather than building their own bespoke workflows on framework case management systems. “With third parties supplying specialist solutions and the time and expense involved in maintaining software it’s more cost effective for firms to invest in readymade solutions which are compatible with other solutions that they need.” He cites the example of a customer who recently updated her accountancy system to comply with Making Tax Digital and selected accountancy software that neatly dovetailed with Intelliworks. He further describes the advantages of Intelliworks’ embedded search ordering platform from SearchFlow. “Conveyancers expect us to be able to link to all key stakeholders in the conveyancing process including HRMC and HM Land Registry. In the future you won’t necessarily have to leave Intelliworks at all to complete another business process,” he predicts. “Our goal is to allow the technology to help conveyancers to risk manage and process their transactions as efficiently as possible, so that they can use their expertise to focus on the most important aspect of their business: the clients.”
The choice of case management is also partly driven by general consumer adoption of technology. Homebuyers and sellers are used to being able to do everything instantly on their smartphones. They expect instant access to information and instant responses from everyone they deal with, this includes conveyancers.” When asked about other changes in the market that he foresees over the next five years, Alastair points to the way in which consumers research potential conveyancers online and how this has driven law firms to become more competitive in order to win clients, “Law firms are looking to reduce the speed of on-boarding clients. This involves providing quotes much more quickly and cost effectively. A potential client might be seeking simultaneous quotes from different firms. The quicker a law firm can provide a quote, care letter pack and get the client to complete the documentation, whilst demonstrating excellent service the more likely it is to win that business.” Alastair explains that improving the on-boarding process was the driver behind the development of Intelliworks ‘Quotes’ and ‘Convert to Case’ features, which allow law firms to increase their conversion rates: “Our Smart Quotes streamlines the process at the click of a button, so that clients are more rapidly engaged, and law firms don’t lose that lead. It’s a click of button to produce a quote and the care letter pack and another to convert the lead into an actual case with all the data and audit trail carried across.” Ochresoft anticipates that competition in the sector is likely to intensify and is working on additional features to assist
is Head of Product and Service Delivery at Ochresoft www.ochresoft.com
Alastair Waters Alastair Waters graduated with a degree in History and Philosophy and after working for the Crown Prosecution Service he began his career at a building society, where he built a mainframe system writing legal workflows. After a period working for a law firm, Alastair joined BPE LLP as a conveyancer and began developing workflows specifically designed to streamline conveyancing processes and manage risk more effectively. After helping develop an early case management system at BPE, Alastair helped co-found Ochresoft in 2005 to refine and commercialise the Intelliworks system. Offered as a cloud-based service, Alastair and his colleagues constantly update Intelliworks’ to reflect the latest changes in conveyancing risk management and compliance.
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The A to Z of Conveyancing From the day–to–day searches to the more unusual or nonstandard due diligence or information services available, we provide a snapshot into the A-Z of Conveyancing for residential and commercial transactions. AML Money laundering is a serious business – with property transactions considered a prime target. The Government has launched its Flag It Up campaign to help raise awareness in the legal, accountancy and property sectors of the importance of undertaking automatic AntiMoney Laundering (AML) risk assessments, for every transaction.
Brine The Coal & Brine (CON29M) report is available for both residential and non-domestic properties, including commercial and development sites. It will identify any underground and surface coal mining activity, including the distance of the property from the mine and if there is any potential for ground movements.
Canal & River Trust The search identifies a number of areas relating to the canals and rivers network and its impact on neighbouring properties. For example, whether any liability falls on the owner of the property in respect of the maintenance or repair or rebuilding of the waterway or its banks or towing paths.
Civil Aviation A Civil Aviation Authority search assesses the potential of aviation activity near a property. It details current aviation activity in the vicinity, planned changes that may affect the immediate area, details of air routes over the property and the potential noise impact on the property.
Chancel Repairs Chancel Repair Liability is a medieval anomaly where the Church was granted powers to charge those owning ‘rectorial land’ within the historical parish boundary for the upkeep of the chancel of the parish church. Chancel search and insurance products will identify any liability that impacts a property, and protect the owner if a risk arises.
Commons Registration To be carried out if the property borders common land, a village green or is agricultural land.
Docklands Light Railway For properties located near to the Docklands Light Railway, London Underground or other railway lines or stations, it’s important to find out if the property may be affected by existing or proposed rail and highway transport schemes, or even if a property may be affected by compulsory purchase powers.
Environmental Today all-in-one environmental reports support you in assessing a host of risks for both residential and commercial transactions – from flood to ground stability – in one single report.
Energy An Energy & Infrastructure report indicates whether a property is likely to be impacted by energy projects such as Oil & Gas Exploration blocks and drilling locations, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), solar or wind farms or renewable energy plants including Waste Combustion and Sewage Sludge Digestion.
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Forestry Commission Search The Forestry Land Information Search allows you to search for land designations or features, such as National Nature Reserves, and grant schemes or felling permissions in an identified location in England.
Gypsum Search A Gypsum Search reveals the proximity of gypsum mine workings to a property. It not only tells you when the mine was worked but the depths achieved and if any planning consents are in place to continue mining works. This is particularly relevant to properties locate in Cumbria, East Sussex, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.
Ground Stability Reports are available that identify areas of land that could be prone to ground instability as a result of natural underlying geology. They also include subsidence insurance claims data, to assess the ratio of valid claims in the postcode compared to the rest of the country.
Highways There are several Highways reports available â€“ for example SiteSolutions Highways report provides comprehensive data relating to the adoption status of roads, footpaths and verges, road improvement schemes and the identification of rights of way or proposed amendments surrounding a property.
