THE BUSINESS OF LAW
M. R. Covey The importance of trust in business/client relationships
P15 Sarah Percy
Communication and the legal journey. Where do law firms go wrong?
P19 On the
roadâ€¦ With tmgroup discussing the evolution of the home buying process
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110 years on from Harry Selfridge – the client journey and conveyancing on the move. The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is attributed in 1909 to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London – or was it John Wanamaker or Marshall Field, department store owners in Philadelphia and Chicago? But whoever did coin the phrase almost certainly didn’t intend it to mean that the customer was ‘in the right’ in every situation. Instead, it was a signal that customers were special and staff were expected to treat them as if they were right, even if they weren’t. That change in mindset was a radical shift from how customers were used to being treated and people flocked to these department stores. As a marketing communications tool it was classically right for the time.
And finally – yes, it’s that time again! Time to think Modern Law Awards! Time to burn the date of Thursday 6th February 2020 into your brain – and your phones, diaries, planners, calendars etc! (Does anyone still use Filofax’s?) And, importantly, entries for nominations are now open – but only until Friday 15th November 2019. So if you haven’t nominated yet, checkout the Ad on Page 50 for details – and get a move on! You could be a winner!
Now, customer experience is a key factor in the conveyancing process of today – and the future. So, in addition to the lead articles and Editorial Board columns dealing with ‘the client journey’ the remainder of this issue is dedicated to ‘conveyancing on the move’, kicking off with the tmgroup/ Modern Law roadshow roundtable discussions on Page 19. The property transaction process in this country has operated in pretty much the same way for around 100 years. The industry has been having conversations about how to improve and change it for around 25 years. But now, largely fuelled by tech innovations, the conveyancing sector is finally on the move towards an exciting future.
Pete Ward Editor, Modern Law Magazine. 01765 600909 email@example.com www.modernlawmagazine.com
Editorial Contributors Paul Albone, tmgroup Stephen Averill, Phoenix Legal Services Adam Bullion, InfoTrack Tracy Burtwell, SearchFlow Charles Christian, Legal IT Insider Michael Connelly, Legal Bricks Jonny Davey, Geodesys Vicky Farrell, SafeMove Angela Gordon-Lennox, poweredbypie
ISSUE 45 ISSN 2050-5744
Helen Hamilton-Shaw, LawNet Rachael Hodge, Terrafirma Joshua Jackson, Legal Ombudsman Samantha Jefferies, DocsCorp. Kevin Johnson, Index Property Information Norman Kenvyn, VFS Legal Funding Professor Hugh Koch, Birmingham City University Jane Malcom, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Fraser Mitchell, SmartSearch
Dan Montagnani, Groundsure Dave Seager, SIFA Professional Wayne Shinn, Unoccupied Direct Alan J Smith, High Court Enforcement Group Lisa Summerton, Searches UK Dr Matthew Terrell, Justis Deborah Witkiss, Insight Legal Software
Editor | Pete Ward Project Manager | Martin Smith Events Sales | Kate McKittrick
Modern Law Magazine is published by Charlton Grant Ltd ©2019
All material is copyrighted both written and illustrated. Reproduction in part or whole is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the publisher. All images and information is collated from extensive research and along with advertisements is published in good faith. Although the author and publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this publication was correct at press time, the author and publisher do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.
The high cost of low trust Stephen M. R. Covey is an American writer, motivational public speaker, and the author of the book The Speed of Trust – the One Thing That Changes Everything. Here he talks to Modern Law about the role of trust in a client context.
David Jabbari David Jabbari is a solicitor and founder of Muve. He spoke to Modern Law about the client experience from the personal touch to chatbots and robot lawyers.
Communication and the client journey Sarah Percy is a Customer Experience Director at insight6, a research company specialising in the legal sector to improve client experiences. She tells Modern Law how research into client perceptions of law firms provided some disturbing results.
The evolution of the home buying process – a series of discussions On the road with tmgroup in: Leeds, London, Birmingham and Bristol
It’s clear to see the benefits of transparency Jane Malcom, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
Avoiding wills and probate complaints Joshua Jackson, Legal Ombudsman
Balancing act Adam Bullion, InfoTrack
What’s an API and why should I care? Fraser Mitchell, SmartSearch
Too much ‘tech’ – not enough ‘touch’? Jonny Davey, Geodesys
Make client care a core value Norman Kenvyn, VFS Legal Funding
KEY CONTRIBUTORS EDITORIAL BOARD
EDITORIAL BOARD CONTRIBUTORS
FEATURES CONFERENCE FORUM
Getting personal Samantha Jefferies, DocsCorp
Helping the customer journey Paul Albone, tmgroup
Technology to connect and maintain Wayne Shinn, Unoccupied Direct
Understand the difference between your clients and your customers Dr Matthew Terrell, Justis
Changing a customer into a client Dave Seager, SIFA Professional
Boosting client experience Alan J Smith, High Court Enforcement Group
Internet and the personal touch Deborah Witkiss, Insight Legal Software
Client Psychology: ‘win-win’ connections Hugh Koch, Birmingham City University
Forget ‘know your client’ – do you really know who your client is? Charles Christian, Legal IT Insider
Two reasons for sleepless nights? Stephen Averill, Phoenix Legal Services
Modern Law Conveyancing Conference 2019
Conveyancing Searches 20/20 vision – the future of the searches industry Angela Gordon-Lennox, poweredbypie Kevin Johnson, Index Property Information Michael Connelly, Legal Bricks Vicky Farrell, SafeMove Dan Montagnani, Groundsure Rachael Hodge, Terrafirma Lisa Summerton, Searches UK Tracy Burtwell, SearchFlow
10 Mins With… Helen Hamilton-Shaw, Member Engagement & Strategy Director at LawNet
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“In a collaborative world, in a reputation economy, and an age of disruption, I believe the new currency is trust, because it enables us to do everything better and faster and to adapt to the changes and disruption that’s hitting the law sector”
THE HIGH COST OF LOW TRUST Stephen M. R. Covey is an American writer and public speaker and the author of the book The Speed of Trust – the One Thing That Changes Everything. He is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center which, under his stewardship, became the largest leadership development company in the world. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Here he talks to Modern Law about the role of trust in a client context.
trust them with the key client, the key project, the key deliverable. So I need to see their character side, which is the honesty, plus their competence – in other words can they perform, can they deliver?
MLM: How is trust an economic driver? SC: The trust issue affects the speed at which we can move in a business situation and the associated cost. So when people don’t trust each other they have to take time-consuming steps to check if what the other person is saying is accurate and honest and truthful, and what their agenda is. You then have to validate, you have to verify, which all takes longer and costs more. The speed at which you can communicate goes down when the trust goes down – and the cost goes up when the trust goes down. So if you don’t trust someone, you have to take steps to compensate. And that’s true whether it’s in a relationship, in a team, or in a client situation. In simple terms there’s a high cost to low trust – I call it a ‘low trust tax’. But the good news is that the high trust dividend is equally real when people do trust each other. And with trust comes confidence, and the ability to move fast with less cost. I often say, ‘nothing is as fast as the speed of trust’. And when you can move faster with less cost that impacts positively on your margins, your profitability. In fact, all the economic measures improve, and it’s a reframing of trust to say it’s not just a nice social virtue, which obviously it is, but it’s also a strong economic driver. High trust is a multiplier which makes us better at everything. Low trust is a diminisher. A recent study showed that high trust organisations outperform low trust organisations by 286%, that’s almost three times higher.
So character and competence are both required to create trust. Character is then divided into integrity and intent. And competence is divided into capabilities, which might be expertise in a certain area of law, and results, which is their track record in delivering. Taking the tree as a metaphor, the roots and trunk are the integrity and intent. The branches and the fruits are the capabilities and the results. And you need all four dimensions. Integrity and intent flowing from your character and capabilities and results flowing from your competence. I believe that a client wants all four of those dimensions from their solicitor. And it’s not only true regarding clients, it also applies to team members within the law firm working together to service its clients.
“In simple terms there’s a high cost to low trust – I call it a ‘low trust tax’”
MLM: …And how does trust drive critical areas of performance? SC: Not only does trust affect the economics, it also affects every other aspect of leadership. Take building teams within your law firm, without trust you’re not a team you’re just a group. Trust turns a group into a team and a team needs to collaborate rather than just coordinate. And while you don’t need trust to coordinate, you’re leaving so much value on the table, such as engaging more effectively with clients, and nothing engages people better than being trusted. So to engage profitably with a client, trust is the place to start. MLM: Is trust simply a direct descendant of honesty – or do other factors lead to trust? SC: Honesty is a key factor but not the only one. For example, someone could be honest with integrity but not be able to deliver a result, because they may lack skills or competency, or a track record. Now I might be happy for that person to look after my home while I’m on holiday, because they’re honest, but I might not
MLM: In a digitalised world, can clients gain the same level of trust if face-to-face interaction is reduced? SC: Without doubt it’s easier to build trust when working together with face-to-face interaction. Technology makes communication simpler and speedier in client situations where you’ve never met face-to-face, and maybe never will, but it’s still possible to build a high trust relationship in virtual or remote settings, it just has a higher degree of difficulty. To use an Olympic diving example, not all dives are created equal, some are more difficult, some less difficult. And there’s a degree of difficulty attributed to a dive. A dive is rated based on the degree of difficulty and the execution of that dive – and that gives you a combined score. So, in a virtual setting, or a remote setting, where you are not face-to-face the degree of difficulty is higher. But the principles of how you build trust are still the same. It’s about your credibility and your behaviour. And it’s being remote that gives it a higher degree of difficulty, this puts a premium on being more deliberate and more intentional about our desire to build trust. So, it’s more important to declare intent and to signal behaviour in order to build trust, especially if you’re not proximate. If a commitment is made to a client, that has to be maintained, and when you speak to a client, speak honestly without spin or deception. If ever there’s an issue, go direct to the client and don’t beat about the bush. Building trust happens faster if you signal your behaviour by saying what you’re going to do and then doing it. And in remote settings we must be more deliberate about our intentions in order to build the trust that creates long-term involvement.
MLM: Is organisational trust the new business currency for today and the future?
us to do everything better and faster and to adapt to the changes and disruption that’s hitting the law sector. If you start with trust, the ability to achieve things goes up dramatically. Firstly, the business case for trust is that it’s an economic driver. Secondly, trust is the one thing that changes everything in leadership. So, if we’re good at trust we can do everything else better. We can collaborate, build teams, engage, innovate, create, lead change, execute strategy – and they all go up with trust and go down with distrust, so it’s high-leveraged. Third, and this is my main message, trust is a learnable skill. It’s a competency that builds from within us to be projected into our personal relationships, our organisations, and crucially out into the market and our client relationships. And we do that by focussing on our credibility, that’s the four dimensions I mentioned, integrity and intent flowing from our character, capabilities and results flowing from our confidence – and our behaviour. How we do what we do. Talking straight. Creating transparency. Listening first. Keeping commitments. Extending trust. We behave our way into trust.
SC: In a collaborative world, in a reputation economy, and an age of disruption, I believe the new currency is trust, because it enables
For further information about Franklin Covey and The Speed of Trust please visit www.franklincovey.co.uk.
MLM: If there’s a ‘trust gap’ in an organisation, how do you bridge/close it? SC: To restore or regain trust we can’t talk our way out of a problem that we behaved our way into. Words alone, though necessary, are insufficient. Simply to say, ‘Hey, sorry, I made a mistake, I’ll rectify it going forward, trust me!’ is not enough. The words are helpful but the key thing is to actually do the things that have just been said. In other words, you have to behave your way back into trust. And I believe that we can, in most cases, behave our way back into trust. There’s a Dutch expression that says, ‘trust comes by foot and leaves by horse’. It takes longer to build trust but it can vanish fast, and rebuilding it can take even longer than it took to build in the first place. It’s a more arduous process because you’re not on a level playing field anymore, you’ve already in a deficit, so the need to be intentional, deliberate and explicit is the best way to right the wrong.
“Take building teams within your law firm, without trust you’re not a team you’re just a group”
“The truth is that when we say that clients are concerned about the ‘personal touch’, that is a surrogate for saying that customers want things to be done promptly, efficiently, and to be kept fully up to date”
DAVID JABBARI: the lawyer/client relationship David Jabbari, a solicitor, was a director for 8 years at Allen & Overy, and later became CEO of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, where he handled the largest ever merger of two UK law firms with Clyde & Co, having completed the acquisition of Halliwells the year before. For the last 5 years he has created and run privately financed legal businesses aimed at consolidating the £10bn UK retail legal services market, and worked on setting up cutting edge ABS structures for retail brands such as Saga Legal Services. He has twice secured an FT Innovative Lawyers award. He founded Muve – the only largescale conveyancing law firm that guarantees exchange timings – earlier this year. 11
MLM: Is the legal sector relying too much on technology and the internet and losing the personal touch in client relations? DJ: No, I don’t think so. Of course it’s tempting to think that things could be improved by going back to a Golden Age, when all dealings between lawyers and clients were conducted in person in oak-panelled rooms. I am not sure that such an age existed and, to the extent that it did, it was built on the foundations of hourly billing or percentage of estate value pricing. While I do respect the views of those who say that we should attempt to resist the ‘race to the bottom’ on fees – that customers will pay more for good service – let’s face it, it will be very difficult to put the genie of price competition back in the bottle. Every year the number of customers using price comparison portals to buy legal services increases, which shows that price is still the largest factor in their decision making, and remember that people do not buy most legal services often enough to remember bad service. There is a relentless drive towards technology and commoditisation in consumer legal services. The truth is that when we say that clients are concerned about the ‘personal touch’, that is a surrogate for saying that customers want things to be done promptly, efficiently, and to be kept fully up to date. Technology is actually the way you deliver that. Look at Amazon, and the slickness of its processes: do you find people saying they would prefer to replace Amazon with a more personal touch?