Infrastructure Identify any proposed infrastructure developments near to a property using an Energy & Infrastructure report, including the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail network, Crossrail or the Yorkshire and Humber Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Cross Country Pipeline.
ID Checks Verifying the identity of UK and foreign national clients helps manage risks relating to money laundering and related frauds. A variety of options are available â€“ from a standard electronic ID Check to the more comprehensive Anti-Money Laundering Report, which validates identities by assessing seven data sets.
Land Contamination Land contamination has the potential to be a significant issue in just a small number of transactions. It is therefore important to consider what enquiries and specialist assistance should be obtained to ensure appropriate due diligence is undertaken and you do not fall foul of environmental liabilities.
Lawyer Checker Used to gather information on all conveyancers involved in a chain to combat fraudulent attempts. Includes a roll of solicitors/conveyancers, Companies House information, ICO Data Protection Register, FCA Register, Land Registry Transfers of Value lists, Sort code look-up and even Streetview.
Mining Search Mining due diligence is extensive and reports cover everything from Ball Clay, China Clay or Bath Stone Mining, through to Coalfield, Tin Mining, Metalliferous Mining and Limestone to name just a few.
National Grid Search The National Grid search examines the proximity of transmission equipment to an address, which is typically protected by easements or wayleave agreements that can restrict development within the locality.
NLIS Hub The National Land Information Service is a government approved and regulated, electronic land and property searches portal for the property searches market. NLIS operates as a single point of electronic access to a variety of official sources of land and property information. It has the only electronic connection to every single local authority in England and Wales.
Official Local Authority Search The Official Local Authority Search (CON29) is an essential part of the conveyancing process and is split into two parts: standard enquiries and optional enquiries. The official Certificate of Search (Form LLC1) will provide entries registered on the Local Land Charges Register only.
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Personal Search Personal searches continue to be a popular option, whereby a personal search agent will visit the council and work independently to obtain the data from the Register. This can often be a faster route in some local authorities who have long lead times in returning official searches.
Planning Make sure there are no nasty surprises and clients are fully aware of all planning activities in the area around a property. Reports such as Plansearch Plus provide a thorough breakdown of applications, going back as far as 1997, including applications such as single storey extensions to more extensive developments.
Quote Referral System Automate your conveyancing quotation process using an online Quote Referral System that allows you to administer the whole quotation process – from issuing professionally branded and bespoke quotes to receiving instructions from prospective clients – quickly and efficiently.
RATI Residential Abortive Transaction Insurance (RATI) provides cover on a range of incidences, should a transaction fail to complete in a property chain for reasons beyond the control of the buyer and/or seller.
Radon Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil. Radon risk assessments determine if a property is in a radon affected area, what the probability is of the property being above the action level, and for new properties, what the Building Regulation requirement is for radon protection measures in the location.
Subsidence & Sinkholes Identification of subsidence can have a big impact on the availability and range of insurance options as well as mortgages, which can in turn affect local market valuations at a highly individual level. It is therefore important to be informed prior to purchasing a property.
Telecoms Search Specific searches can be carried out with individual telecommunications providers. These include COLT Communications, BT Openreach Map Search, Kingston Communications, Energis & Cable and Wireless, Virgin Media, or combined utility reports include all services, including gas, electricity, fibre-optic cables and water.
Title Insurance For defective titles, a host of insurances are available to ensure you are fully covered. This includes for instances such as noncompliance with building regulations, lack of planning permission, lack of vehicle access, insolvency or restrictive covenants.
Utilities Search A wide range of searches highlight which utility sources are present at a given address – quickly determine what telecoms, water, gas, oil, fibre optic services or pipelines lead to, or are below, the ground’s surface of a given address.
Water & Drainage Search For residential properties, the CON29 Drainage & Water search provides up-to-date information on the status of the water supply to a property. It considers if the property is connected to both foul and mains drainage, and reveals if the water main or service pipes are adopted by the water authority.
X - Land Registry eXtract service SearchFlow’s Land Registry Extract service downloads data for a specified title number, eliminating the need for lawyers to order office copies and manually copy and paste information into a spreadsheet. Information such as address, class, proprietor details, charges and restrictions can also be included.
Yesterday… When everyone wants to have moved by…
Zero Tolerance The SRA is taking a zero tolerance approach for firms who don’t enforce AML compliance policies. Between 2015 and 2018 the SRA closed down eight firms owing to breach of AML regulations. It has also referred 49 individuals resulting in 12 being struck off, 13 suspensions and £800,000 in fines. The team at SearchFlow is happy to answer any questions relating to any aspects of searches, surveys and insurances – from the common to the more unusual – to ensure you’re providing the most appropriate due diligence for each and every residential or commercial transaction. For more information call, 0870 423 2922 or visit www.searchflow.co.uk
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Streamlining property searches Vardags has dominated the world of contentious divorce and family breakdown for almost 15 years, acting for high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. In 2017, the company was placed as the highest-ranking law firm in the Financial Times classifications of Europe’s fastest growing companies.