“I’m not convinced about chatbots. They can give the illusion of better control of the client enquiry process but they do not yet have the sophistication to provide valuable support to clients. However, I see machine learning or AI having a very significant role in conveyancing”
MLM: In legal services, is there a difference between a client and a customer – and does it matter?
the first call with the customer to the delivery of legal advice, as a highly documented process with KPIs and SLAs. In fact it was too scripted but I learned a great deal from this idea of a retail mindset in legal services. MLM: In a world where awkward customers, who may not be ‘always right’, are armed with the weapon of social media reviewand-comment sites, how can firms protect their reputation? DJ: Those firms who have not yet had to grapple with managing their TrustPilot reviews can count themselves lucky! Part of operating in the retail segment of law, is that you have to embrace these review sites. We took a decision on day one that we would embrace these sites and I will not pretend it has been an easy journey. What I like about it is that it cuts through all the internal bureaucracy needed to improve a business. If you are being slammed by your customers, and losing business because of it, then no amount of internal bureaucratic talk about how long it will take to ‘turn the tanker around’ is any good. You have to get on to it and fix it immediately! It is a form of unavoidable truth telling that many firms, who do not expose themselves to these sites, can avoid by telling themselves that everything is fine. The downside of course is that it only takes a few malevolent individuals to wreck your reputation, since we are all the same: we see a one star review and we move on to another product. I would say that managing these reviews is amongst the two or three most important management tasks in a modern law firm. MLM: How much does ‘building a brand’ assist a firm in gaining clients and keeping them?
DJ: Yes there is a very important difference. In our business we use the term ‘customer’ because it helps to erode the sense that too many lawyers have of their own relatively greater importance than the client: the sense that the client should be grateful that they are having the lawyer do their work. Let me be clear, when I say this I do not mean to erode professionalism. There are all sorts of reasons why the lawyer/client relationship cannot be reduced to a retail relationship (things like conflicts of interest, duties to lenders and the Court). However, while respecting that professionalism, it is still important to find a way to reverse the traditional arrogance of the lawyer. I learned a great deal when I worked with Saga to create their legal products. They approached every aspect of the service, from
DJ: In the years immediately following 2011 there was significant investment from Private Equity funds in consumer legal services, following the coming into force of the ABS (deregulation) provisions of the Legal Services Act. This was premised on a very rapid consolidation around a limited number of B2C brands in the highly fragmented consumer legal services market (the so-called Tesco Law phenomenon). These early PE entrants to the legal market made a significant mistake in assuming that the consolidation of personal legal services would follow a retail or ‘Specsavers’ model. Eight years on, there is greater clarity concerning the route to value in this market. Established non-legal retail brands are unlikely to enter this market,
either directly or by affinity offerings. What is much more likely is: conveyancing will be unbundled from other legal services delivery, be sector branded, and bought as a discrete product mainly through online channels, and a group of 5-6 very large conveyancing process corporations will account for at least 50% of the £2bn market by 2025. This is relevant because, contrary to what was being said a few years ago, there will be no ‘household name’ general consumer legal services brands arising from the incumbent law firms. Add to this that legal services purchasers are too infrequent to leave a brand impression, and it means that relying on brand is going to be very unlikely for the foreseeable future. The way I view this is that you must create the impression of being a large retail brand by having all the features that a customer would expect from such a brand, even though you are not likely to have brand recognition in the strict sense. MLM: Unlike the retail therapy of buying consumer goods, customers seeking legal services often face challenging life circumstances – how different does this make the customer relations dynamic from other industry sectors? DJ: One of the very big differences between law and other retail sectors is that no one is remotely excited about interacting with a law firm. It is not like buying a new iPhone or new clothes. It is about as attractive as spending some quality time with your accountant or the HMRC. This is because law is a ‘reactive’ rather than an ‘active’ purchase: it is something that you have been forced to do through circumstances, not something you gladly chose to do. This means that from day one the customer is not feeling good about the process and the best that you can hope for is not to make it worse! So just in the same way that an Amazon customer is not remotely interested in how their parcel gets to them – only that it does – law firm customers just want their transaction over with as soon as possible with the right result. This may be because of challenging circumstances that will only end with the end of the legal proceedings or because there is something concrete at the end of it, e.g. moving into a new house. Lots of law firms are in denial
“We have done a lot on client ‘self-service’ (in areas like ID checking and uploading information) but the next frontier is allowing clients to see a lot more of the hidden process of the transaction, not just by tracking progress, but by seeing what our AI systems generate concerning the house they are buying”
about this. They spend a lot of time thinking about how they can make the legal process more interesting to the customer. When we looked at this, we found that there was little scope for it. We found that our customers were interested in three things: price, speed and clarity. So this should have a major impact on how firms design their products and processes: the best thing you can do for customer service is to be as invisible as possible! MLM: Are ‘robot lawyers’ and chatbots having a positive impact on the client experience? DJ: I’m not convinced about chatbots. They can give the illusion of better control of the client enquiry process but they do not yet have the sophistication to provide valuable support to clients. However, I see machine learning or AI having a very significant role in conveyancing. We are trialling a system currently that will review a very large number of the core documents in each conveyancing matter and make a certain number of judgments about them based on red flag issues. I would like to see this incorporated into our client portal so that clients can have more of a role in their own transaction. We have done a lot on client ‘selfservice’ (in areas like ID checking and uploading information) but the next frontier is allowing clients to see a lot more of the hidden process of the transaction, not just by tracking progress, but by seeing what our AI systems generate concerning the house they are buying.
David Jabbari is CEO of Muve
“One of the very big differences between law and other retail sectors is that no one is remotely excited about interacting with a law firm. It is not like buying a new iPhone or new clothes” 13
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Communication and the legal client journey Sarah Percy is a Customer Experience Director at insight6, a research company specialising in the legal sector. Sarah’s previous experience was in healthcare for over 25 years and she was recently rated the best sales trainer in the UK by one of her clients. Here, she tells Modern Law of her experience attending one of the tmgroup/Modern Law roundtables (see Pages 19-29) and how improving the customer experience can result in increased revenue.
“The point for me is I don’t know a single person who is not emotional in some way when they are buying or selling a house, after all in most surveys it’s the third most stressful life event for any person, after coping with a death or divorce” 15
Firstly, I asked, ‘Do you remember what it was like to buy your first house?’ My memory is that it was so exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time.
ery recently I had the privilege of attending an event with 11 conveyancing solicitors. I found myself in a round-table discussion about the key issues they face in their businesses.
My second question was, ‘Have you, or anyone you know, had to sell a house owing to a separation or divorce, or because a loved one had just died?’ The experience of my friends and family is that it can be devastating and desperately emotional as you let go of so many memories – good and bad.