In today’s market, it’s not just about working with a search company in a transactional way – instead, they are supporting the overall process in a far more consultative way
This year, Vardags haslaunched a new property law department. It’s headed up by James Bunker, who has a wealth of experience in acting for high-net-worth clients in connection with their property affairs in England and Wales. With a focus on providing a premium service that places discretion, rigour, and client experience at the forefront, Vardags acts for clients that typically have interest in multimillion pound properties. James has been instrumental in putting into place the processes and systems required to hit the ground running with new instructions, with a focus on service efficiencies, as he explains: “In the fast-moving world of property, timing is crucial and our clients will expect the most determined and proficient service possible. I’ve therefore spent a great deal of time assessing the best systems in the market to streamline the process and ensure a consistent approach; I’ve been in a great position to get our systems at Vardgas set-up without delay.” A central element of a property law firms’ requirement falls with the provision of searches and related conveyancing services, and following previous experience of working with SearchFlow, James was keen to discuss how it could support Vardags’ new endeavours. Explains James, “In today’s market, it’s not just about working with a search company in a transactional way – instead, they are supporting the overall process in a far more consultative way. With previous experience of working with SearchFlow, and following a demonstration of its new online platform, it was clear that overwhelmingly, SearchFlow ticks the boxes of what we are wishing to achieve here.” Of note is SearchFlow’s online platform, which has been designed to simplify and speed-up the ordering and delivery of property searches, and related services such as ID checks, surveys and indemnity insurance. It centralises the entire search function into one single dashboard, and utilises underlying land, property and environmental data to proactively suggest additional due diligence that may be needed, given the proximity of the address to specific risks.
“In many firms, search ordering is largely handled by legal secretaries, however I don’t believe that fee earners realise how search platforms have evolved and so are missing a trick,” explains James. “There’s a misconception that managing searches is a drain of time, however why involve two people, when I can do this so quickly myself? Also, a secretary may only order what has been specifically asked for, whereas I can see the plot, view any additional recommendations offered by the platform and nothing is missed. It means my attention is directed to the right areas and my working practice has changed for the better.” Since James joined in March, he has already recruited a team of trainees with qualified solicitors set to join later in the year. As well as handling the buying, selling and mortgaging of properties, along with lease extensions and renewals, the department will advise on the protection of interests in property and general land law matters. Having put the right foundations in place, James is relishing the opportunity at Vardags: “The fact that SearchFlow has a genuine interest in delivering an exceptional service, which is wholly synonymous with our brand is a key benefit. “Our clients deserve excellence and so, as a company, we only collaborate with business partners that have values equal to our own,” enthuses James. “SearchFlow’s account manager genuinely works hard at understanding what we are trying to achieve and continuously brings ideas that can really assist with our planned growth and service delivery.” Concludes James, “The online order platform is incredibly simple to use, which is important when time is so valuable and expensive. The updates provide a clear return date on ordered searches, which is excellent as I can proactively update my clients. SearchFlow has really invested in me and I consider them to be a business partner – not just a faceless service provider - I’m extremely grateful for the collaboration.”
is a Director and Head of Property at Vardags https://vardags.com/
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Avoiding dirty money With the 5th Money Laundering Directive on the horizon, SearchFlow’s Sales Director, Tracy Burtwell, addresses the need for firms to avoid regulatory penalties by employing rigorous and effective procedures to prevent money laundering. Currently, conveyancers are governed by the 4th Money Laundering Directive (4MLD) which came into force in 2017, designed to strengthen the EU’s defences against money laundering to fund terrorist activities, and serious crimes including drug smuggling and people trafficking.
Between 2015-18, the SRA closed down 8 firms owing to breach of regulations and 14 have shut down of their own accord. The SRA has also referred 49 individuals resulting in 12 being struck off, 13 suspensions and £800,000 in fines.
A consultation is under way for the 5th Money Laundering Directive (5MLD), taking place in June 2019 for implementation in 2020.
A recent review by the SRA has shown that a significant minority of law firms are still not doing enough to prevent money laundering, with some falling seriously short, resulting in 26 firms entering disciplinary processes. The review did not find evidence of actual money laundering or that firms had any intention of becoming involved in criminal activities. However, it did find a range of breaches of the 2017 Money Laundering Regulations, as well as poor training and processes. This means firms could be unintentionally assisting money launderers.
The 5th Directive is more of a series of amendments to the structure of the 4th Directive, adding various additional provisions that weren’t included in the text of 4MLD. The main changes are focused on enhanced powers for direct access to information and increased transparency around beneficial ownership information and trusts. Legal professionals have long played a vital role in the collective fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, and the recent Update1 from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) continues to highlight money laundering as one of the top priority risks. Consequently, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that effective processes and compliance with obligations arising under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, Money Laundering Regulations 20172, and the SRA’s own rules, are the focus of the Regulator’s recent monitoring checks3. The SRA is currently carrying out rigorous checks on law firms to make sure they are meeting their anti-money laundering obligations, and has written to 400 firms asking them to prove their compliance as over £90bn has been lost in the UK through money laundering activities.
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There were also issues around proper Customer Due Diligence (CDD), which included insufficient processes in almost a quarter of firms to manage risks around Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs). The Government has also launched the ‘Flag It Up’ campaign – https://flagitup.campaign.gov.uk/ – to help tackle the issue. The campaign highlights ‘red flags’ that firms should be alert to when dealing with both new and existing clients. The following list, although not exhaustive, contains some of the most common red flags across all professions: • Transactions: Are transactions unusual because of their size, frequency or the manner of their execution, in relation to the client’s known business type?
Routine automatic AML checks, as an integrated part of risk assessment procedures, should also be at the heart of a firm’s antimoney laundering approach • Geographical Area: Is the collateral provided, such as property, located in a high-risk country, or are the client or parties to the transaction native to or resident in a high-risk country? • Choice of Professional: Have you, or other professionals involved been instructed at a distance, asked to act outside of your usual speciality, or offered an unusually high fee? Law firms that undertake regulated activities have a number of obligations to meet. Practice-wide risk assessment, robust controls, procedures and record keeping as well as ongoing staff training. Routine automatic AML checks, as an integrated part of risk assessment procedures, should also be at the heart of a firm’s anti-money laundering approach. To help firms achieve AML compliance and ensure they are safeguarded and don’t fall foul of disciplinary checks by the SRA, SearchFlow has a suite of 4MLD compliant products to enable firms to verify the identity of UK or foreign national clients.
Key features include: • Immediate verification • Structures: Do activities involve complex or illogical business structures that make it unclear who is conducting a transaction or purchase? • Assets: Does it appear that a client’s assets are inconsistent with their known legitimate income? • Resources: Are a client’s funds made up of a disproportionate amount of private funding, bearer’s cheques or cash, in relation to their socioeconomic profile? • Identity: Has a client taken steps to hide their identity, or is the beneficial owner difficult to identify? • Behaviour: Is the client unusually anxious to complete a transaction or are they unable to justify why they need completion to be undertaken quickly? • Political Status: Is the client engaged in unusual private business given that they hold a prominent public title or function? Or do they have ties to an individual of this nature? • Documents: Are information or documents being withheld by the client or their representative, or do they appear to be falsified?
• Improved data matching and unmatched data highlighting • Checks against enhanced data sets • Accessing the Consent ID database • Points-based profiling SearchFlow also provides an AML app for use on mobile devices when visiting clients, with the ability to scan and carry out electronic and document checks to verify driving licence, passport, credit reference data, and PEP and sanctions screening. The SRA’s aim is to ensure that firms not only have a money laundering risk assessment in place but also that they are implementing it. So, effective risk assessment, required by legislation, should be the backbone of a law firm’s antimoney laundering approach. And if firms are not complying, they will go into the regulator’s enforcement processes – and no law firm wants that.
1 Full details are available at: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/sra-update/issue71-march-2019.page 2 The full title of the regulations is: The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017. The legislation is available to view at: www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2017/692/made 3 More details can be found at: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/press/aml-sweep-2019.page#note1
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Utilising digital data to assess and manage environmental risks
Data plays an integral role in risk awareness, understanding and management. It’s not static. It’s constantly evolving becoming larger, more detailed, more comprehensive and spanning more issues to assist with a whole variety of different project components. From lawyers to asset managers, developers to utility providers, environmental data and its interpretation is integral to inform sound decision making. Compared to how environmental risk insight was first created, very manual, time consuming and inefficient; the creation of new datasets has become much more intelligent. Now, AI is starting to play a key role in data creation and is one of the drivers for why data, resulting in the term ‘big data’, has grown exponentially in recent years. Mark Taylor, Senior Consultant at Argyll Environmental, tells us more.
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Environmental data is at its most useful and convenient when it’s applied in a geographical context Why hasn’t delivery kept pace? Despite the evolution in data creation significantly increasing the abundance of useful information within our grasps, the delivery of data hasn’t fundamentally changed. In the vast majority of cases, the delivery of data is still reliant on file types such as PDF reports, CSV files and spreadsheets. There are several limitations with file types of this sort. Firstly, these static filetypes, (obviously dependent upon the level of interpretation provided), can be very difficult to review or analyse. The growth of ‘All in One’ conveyancing reports, covering a variety of issues in a single report are proof of this. Another example could be when collecting data for a large or redevelopment site and due diligence needs to be comprehensive and thorough. In these cases, unless you remove the bulk of the data or limit the fields being assessed within the document, the volume of information provided can be overwhelming and extremely difficult to analyse and interpret. Secondly, as they are only static outputs, it can only ever be truly reliable for a moment in time. And while reports and data outputs will have an expiry date for when it shouldn’t be relied upon any further, usually six or twelve months, some of the data could effectively be out of date as soon as it’s published. Finally, how useful is this output? Is this the best way to be providing data, which in its rawest form should still be reviewed spatially? When it’s in this type of format, is it too easy to be reviewed once and then forgotten about, and simply dropped into a complex network of folders, never to be seen again? From the legal due-diligence perspective of a transaction this does make sense and has value. There is a point in time when the transaction has been completed and the report is no longer needed. However, once a deal is done, the value of understanding risk doesn’t end. For the investor, this is in fact when it starts. Some issues evolve and as a result, so will the data. For issues such as flood risk, a ‘one moment in time’ review of risk to be forgotten isn’t the best approach for its management. This is only going to be exacerbated in years to come, as the impacts of climate change move to the fore.
• Accessibility (how easy is it for me to use, draw the key information from and compare) • Accuracy (how up to date and reliable is it to base decisions on now) • Relevance (what issue or risk is my concern, and can I isolate the key data to analyse it) This is where digitised data on a platform that allows you to analyse the information (Accessibility), select specific data layers to turn on or off as and when needed (Relevance) can have so much value. This flexibility, seeing the data in its geographical context significantly speeds up the whole risk understanding or risk assessment process, thus allowing for decisions and explanations of risk to be made quicker and smarter. For example, there is real value of being able to talk a property investor through a visual interpretation of any present hazards, so they can truly understand the risks posed to them from ground instability or flood risk. If you can see analysis presented on a map, it brings the results far more to life. And from this point, once data is digitised the possibilities grow exponentially. Live data feeds or updates can be integrated into companies’ systems to ensure continued and future decisions are being made with all the facts (Accuracy). This is what is essential for effective risk management. While there will be other considerations to think about, such as licensing fees, data used in this way provides a much more effective and efficient method of use and storage. Gone will be days of a huge network of folders, hiding important information and instead, what is needed will be at your fingertips. This is when data is at its most powerful. When it’s informing you not as a one off, but continuously as a cycle of updates; this is when data comes into its own. That is when data allows you to be agile, to be in the know and to ultimately to make smarter decisions around risk.
is a Senior Consultant at Argyll Environmental www.argyllenvironmental.co.uk
Knowing what could happen in 20, 30 or even 50 years’ time will be just as important as understanding what the risk is now from a strategic asset acquisition perspective, or potentially even buying a house. This is just going to result in more data being required and inevitably, in the current market, more reporting.