What ensued was a fascinating discussion, sharing and comparing stories about how difficult their job could be, both in relation to client demands for communication and the roles of other parties in the process, such as estate agents, surveyors, banks/lenders, who themselves didn’t always fully understand the intricacies of the conveyancing process. It became clear that conveyancers’ workloads are demanding and clients often impatient. I listened as the group began to explore and discuss the solution to the problem of their perception that clients have an insatiable desire for communication. The consensus was that the answers lay in the lawyers spelling out to their clients their standards of communication so the client knew what to expect and in return the clients would not appear so ‘demanding’. It was interesting to hear their irritation at their clients impatience and that they saw the issue of communication as the big issue. I heard them describing their work as a process where there is a job to be done, in this case conveyancing, and the job could only get done if they were 100% focused on using their expertise to make the conveyance happen in the most efficient way they knew how. The group discussed how consumers will willingly wait 12 weeks for delivery of a sofa, or a new car, without continually chasing the manufacturer/dealer. Maybe conveyancers do appear to receive disproportionate amounts of being chased for updates when the waiting period is around the same time it takes to have that sofa delivered – but is this because buying a house is the biggest financial transaction most of us will ever make, and all we want to do is move into our new home as soon as possible, decorate and choose the carpets and curtains?
“I had a completely different understanding of the key issues they were facing. My perception was that the gap between the client’s experiences and the solicitor’s service was the biggest issue that lawyers need to address”
The point for me is I don’t know a single person who is not emotional in some way when they are buying or selling a house, after all in most surveys it’s the third most stressful life event for any person, after coping with a death or divorce.
What does all this mean?
In my view, solicitors need to get closer to their clients and find out what they need. The round table discussion I was part of highlighted that the issue with solicitors not being client-centric was very common. For the 4th year running at insight6 we have just completed our Legal Client Journey with over 100 law firms across the UK. We conducted detailed research into clients’ perceptions of law firms and found that the client experience is perhaps not as good as the expert legal advice being given by the solicitors who sat at that round table discussion. The legal sector employs 140,000 highly trained and skilled solicitors to advise on complex ‘human’ problems. It is difficult to understand why it appears that some law firms behave as if there is no client choice. The area that we explored in our research was around the enquiry stage before the advice begins. Any customer, including a prospective law client, has expectations about the service they will receive when they contact a business. How they are treated in those early interactions will determine whether they choose your law firm or go elsewhere. From a law firm’s perspective, meeting client expectations and maximising the opportunity from each enquiry can be broken down into the following three cores:
However, I had a completely different understanding of the key issues they were facing. My perception was that the gap between the client’s experiences and the solicitor’s service was the biggest issue that lawyers need to address.
• Customer Service • Presentation (the way the website looked/ how easy it was to use, or the business premises’ appearance)
My conclusion is that the overarching issue is a lack of client empathy and, as a result, a complete misalignment and misunderstanding of client needs.
• Sales Skills (the maximising of the opportunity of each enquiry)
These are the key areas that law firms need to focus on to ensure they are meeting, and ideally exceeding, their clients’ expectations.
Lost opportunities Our research demonstrates the scale of lost opportunities which we estimate equates to potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds for a medium sized law firm over a year.
Time to act
There is enormous pressure in the legal sector as ‘low cost’ competition increases. ‘Watson’, the legal artificial intelligence, has already been created to replace the solicitor’s advice and new business structures are challenging the traditional model. At insight6, we believe that our study of the Legal Client Journey highlights an enormous opportunity for law firms to grasp the nettle and focus on client experience that will give each solicitor the edge. Clients want to be heard, understood and served by law firms like any other business they buy from, at every stage in the journey from first contact to receiving the bill. The single biggest opportunity occurs before the solicitor even knows a potential client exists. That moment is when the client is shopping around – phoning in, logging in, or walking into the practice to make an enquiry.
“Our research demonstrates the scale of lost opportunities which we estimate equates to potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds for a medium sized law firm over a year” insight6 specialises in working across lots of business sectors but especially with the legal sector to improve client experiences. Through research and experience, insight6 has a deep understanding of how to create an impact on legal firms and transform the service that lawyers deliver, which inevitably leads to an increase in sales through increased client retention, new clients, greater client satisfaction and recommendations.
In a nutshell, the top six areas that need to be addressed at law firms at the enquiry stage are: • 6 out of 10 people were not called back after leaving a message ‘out of hours’; • Less than 30% of enquiries had their call answered by a person who introduced themselves with their name; • Contact details were not taken by one third of call handlers which meant that enquires could not be followed up; • Under half of the solicitors used the name of the client when interacting with them on the phone; • Only 1 in 4 firms described the benefits of working with them when talking to a prospective client on the phone; • 80% of firms did not follow up phone enquirers and 95% did not follow up enquiries made through their website.
What can you do? We are in an experience economy where people value human connection more than anything else. So, the first thing I would recommend is to take a look at our Legal Client Journey report, ‘How Legal Firms handle new enquiries in 2019’ at http://bit. ly/30J3hHiinsight6. I think you’ll find it to be an informative, enlightening, and at times disturbing, read but helpful if you wish to create an action plan for putting the experience back into the Legal Client Journey. As an illustration, only last month one of insight6’s legal clients invested less than £1k in improving customer experience and as a direct result retained a client worth £45k per annum.
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The evolution of the home buying process - a series of discussions
Lack of transparency and poor communication is having a devastating impact on the house buying process, with transactions taking up to 18 weeks to reach exchange, and often resulting in so much frustration and misinformation that around a third of property transactions fall through.
echnology is already changing things for the better, but has the potential to do so much more. To harness the latest thinking on new and emerging solutions, and how law firms can embrace these changes to benefit their clients, tmgroup and Modern Law Magazine co-hosted four regional roundtable discussions.
Taking place across London, Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham, these events brought property professionals together to discuss, among other relevant issues, where technological advances could have the biggest impact â€“ from addressing the weakest points in the home buying process and solving the AML problem, to giving homemovers what they really want.
Chair Joe Pepper,
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Joe joined tmgroup in early 2018 having spent over 20 years delivering technology and managed service solutions to the financial and legal services communities. He now leads the tmgroup business in seeking to develop new technology solutions to meet the ever-changing needs of the UK property market. Through mio for estate agents and both tmconnect and tmconvey for conveyancers in particular, tmgroup is working at the forefront of addressing high fall-through rates, improving communication between homemovers and property professionals, and speeding up transactions to exchange.
Chair Emma Vigus,
Chief Commercial Officer (CCO)
Emma joined tmgroup in 2018 after a decade of specialising in insurance and risk management for property professionals. She has worked closely with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Conveyancing Association and the Council of Licensed Conveyancers. She is an active member of the Home Buyers and Sellers Group and Founder and Chair of Women in Residential Property. She is a firm advocate of the need for cross-sector collaboration and the importance of removing silos across the property transaction.
Building on its reputation as the UKâ€™s leading provider of property searches, tmgroup deploys 20 years of technology and data expertise to deliver platforms that distribute data and insight that its partners trust to improve the management of property transactions. The company works with multiple stakeholders across the residential property transaction, offering a compelling and unified suite of products and services via the tm, Property Searches Scotland (PSS) and Conveyancing Data Services (CDS) businesses.
Developed by tmgroup, tmconnect is a secure and customisable conveyancing platform that allows multiple parties to access and share one view of a transaction. Over 375,000 transactions have been completed by the platform since its launch in 2011.
The first of the four tmgroup/ Modern Law roundtable discussions kicked off in Leeds with tmgroup’s CEO, Joe Pepper, in the role of Chair, posing the question: “If you were to change any part of the property transaction process today that would make life easier, what would it be?” Without hesitation, Sarah Keegan stated, “Communication! I’d love to see the industry spend more time talking to clients and explaining the process as it progresses. Not only would that ease the process, it would also avoid unnecessary, time-consuming enquiries and complaints.” Victoria Mortimer said, “When I first trained, business was more local and it was easier to meet and build a rapport with clients, but now we’re operating more nationally we tend not to see clients as much.” Sally Cottam would like to see more consistency in conveyancing. She said that we all seem to have different ways of doing things, introducing something such as a logbook recording key documents and information is a great idea. Speeding up and simplifying the process would save time, clients would be happier, transactions would be more profitable and we’d get paid sooner. Mike Leeman said, “We have a duty of care to our clients that no one else in the process has in quite the same way. We have a specialist skill set, which we’re underpaid for, and being more honest
Tuesday 10 September 2019 Doubletree by Hilton Hotel
and transparent with our clients can only improve the house buying process.” Sarah Sargent said she was constantly being asked to deal with enquiries she shouldn’t have to deal with and spend time educating others in the process, saying, “If I could change one thing it would be around quality.” Reece Suter said, “What I’d like to see is more collaboration between the Law Society and the CLC, and for them to agree a cross-profession protocol rather than working to different standards. There’s a lot of overlap and if we could get them both onboard it would save valuable time, especially when faced with lower margins.” Sarah Percy brought a thoughtprovoking non-lawyer voice to the table. Specialising in researching and analysing the customer experience within the legal sector, wholly from the client’s point of view, she asked the group how they would rate a general customer experience with, say, Amazon, out of a hundred. The group all rated it in the high 90s. Then Percy revealed, “For the last four years, across 80 to 100 law firms a year, client experience averaged between 63% and 66%.” This was lower
“For me, it’s about communication between… well, everybody!” 20
than the group anticipated and Percy suggested that with consumers now expecting the ‘next day experience’, and with websites now accounting for the largest percentage of enquiries to law firms, often to two or three at the same time, the biggest factor has become the initial speed of response. Add to this the fact that lawyers don’t see themselves as salespeople, and a slow response can get the client experience off to a negative start before any work’s commenced. Anna Nuttall took up the importance of sales training. “We booked an intensive 3-day sales training programme, the most amazing sales experience I’ve had as a lawyer.” She hopes the younger generation entering conveyancing will see training in sales techniques as an integral part of their legal training. Leeman added that there is a sales skills shortage in the sector, partly owing to most investment going into new technology rather than staff training. Sarah Cookson passionately wants to change the blame culture – by eliminating it! This produced lively exchanges of experiences where instead of the different parties collaborating or communicating when acting on different aspects of a property transaction – whether solicitors, surveyors, or estate agents – each often blamed another to clients for hold-ups or other problems, often when a simple phone call would have explained or resolved the situation.
“For the last four years, across 80 to 100 law firms a year, client experience averaged between 63% and 66%” Interestingly, Andrea Fairweather would love to change the general aversion to change itself. “And it’s not just the older generation of conveyancers but the younger fee earners too who can easily become set in their ways.” One version of the truth being shared across the whole transaction, is what Nicola Wilson-Sanders would like to see, saying, “We could then move forward without unnecessary duplication.” Pepper added, “It’s always blown my mind at the amount of duplication between lawyers, estate agents, surveyors, lenders and brokers.” Katrina Allen said, “For me, it’s about communication between… well, everybody! Repeatedly in a transaction you’re stalled by other parties doing their own thing to their own schedule, rather than having a common goal.” Sargent believes that rather than reinventing the wheel every time there needs to be standardised responses and she felt this is where technology can, and is, helping. Cookson thought that in some cases technology has made things worse by giving the client too much information. “It overwhelms them but it has to be passed on otherwise it could have repercussions against the conveyancer further down the line.” Leeman pointed out that, ironically, “Millennials are often the ones who make the most ‘oldfashioned phone call’ chases but only because the technology wasn’t working instantly enough for them!” Gary Jackson asked if a switch to the Scottish system would make life more productive? “I was impressed by the efficiency of their system when handling a transaction involving a share purchase agreement for a large chunk of land in Scotland, and that £4.5m transaction will complete quicker than a 2-bedroom terrace house I’m dealing with in Burnley.” With an office in Scotland, Pepper knows the system well, with one of the positive differences being the amount of data that’s prepared in advance. The group agreed that to change to that system in England and Wales would be a huge challenge – and was the industry ready to embrace that level of change?
Big on technology is what Mortimer believes will help lawyers get back to providing legal advice and not getting bogged down with admin. Sargent questioned if we are now doing the job any better than it was 40 years ago as the completion period has lengthened from 12 to 16, sometimes 18, weeks. The consensus was that this was owing to the additional non-conveyancing tasks that have been ‘dumped’ on the conveyancer, and that the period would be even longer if it wasn’t for the introduction of tech innovations. If Lisa Potts could wave a magic wand it would be for a communication portal that absolutely everyone had to be on. “One secure communication platform should be possible with today’s technology.” Leeman pointed out that conflicts of interest amongst software providers is a problem, unless they got together to put all their eggs in one basket system-wise, but he doubted that would happen. Pepper agreed that there has to be market choice between software providers but there is an opportunity for them to integrate and work collaboratively together for the good of the sector. Cookson pointed out that everyone uses the Land Registry every day, so why couldn’t different software providers, even with their different technologies, all feed into the Land Registry. “It’s the one common thing we all use for a sale or purchase, regardless of whether we’re a sole practitioner, or a local, regional, or national firm.” Pepper brought the proceedings to a close by asking what, briefly, did the table think the consumer wants that they’re not getting today, and that could be delivered in the next couple of years. Comments included improved inter-process communication; greater transparency and openness; speedier transactions; greater client interaction with improved prop-tech systems; and convenience of contact whenever it suits the client according to today’s varied work and lifestyle requirements. (Editor’s Note: Following the interest shown in Sarah Percy’s contribution, Modern Law asked her to give more insight into her company’s findings regarding the customer experience with law firms – see the article on Ps 15-17.)