So what’s next? The delivery of information and data is already changing. Environmental data is at its most useful and convenient when it’s applied in a geographical context. Yes, of course reports do have their value, especially from a legal perspective when presenting a ‘pack’ of completed due diligence to the purchasing client. However, from a continued risk management perspective, for the company or person using that information post completion, the value of data is in a number of areas:
This is when data is at its most powerful. When it’s informing you not as a one off, but continuously as a cycle of updates; this is when data comes into its own SearchFlow Supplement | 23
Feedback from the frontline
In conjunction with various regional Law Society groups and led by Landmark Information, a series of roundtables have been held across the country to hear directly from the property law frontline as to what the key issues are that are making an impact on today’s conveyancing practices. The Customer Tony Rollason, Landmark Information “As the largest transaction people are ever likely to be involved with, the stakes are high. Combine this with the fact that everyone is now digitally-connected and it makes it a boiling pot; people want immediacy, transparency and lawyers are seen as the ones in between them and their future home. Emotions run high and often conveyancers are at the sharp end of this.”
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Denise Watkins, Gordon Jones & Co “Internet and email means we receive constant inbound communications and clients expect an immediate answer. It used to be you’d open the post and DX and knew what was there; now the influx is such that “post” is filtering by way of emails all day long. The danger is that those clients who are more persistent are being answered to the detriment of those who are patient.” Martin Priest, Glover Priest “Today, people are living on their mobile devices and so send emails at
11:30pm at night and expect an answer first thing the following day. Clients don’t necessarily understand the complex legal process that we have to work to.” Brett Lawrence, Slee Blackwell “Customers will send individual questions in separate emails or messages and expect responses immediately. In addition, I deal with complaints handling and the big thing is the use of feedback on review websites; I think this will become an increasing challenge for firms.”
Regulations and Compliance Neil Stockall, Higgs & Sons: “Before we can even start dealing with matters, we have money laundering regulations, personal identification requirements and more; this can hold up the process before we even get started.” Martin Allsopp, Blackhams: “The client expectations are “how much” and “when will I move”. In my 45 years of working, this has always been the case. We have our hands tied as client care letters need to be answered, with ID and AML checks before we even start; our process is being slowed by regulation.” Adam Clinch-Othman, Scott Richards: “What comes with security and compliance I have found is onerous additional administrative work. We have become the gatekeeper of our clients’ funds – the financial protectors. Our job is becoming much more than just conveying property.” Brett Lawrence, Slee Blackwell: “We’ve added at least 30-45 extra minutes for every transaction in undertaking checks for compliance. We certainly don’t get paid for this additional activity – we’ve had to absorb it. It’s not just a case of the ID stamp; there’s far more and I believe the burden is only going to increase.”
Fee Transparency Stephen Ward, Council for Licenced Conveyancers: “The new rules give firms an opportunity to explain not just what you do, but also the value of what you do and so set a clear context for price. The way we, and the SRA, have implemented the pricing transparency is to give firms as much flexibility as we can to be as transparent about pricing, service and quality, as possible. An online quote generator can still be used but with caveats, for example, if we discover it’s a leasehold and not a freehold, you can have a further discussion.”
Tom Ansell, Brethertons: “Rather than focus on price transparency, shouldn’t we instead concentrate on service transparency? Driving people to look just at prices shouldn’t be the focus.” Stephen Mahoney, Porter Dodson and Devon & Somerset Law Society President: “It will be interesting to see, as time moves on, whether this has an impact. The generation that today now lives on phones and websites; will they expect price comparison websites of fees? In the fullness of time who knows if this is where it will go, however we’re still dealing with a generation of buyers who are not as swayed by web pricing for legal services.”
Estate Agency Referral Fees Nick Conner, Tozers: “Referral fees are a difficult one; we as a firm don’t pay them. I would like to think there’s scope for firms to sell their independence as a positive attribute to clients and third parties. I’ve always thought if you pay referral fees, how would you manage your respective client and agency relationships if issues arose? There is the inherent risk of conflict.” David Eastman, Wollen Michelmore: “In my view, payment of estate agent referral fees is an onerous pressure on the profitability of a conveyancing department and cash flow of a firm particularly where estate agents are effectively also dictating the legal fees. As such it is inevitably a concern. My preference would be for referral fees to be banned and we revert to recommendations based on existing personal networks and providing a quality service to our clients. However, until that happens we must accept the reality and adapt our processes and services accordingly.”