“What I’d like to see is more collaboration between the Law Society and the CLC, and for them to agree a cross-profession protocol rather than working to different standards” 21
Joe Pepper Chief Executive Officer (CEO), tmgroup Nicola Wilson-Sanders Key Accounts Manager tmgroup Andrea Fairweather Partner Birchall Blackburn Sarah Cookson Director Switalskis Sally Cottam Director Langleys Gary Jackson Head of Real Estate Stephensons Sarah Keegan Director CS Partnership Mike Leeman Managing Partner Bell Lamb and Johnson Victoria Mortimer Partner Shulmans Lisa Potts Managing Partner Hunton and Gargett Sarah Sargent Partner Lupton Fawcett Reece Suter Conveyancing Team Manager PM Property Lawyers Sarah Percy Customer Experience Director insight6 Katrina Allen Head of Transactional Shulmans Anna Nuttall Head of Residential Temperley Taylor
Emma Vigus, tmgroup’s Chief Commercial Officer, took the chair for the London round table discussion, and kicked off the session asking, “What motivates you to want to improve this process? And which part of the transaction do you think is the weakest link?” Jonathan Achampong said, “There’s pressure to change, coming from consumers, government and other stakeholders. So even if conveyancers wanted to leave things as they are, I don’t think they have any option but to change.” He suggested that education plays a key role with consumers now expecting to buy things very quickly – the ‘Amazon effect’ – and increasingly people are expecting their legal services to be delivered in the same manner. “But for regulatory and procedural reasons, unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that,” he said. “I’ve had clients who have barely been onboarded when they’re asking, ‘when can we exchange contracts?’” Sean Reeves said that often it can be the other professionals, such as the estate agent, who raises the client’s expectations of a quick exchange, “So the education process needs to go further than just the client to other professionals within the industry.” Felicity Marks agreed and said that in many cases the agent is
Thursday 12 September 2019 Pullman St. Pancras Hotel
not managing the client’s expectations realistically, which puts more pressure on the conveyancer. She continued, “Because the market is tricky and agents are scrambling for sales, I feel they don’t want to rock the boat, so if their client says I want to exchange in three weeks, an inexperienced agent should be saying ‘that isn’t going to happen’ but at the moment they’re not stepping in and managing their clients.” Alison Taylor suggested that it falls down to education again but at a different level, explaining, “If sellers had properties properly ready when they put them on the market, you could exchange within three weeks because everything would be lined up. HIPs were essentially a good idea but unfortunately people just didn’t like what was in them!” Richard Cunningham asked, “Regarding change, why are we minded to try and solve what’s seen as an unsolvable problem?” Then said, “Because it’s a huge opportunity to put ourselves at the cutting edge of those improvements, and that presents a commercial opportunity for all of us.” David Jabbari suggested that technology could be better used to simplify and improve the process but questioned whether there was enough impetus and incentive among lawyers to make it too easy and livelihood could be compromised. He also wondered if, “Taking the U.S. system and simply buying an insurance product to do
away with all the checking of title procedures could radically simplify the process.” Reeves said, “Our traditional conveyancing process is several hundred years older than in the U.S. They were able to say, ‘Here’s how it should be done’ and created a simpler system.” Jeremy Raj pointed out previous attempts to improve the process, saying, “Whenever anyone tries to introduce anything whizzy and new, such as the traffic light system the Land Registry tried to introduce in the late 90s, they find they’re up against the rock of how it’s always been done! Even the disrupters in estate agency are struggling against the comfort of how it’s always happened.” Reeves felt disrupters in estate agency, such as Yopa or Purple Bricks, are not providing the support of the traditional agent to chase a transaction, “So I’m getting bogged down with sales progression, spending more time with the disrupter than the traditional agent!” Raj said a good estate agent is essential to the conveyancing process. Anton Osborne said in the last 20 years the process has become harder because while there have been a lot of changes in client expectation that things should move faster thanks to email and mobile phones, the actual process has hardly changed at all. Jabbari said it’s impossible to insulate against general trends in society such as people wanting things the next day.
“HIPs were essentially a good idea but unfortunately people just didn’t like what was in them” 22
“Of all the things that have changed over the last 20 years in conveyancing, one thing that hasn’t is what we can charge for what we do” Mo Hakim made the point that due diligence in the UK is unique compared to the rest of the world, “Most countries perform a perfunctory register search, whereas ours is as exhaustive and detailed as you’ll find and maybe the consumer needs to understand that better. It’s not like buying a car, where you check the logbook and have a mechanic give it the once-over, conveyancing is not a quick look under the bonnet, we have to get deep-down dirty with overalls on to inspect every part!” Colin Blears took up the car analogy pointing out how selling a car had evolved from print adverts with a small photograph, to AA inspections, to online portals where you can check a car’s insurance write-off, theft, import/ export and MOT history – other than MOTs none of it legislated, most of it organically driven by the sector. “Stakeholders working together in the interest of the consumer. Sadly, the conveyancing and estate agent sectors haven’t organically achieved that same level of transparency; there’s no clear level of risk matrix to give the client the same level of instant information.” Taylor said, “Simplistically, all we should be concerned with is the legal title, but instead we get involved with everything from the environmental stuff down to whether the carpets and curtains are going to be left.” On a more practical level, Jayne Kemsley thought collaboration was a weak link in the process. “All parties involved in a transaction should collaborate but often I come up against, say, an aggressive solicitor and although we’re all involved in buying or selling a selling a property it can end up in points scoring against each other and showing off to the client.” Cunningham said, “Of all the things that have changed over the last 20 years in conveyancing, one thing that hasn’t is what we can charge for what we do.” Jabbari added, “The pricing is broken in conveyancing, too fragmented and too cheap. And that cheapness affects everything, the resourcing, the volume of transactions in order to be profitable and that affects quality.” On that point Kemsley said a returning client from 12 years ago wanted a similar transaction, “And when I pulled out the file, the fee I was going to quote was less than that of 12 years ago!” Blears said, “And to do the same transaction now, there would probably be four of five additional tasks that didn’t have to be done 12 years ago.”
Vigus summed up this section saying it was apparent that everyone would prefer to re-engineer the whole process rather than picking out random bits, but all were agreed on the problems facing conveyancers. However, “Which one aspect did they consider the most broken, or is it not that simple?” Kemsley thought everyone could pick out a handful of broken bits, particularly on getting uniformity on leasehold properties. On leasehold, Raj believes the profession has shot itself in the foot by not drawing sufficient distinction between freehold and leasehold conveyancing and, as a side issue, new build, adding, “We fail miserably to take into account the many, many more hours involved in conveyancing for leasehold and it’s something we should work to rectify.” Vigus wondered if having to publish indicative prices for conveyancing on a law firm’s website gave consumers an accurate picture of the complexities involved with managing the conveyancing process for different types of property. To the group’s amusement, Reeves stated that one of the least visited pages on his firm’s website is the transparency page, showing that fee transparency is less important than the recent change of regulation may have suggested. Price transparency did nothing for the industry in Achampong’s opinion because, “It overly simplifies what a conveyancing transaction involves and feeds into the mis-education of the process.” As someone who came to conveyancing from being a City lawyer, Jabbari believes the combination of pressure and risk in conveyancing stands it apart from any other link in the home buying process. Reeves would love a central information point, a gateway, where the source of funds, the client’s ID has been uploaded and the lender’s accepted that, and all those in the process could see the same information. Cunningham pointed out that all that information’s there but not in one place accessible to all. After a discussion around KYC, AML and SOF, Vigus asked for summings up which included: improved collaboration between all in the process; the take up of technology that’s meaningful and not simply what the futurists and technologists develop because they can; support, education and training for the more junior staff members; and somehow to avoid perpetuating the race to the bottom where fees are concerned – which led to the request for more of these ‘group therapy’ sessions so everyone could collectively feel better as a profession!