Technology Martin Priest, Glover Priest: “Technology is there to remove duplication of effort. For example, you only have to look at anti-money laundering and ID checks. We have to do this, as do agents, brokers,
and lenders. If there was a way for more integration so duplication could be removed, that’s what I want my technology to do. We’re at the stage now where we’re able to get introducers directly into our system; brokers can put information into our system over the weekend, this opens up the matter, a client care letter is automatically created, protocol forms are emailed to the client for signing online. By Monday morning, we have a new job ready to go.” Tom Anstell, Brethertons: “I think we’re crying out for a bit of cross-industry collaboration to overcome key pinch-points. Average transaction times are increasing, yet so are expectations for quicker completions, which creates pressure straight away.” Sarah Witheridge, WBW: “There will be a mismatch: we’re being asked to take a view on where money is coming from, and it has to come back to our professional judgement. We have an AML pass, but at some point we have to see if it’s a fraudulent transaction and whether the firm is at risk. While we are being encouraged to automate, the pressure on us as professionals becomes stronger.” Martin Pratley, Gilbert Stephens: “With law, they used to say it’s ‘5% knowing the law, and 95% knowing people’. With things like AI, we’re handing this over to technology. If you don’t interact or have face to face contact, surely that’s a risk?” Adam Clinch-Othman, Scott Richards: “As I see it, if AI is going to be effective, it needs to remove the laborious tasks – some scope in due diligence to verifying where money is coming from. Using AI to read dense contracts for terms for example, makes sense. I don’t think AI will take over the world; it will help us but it needs to be in the right places.” Thanks to the Birmingham Law Society and the Devon & Somerset Law Society for facilitating the roundtables, in conjunction with Landmark Information www.landmark.co.uk
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The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme Launched just over eight years ago, the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) was designed to provide the regulators, lenders, insurers, and most notably, the home movers, a distinguishable standard of excellence in regards to the provision of residential conveyancing services. Without doubt, accredited practices also benefit from the established benchmark. Joanna King, Legal and Compliance Analyst, Ochresoft Technologies, tells us more. Mandatory training of conveyancers, procedures for the ongoing monitoring and enforcement of standards, and above all the mandatory use of the Law Society’s Conveyancing Protocol continue to encourage improvements in conveyancing best practice, client service and practice management. Active promotion of the CQS quality mark is reflected in added credibility and gravitas for member firms and continues to strengthen consumer confidence in the choice of their conveyancing professional. Following the publication of the new Core Practice Management Standards (CPMS) in February 2019, the CQS scheme relaunched in May 2019 with some far-reaching changes. All existing members, as well as new applicant firms, have had to tailor their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the new Standards – the essence of which has focused on the delivery of three core values:
With the right tools at your side, achieving compliance with the relevant CQS requirements should be straightforward and stress-free
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1. Members will proactively and effectively manage risk and demonstrate behaviours that support and promote the integrity of CQS and the community; 2. Members will demonstrate best practice and excellence in client care through robust practice management of residential conveyancing; 3. Members will demonstrate thorough knowledge and skill in handling conveyancing transactions. Along with additional desk-based assessments, the Law Society will also be introducing a small number of on-site visits each year, which will be carried out by an independent assessment body. The visits will be followed up with corrective action reports with the aim of embedding the culture of continuous improvement and drive to achieve the core values of CQS. It is expected that best practice tips will also continue to be shared with the wider CQS community to support compliance with the new Standards.
Active promotion of the CQS quality mark is reflected in added credibility and gravitas for member firms and continues to strengthen consumer confidence in the choice of their conveyancing professional What Else Has Changed? Firms who hold Lexcel accreditation will already be familiar and compliant with a number of new requirements, which are now being introduced as part of CQS. A range of additions, however, requires a particular mention.
Land Tax Policy CQS firms are now required to have a policy in place in relation to the calculation and advice given to home buyers in respect of their Land Tax obligations (this includes Stamp Duty Land Tax and Land Transaction Tax, as applicable). The Standards ask that member firms can demonstrate full audit trails of advice given to clients, as well as the information collected for the purpose of establishing the tax liability, plus verification of the Land Tax calculation being noted on the file. Such verification should be carried out by another experienced individual within the firm, however smaller firms or those that outsource the calculations may consider an alternative approach to meet this specific requirement.
Leasehold Properties The Standards explicitly require CQS firms to establish an overarching policy for dealing with purchases of leasehold properties. As a minimum, in addition to the length of the remaining lease term, the clients should be advised about the amount of ground rent, service charge and provisions in the lease for their review and method of calculation. The policy should also set out that the purchaser and the lender are to be treated as equal clients and reference is made to ensuring the lender’s specific requirements under Part 2 of the UK Finance Lenders’ Handbook are always observed.
Conflict Handling Practices are now required to have a set process on the handling of conflicts. This must include steps to follow when a conflict is identified; or a policy for an assessment of a potential risk of conflict, when representing both sides of a transaction. The scope of this requirement reaches much further, however: it also seeks assurances that any information that may affect the lending decision, will be brought to the lender’s attention, provided consent to disclose it has been obtained from the client.
UK Finance Lenders’ Handbook Obligations towards the client’s lender are further enhanced by the Standard setting out to ensure ongoing compliance with the lender-specific requirements under Part 2 of the Lenders’ Handbook. Firms must have a documented procedure in place for reporting matters to the lenders in the required form, highlighting the need for valuation or surveyor referral, where necessary.
Property and Mortgage Fraud Requirements have been strengthened to mitigate the risks of property and mortgage fraud, as well as the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing. They reinforce obligations towards relevant checks of clients’ identities and against the conveyancer acting for the other party. The CPMS also highlight the duty to carry out relevant risk assessments in addition to the need for ongoing communication – and staff training – to raise awareness of typical warning signs and how to report and manage high risks transactions.
Advantages of Case Management For legal services firms that use case management software, such as Intelliworks, with the many advantages of automated workflows, CQS compliance will also be supported in a number of ways. For example, with Intelliworks’ suite of Land Tax documentation and its range of workflow automations, managing Land Tax policy is straightforward: from enquiries for additional dwelling surcharge, first time buyer relief and complex Land Tax rules governing shared ownership properties, to Land Tax calculation, the verification and automated SDLT Return submission is handled straight from the case. This means that recording the full Land Tax audit trail will not divert fee earners’ focus away from clients’ transactions. Other advantages include access to leasehold related content and workflows, as well as a live feed to UK Finance Lenders’ Handbook, which offers specific targeted paragraphs, tailored to the context of the enquiry. Ultimately, with the right tools at your side, achieving compliance with the relevant CQS requirements should be straightforward and stress-free.
Joanna King is a Legal and Compliance Analyst for Ochresoft Technologies www.ochresoft.com https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/ support-services/accreditation/ conveyancing-quality-scheme/ re-launch/
In the absence of such consent, the lender must be advised that a conflict of interest has arisen, which therefore prevents the firm from continuing to act for the lender.
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Artificial Intelligence meets Conveyancing Kris Clark, Head of AI at Landmark Information Group, discusses the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the conveyancing market, and how Landmark will be applying this technology to their services. Barely a day goes by without a TV advert or article from a big tech vendor demonstrating how advances in AI are supporting innovation in a plethora of ways, from archaeological reconstruction to sustainable farming and improved healthcare screening. Perhaps you have integrated AI assistance into your daily routine already, asking Siri to remind you to call clients, or instructing Alexa to play music and set mood lighting while you catch up on paperwork. More invisibly, you trust Google’s algorithms to get you safely from A-to-B, while relying on Microsoft to defend you against Friday Fraudsters and phishing scams. With AI undoubtedly thriving, and the scene set for a fourth industrial revolution, it is natural to reassess what roles we play in a more digitally enabled economy. Is the UK ready for the challenge of retraining our workforce to embrace digital skills as traditional roles are augmented with technology, or for broad-brush reshaping of the job market at large? While a radical shift may still feel some way off in our industry, there are hereand-now implications given the speed at which technology can overtake us. So where is AI landing in the property market today, and more specifically, how might it impact conveyancing longer term? AI in the legal sector Firstly, let’s look adjacent to conveyancing at legal practice. According to a blog post from The Law Society, one of the six ways AI is emerging in LegalTech is in document review and contract evaluation. At 2018’s Legal AI Forum, half-a-dozen sizeable vendors demonstrated their work with top law firms on advanced document discovery. Impressive amongst these were Luminance, Kira and Legal Sifter, which use machine learning to identify similarities or anomalies in clauses or general content. This enables individual lawyers and their teams to significantly scale-up their reading and processing capacity, improving their speed and overall effectiveness while reducing their risk profile by hammering down reliance on manual document sampling. It’s a great example of how AI can help augment professional practice, enabling us to take on more work rather than fear the doomsday scenario of machines replacing us. It reminds me of examples of opticians using machine learning to screen images of retinas in real-time during optical health checks; the optician is flourishing, not diminishing, while AI ensures patients are receiving more advanced preventative care. Other practical uses of AI in the legal sector include website chatbots. While most have started small with FAQ-type autoresponders, prototypes are emerging that make intelligent use of natural language processing to understand the nuances of user input. They are also starting to leverage existing industry APIs to provide more accurate and transparent quotes for services. Here, AI is opening new digital channels for conversations with clients, improving access to information and creating basic outof-hours services that enhance customer experience. Regulation and accountability Parallel to all of this, The Law Society recently completed a year-long study into the use of algorithms in the criminal justice system. It provoked fresh conversations around the ethical use of AI, with fresh calls for regulation of the technology and for a national register of algorithms to improve transparency around its use, especially where it is being applied to sensitive data.
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Their report also calls for public bodies to be able to explain how specific algorithms reach specific decisions; something that could prove challenging where off-the-shelf technologies have been plug-and-play incorporated into software architecture. How these conversations will impact adoption of AI in LegalTech and PropTech remains to be seen, but the guiding principles of accountability and transparency should resonate. How is AI being applied at Landmark? At Landmark, we are approaching our use of AI in phases. Machine learning is only ever as good as the data it is trained on, and as one of the largest custodians of land, property and environmental data, we have chosen to apply AI to internal test cases first before deploying product to the wider market. Across our portfolio, our dozen or so businesses serve multiple touchpoints in the property transaction process. We aggregate over 550+ datasets from a complex array of national and local data providers. This data then fuels traditional risk models, search reports and data services surfaced into a variety of recognisable products. From Automated Valuation Models (AVMs) used by lenders, to Environmental and Flooding Reports used by conveyancers, and insight layers displayed on our Mapping, Floorplan and Search Portals used by estate agents and property professionals. Our data is being made more attainable, easier to process and its management more automated thanks to AI. Our data experts have the opportunity to ramp up load times, enabling us to enhance our models faster and reducing time-to-market for product enhancements. This not only helps us retain a competitive edge in delivering high quality data, but ensures we are fuelling the lending and conveyancing markets – and indeed, other PropTechs via our APIs – with the property insight they require at an everdemanding pace. Other applications Behind the scenes there are many applications of AI being integrated and used every day; you don’t have to be a technology or software expert to benefit from AI in your daily work. For example, when ordering searches via online platforms, such as SearchFlow’s, you may not realise that text recognition, image prediction and hashing via Microsoft’s Custom Vision API is creating a more automated approach to identifying properties