Emma Vigus, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) tmgroup John Mackenzie Business Development Manager tmgroup Jonathan Achampong Partner Wedlake Bell Colin Blears Director Risq Ventures Richard Cunningham Head of Surrey Operations Wellers Law Group Mo Hakim Partner Child and Child David Jabbari Chief Executive Officer Muve Jayne Kemsley Partner Thrings Felicity Marks Manager The Partnership Anton Osbourne Partner MW Solicitors Jeremy Raj National Head of Conveyancing Irwin Mitchell Sean Reeves Solicitor Humphries Kirk Alison Taylor Managing Associate
Mischon De Reya
Tuesday 17 September 2019 MacDonald Burlington Hotel
Tmgroup’s CEO, Joe Pepper, returned to the Chair for the third tmgroup/ Modern Law roundtable event in Birmingham, and started by asking the group, “What are the burning issues you’d like to address?”
explained to them everything we had to do, and the number of people we have to deal with in one transaction, they were genuinely astounded. Their approach towards us has completely changed now they have a better understanding of the complexity our job role can entail.”
More sharing of data and the platforms to share data was a common theme running through the group’s responses. Regarding data sharing, Esther Fawke stressed the importance of GDPR and sharing data privately and securely. Email intercepts and phishing were highlighted by Fawke and Julie Davis as requiring change to eradicate a major problem and irritant in the industry.
Analogies abounded about how customers behave differently when dealing with consumer companies as opposed to law firms. Dally said, “I take my car for a service and pay hundreds of pounds for a few hours work, more than I would have made on my conveyancing, but I don’t phone up every two minutes to ask what’s happening now, what stage is it at, why have I not heard anything, etc.? And when buying a sofa being told it will take 12 weeks and accepting that and waiting patiently. Yet, when I tell a client they’re going to get a £.5m house, one of the most important purchases of their life, in 12 weeks, some are occasionally outraged!”
Claire Yates said communication with the client should be broadcast rather than given reactively when prompted, putting the consumer at the front of the communication queue. Pepper pointed out that every year, the greatest number of complaints to the Ombudsman from consumers was to do with communication. Davis said her firm had attempted to answer that problem by appointing customer services personnel, in itself a commercial factor owing to margins being so tight, (general group agreement) and that adding staff to the payroll only increased the need to take on more clients. Suman Dally agreed and added that it serves only to increase the stress levels attached to conveyancing. Recently she ran training sessions for estate agents, and one session consisted solely of a ‘day in the life of a conveyancer’. “When I
The feeling around the table was that so many others involved in the process
“When I explained to estate agents everything we had to do, and the number of people we have to deal with in one transaction, they were genuinely astounded” 24
dump the risk on the conveyancer – whether it’s ground rents. estate rent charges, GDPR, stamp duty, reliefs on stamp duty, cladding – and anything else surveyors, lenders and brokers can offload onto the conveyancer. And then the client wonders why it now takes 16 weeks to do the conveyancing, when 25 years ago the whole thing could be turned around in 8 weeks! Client expectations and how to manage them was a huge discussion point and, as at each round table, the ‘Amazon factor’ of expecting everything the next day reared its head. Julie Tomasik explained her firm was introducing apps and portals to help with client communication but, crucially, before going live, “We’re trying to ensure that it doesn’t just trigger yet another phone call or email enquiry, as clients don’t want to know what you’re doing now, they want to know what’s happening next.” The discussion moved to transparency and the lack of honesty causing chains to break. The subject of bridging cropped up with the group reporting they hardly now ever do, or advise, anyone to bridge. Dally wondered if bridging had reduced because of stamp duty and not now being able to re-mortgage for six months. Davis suggested that a decrease in gazumping had reduced bridging as people weren’t being put under pressure to buy when they couldn’t sell. Tomasik commented that she advised a client recently to let her manage the expectations of the chain rather than suggesting they bridged.
“All agreed, including those who had been in the business 30 years or more, that the system has changed drastically but yet, frustratingly, is now slower” Different business models around the table were discussed, for example conveyancers who did and who didn’t pay referral fees, and some who still charge an hourly rate. But if in the chain, different lawyers worked to different business models, that could affect the speed and efficiency of that transaction. All agreed, including those who had been in the business 30 years or more, that the system has changed drastically but yet, frustratingly, is now slower. Pepper asked if one single factor such as pressure on fees, regulation, lack of honesty, or whether a combination of factors had contributed to the process becoming slower? HIPs were seen as flawed but a good idea, and it was agreed that to have all the information about a property in one place, and on the cloud as ‘house sale ready’, would be a huge step forward. Lisa Mehta felt conveyancers should put greater value on the work they do and the technical aspects of the job, saying, “There’s a perception that conveyancing involves ticking a few boxes and moving a few pieces of paper around each day. So again it boils down to education of clients, agents, even litigation colleagues, on the complexity of the process.” The discussion moved on to what do homemovers really want? The group was unanimous in agreeing that clients looking to buy a property simply wanted to get the move done and move into their new home. Dally said, “To a buyer it’s not about trawling through small print detail that we might have been obligated to send to them. They don’t read it. Yet there may be important information they need to be aware of when they come to sell.” Tomasik agreed, “But that could be 20 years away so is no priority to them at the point of purchase. All they’re interested in are the carpets and curtains!” Pepper added that nobody wakes up on one morning and says, ‘what I want to do is take out a 25 year financial commitment that I have to repay or my house will be repossessed’, what they wake up and say to themselves is ‘I want to buy that dream house’. He added, “And everything else that goes with that is just something they’re forced to do. And that’s the point at which the devaluation of the conveyancer’s role starts.” The discussion turned to whether regulation was a positive thing that created higher standards or just negative red tape that got in everyone’s way and added to the cost. Tomasik said that
regulation is required and necessary but it needs policing, saying, “I think the Conveyancing Quality Scheme is a good thing but shouldn’t it be mandatory?” The table agreed and in answer to Pepper’s question, all said they were CQS compliant. Inevitably, the topic of AML came up with duplication throughout the whole AML process seen as a problem, with agents, brokers, lenders and solicitors all doing AML checks, with clients becoming fed up at being asked so many times. Mehta pointed to apps that can now check AML via a portal, which vastly improves the system. Dally said that it goes back to everybody assuming risk, “Because if the money is in the bank why have the bank not verified that, why do we have to then verify where the client got the money from?” Fawke agreed, saying banks needed to take more control of movements and accounts, particularly money that’s coming from international sources. “There’s no accountability and it becomes our responsibility – again!” The group touched on the fact that there is a definite skills shortage in conveyancing, with a large reliance on having to ‘grow your own’. There was a feeling of an ongoing problem with the younger generation of entrants not wanting to stay in a job for more than two years, so staff turnover has increased more recently. The feeling was that law graduates, who now come through two systems, apprenticeships and university, don’t see residential conveyancing as a ‘sexy’ area of law in which they wish to practice. Pepper asked if outsourcing could be the answer to the skills shortage. Some did outsource, others not. Dally said as yet they don’t outsource but know firms that have been doing it for over ten years. Davis said she was talking to a firm who had spent 18 months hand-selecting offshore expertise but were now reaping the benefits of quicker turnaround. In summary Tomasik said that despite the common problems all law firms seemed to face, she still got a buzz at the end of a transaction for a first time buyer, after guiding them through it to then hand over the keys. Pepper then summarised the key discussion topics, including better communication with the consumer; better transparency; education; getting rid of the blame culture; and one version of the truth.