from location plans and title documents. The software identifies if a document is a Land Registry title plan or developer’s site plan, before extracting relevant details to help locate the site. In addition, it’s helping to improve the way information on new build sites is captured and made available, with AI being used to reidentify sites as further plots are released. By automating these processes, administrative intervention by paralegals or customer service representatives is being removed, meaning faster results to you and your clients, without needing to be an IT or AI expert. What’s next? Our focus has now shifted to risk, insight and interpretation. Managing data is one thing; being able to understand it and do innovative things with it is another. Today, a percentage of environmental risk reports are ‘Referred’ for assessment by specialist consultants during production when risk factors get flagged. While these investigations are typically completed on the same day, AI presents an opportunity to deliver this type of insight and interpretation closer to real-time. Using a supervised neural network, a test model was able to accurately predict the outcomes of 74% of cases in-line with the qualified consultant’s opinion. This demonstrates potential for us to extend the roles of environmental consultants in future from ‘reactive’ after-theevent analysts, to ‘proactive’ model designing technologists who enable further workflow automation. It puts the ability to answer more complex flood risk questions in ‘real-time’ within reach; a small but vital step in proving an aspect of the homebuying process has potential to be automated within future applications. We’re now looking to scale this approach up, one dataset at a time. In short, our goal is to ensure the next generation of data products and services has less friction, fewer manual interventions, and surfaces the right level of insight upfront to support legal professionals in streamlining conveyancing. There should be less waiting for information, less reliance on reading and interpretation, and more time for fee earners to focus on delivering excellent customer experience to clients. AI presents an exciting opportunity to augment professional case work, ensuring conveyancers continue to thrive in a reimagined property market.
is Head of AI at Landmark Information Group www.landmark.ai
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Case management software supports consistent client service Barbara Jacobs founded her conveyancing practice in 2008. Here she explains how case management software helps to keep transactions on track, allowing her to focus on clients and apply her wealth of experience and expertise to deliver successful completions. After twenty eight years working with two of the largest law firms in North Yorkshire, Barbara Jacobs set up her own conveyancing practice in York in October 2008. Whilst working with the two larger law firms, Barbara helped to implement case management systems to ensure that colleagues followed a consistent process, vital experience that supported her when she became a sole practitioner. “We wrote the precedents for one of the systems, which included all the key stages of the transaction. When I set up Barbara Jacobs & Co I used the precedents and kept tick lists, which I worked through manually to ensure that all documentation was in place. Two months in, I quickly realised that I could not operate this way with the steadily increasing volume of work we were handling.” Naturally, having seen the benefits of case management software, Barbara was open to finding a suitable solution. A timely call from Ochresoft and a demonstration of Intelliworks resulted in Barbara implementing the software within three months of starting up. Barbara fondly remembers, “My husband paid for it as a Christmas present! Could it be the gift that keeps giving?...” she laughs and further comments, “One of the reasons I chose Ochresoft Intelliworks was because it’s written by lawyers, for lawyers, so it is very intuitive. Tailored for conveyancing, the software does all the things I need; for me, the very best aspect is the stamp duty land tax return, which you can complete using the system in just two minutes, instead of it taking half an hour.”
The fact that Intelliworks is cloudbased also offers several advantages for Barbara and her team… “If there was a fire, flood, or burglary, having documents securely stored in the cloud means that I have a good disaster recovery plan in place. Also, legislative changes are immediately reflected in the software. The update facility is fantastic. Ochresoft is alive to the changes and update everything to match legislation, so I know that my terms of contract are compliant and I am working with the latest information,” reports Barbara. Barbara works with a fellow solicitor and two assistants who all specialise in conveyancing. She explains how case management software helps with risk management by ensuring that all the required documents are in place and that she and her colleagues are all following a consistent process: “While every property transaction is different, all transactions follow the same pattern, so automation is ideal and a huge time saving tool with quality checks built in.” Barbara goes on to cite the example of properties that might be on an unadopted road, or a flood plain. “Certain properties have so many challenges that you need to be very vigilant and highlight these to your client. All of these questions can be asked in the case management system. Intelliworks asks you what searches you want to do. In effect, it’s an aide memoire and you work through the steps. You know when to put in a Land Registry application to gain priority. In a very busy office it instils discipline and good practice.”
While every property transaction is different, all transactions follow the same pattern; so automation is ideal and a huge time-saving tool with quality checks built in
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In addition to helping ensure that regulatory requirements are met, Barbara values the fact that the software also assists with the firm’s financial management. “Intelliworks calculates all my completion statements, so my clients can see exactly what they need to pay and by when. I’ve recently changed our accounting system to comply with Making Tax Digital and the system I’ve chosen dovetails nicely into Intelliworks, something that, again, will increase our efficiency and accuracy. This means I can focus on my client management more, because the software ensures my documentation and regulated aspects are taken care of. “It’s really good at generating reports showing what you have told the client about the property: has it been extended, is it on a flood plain, what the local search found. It pulls it all together. The bones of it are there and then you can emphasise certain parts, such as the fact that there are no building regulation documents for the loft conversion.” Using Intelliworks case management also allows Barbara to spot problems earlier and better manage her case load, “Intelliworks helps us to understand what is going on in a transaction and the needs of each of the parties. The advice I give won’t change, but my management of the case might to support all parties better. It helps me offer a great service to my clients. I couldn’t do without it.”
is the Sole Proprietor at Barbara Jacobs & Co. Solicitors https://www. barbarajacobs. co.uk/
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