Joe Pepper, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) tmgroup Clare Yates Senior Business Development Manager tmgroup Suman Dally Partner Shoosmiths LLP Julie Davis Head of Residential LCF Residential Esther Fawke Senior Manager Countrywide Plc Lisa Mehta Partner Brethertons Julie Tomasik Director, Ansons & Specialist Advisor on Conveyancing to CILEX
“I think the Conveyancing Quality Scheme is a good thing but shouldn’t it be mandatory?”
For the fourth and final tmgroup/ Modern Law roundtable event in Bristol, tmgroup’s Chief Commercial Officer, Emma Vigus, took the Chair and kicked off the session with the following observation. “When doing some research before this event, I read a study paper and wondered why the photograph of the author, who I know well, was an old one, until I realised that the paper was written in 2010 – and all the recommendations are still being worked on today and have made little progress!” Beth Rudolf remembered talks ten years ago when those papers were being written, saying, “We were having breakfast meetings with Grant Shapps, and we all thought we were nailing it and it was all going to happen, so why are we still here flogging away?” Vigus asked what she thought the difficulties were, and Rudolf said, “We had changes of Government, there were concerns over the economy and costs issues, and then there were HIPs which were ahead of their time. But if I had my magic wand I’d make data seamlessly sharable across all systems. Rob Hailstone pointed out that although HIPs might have been ahead of their
Thursday 19 September 2019 Marriott City Centre Hotel
time, unfortunately the Government didn’t grasp that fact and decided to scrap them rather than suspend them. “They should have looked at what went right, what went wrong, and then review the process and amend it. But that’s what I’ve banged on about for the last decade!” Rudolf pointed out that they didn’t consult with industry back then, saying, “The big difference now is you feel they are really listening, and we’ve spent a lot of time meeting with the Ministry through the Home Buying and Selling Group and there’s more consultation now than there ever was with HIPs.” A cross sector working group, the Home Buying and Selling Group comprises around 100 people from across the industry, working on projects including leasehold, upfront provision of information, reservation agreements, education and vision and planning to support the government’s reform of the home buying and selling process.
“If I had my magic wand I’d make data seamlessly sharable across all systems” 26
Jon Sacker thought one of the big blockers ten years ago was the change of Government, and as there was likely to be a General Election in the next few months, his concern is that a change of Government now to one with a different agenda would affect the priority that may be given to change. Rudolf saw no need to fear a change of Government, saying, “Labour are really interested in this topic too and have come out with their leasehold proposals, and are also looking at home buying and selling.” Hailstone didn’t think the potential improvements would stop with a change of Government, saying, “I believe that the Home Buying and Selling Group has now gained enough momentum to be self-propelling and to continue apace.” Suzanne Bowman was reassured that things were happening but she said, “It also makes me feel slightly on the outside looking in.” Hailstone explained that much of the Group’s work is still in progress, which is why there’s not too much out in the marketplace yet until it’s been refined. Emma Gilroy admitted she knew little about the HM&SG but said, “It was reassuring that upfront information was being looked at because that does help to manage client expectations.” With a background in management and director roles in commercial law firms, Will Coulter is new to the conveyancing
“We’ve been sending out client guides for years but either they don’t get them, don’t read them, or they do read them but don’t understand them” sector and said it had struck him when reading papers from five to ten years ago that nothing had fundamentally changed, yet there always seems to be the appetite for change. And, 100% he would like to see information sharing. Yet again the problem was highlighted of agents not always being fully aware of the conveyancing process and feeding the client false expectations, making client management that much harder. Bowman said, “I spend a lot of time deflating a client’s expectations.” Sam Cavender agreed, saying, “Nine times out of ten I have to be the one to tell the client ‘unfortunately that’s not going to happen’ in that timescale.” Amanda Wilkins said, “There seems to be so many areas of consumer ignorance or misunderstanding about things like the UK Finance Lenders Handbook, indemnity insurance not always helping in planning disputes, and defence of building regulations. And I think, why aren’t we telling them? Why aren’t we making them aware, so we don’t have all these hurdles to overcome?” Hailstone said, “We’ve been sending out client guides in various forms for years but either they don’t get them, don’t read them, or they do read them but don’t understand them. But when people only buy a house on average every 20 years, why do they need to be experts?” Following a discussion about land grabs, and buyer beware, and sellers being economical with the truth, Rudolf brought up the subject of property logbooks, saying, “Each time we handle a property, we gather information from many sources, make an assessment, make a judgement and advise on it, and then put all that information to one side. Whereas if we keep it all digitally we are keeping a history of a property and not just title.” Bowman remembered Zurich wanting to launch the logbook idea a decade ago, and Hailstone said there are a number of companies out there now promoting logbooks. Iain Mason said, “Presumably that’s what’s coming further down the line. The Land Registry is talking about it and I’m increasingly seeing mention made of blockchain in this context.” Sacker said that all this data is online, so the logbook would be auto-updated from the
verified data sources, “And for me that’s the Holy Grail.” The problem of clients and technology was brought up by Coulter, saying, “If you send the client everything digitally, you will always find there is a demographic of individuals who don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to use that technology.” Coulter cited his own firm who have embraced technology but found that clients, in some instances, were reluctant to embrace it, saying, “They would prefer to drive to our offices and sit down with us rather than use Skype or FaceTime, or a third-party app that will take a scan of their driving licence or use facial recognition. Bowman said, “As a profession we have to be flexible. If we can see people face-to-face we do. Sometimes in conversation useful information comes out that wouldn’t via phone calls or email. But I always ask a client at the start how they would like to be communicated with.” The subject of diversity was discussed and Sacker said although the majority of people working in the legal sector are women it doesn’t follow that the majority of directors and partners are female, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. When asked what the most important thing people wanted to take away from today, Hailstone said, “For me it’s having information upfront and instructing your conveyancer on day one.” Gilroy would also value upfront information, saying, “I would like for third parties to work together so, ultimately, the majority of information can be obtained from one source rather than having to go to multiple parties. Hopefully, this would streamline the process and make data sharing more effective.” Cavender would like to see sellers addressing any issues prior to putting their property on the market to avoid delays in the transaction.” Rudolf would like to see smart contracts run through Land Registry, giving the ability for everyone to transact transparently, with safety nets, “Oh, and property logbooks – and data models!” Both Sacker and Yates would like to see ‘one version of the truth’, with Yates adding, “It should be like everyone watching the same football match, with the same end result.”
Emma Vigus, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) tmgroup Clare Yates Senior Business Development Manager tmgroup Suzanne Bowman Partner Adams & Remers Sam Cavender Head of Residential Robertsons Will Coulter Operations Director Thomas Legal Emma Gilroy Director JCP Solcitors Rob Hailstone CEO Bold Legal Group Iain Mason Head of Legal Optimum Beth Rudolf Director of Delivery The Conveyancing Association Jon Sacker Deputy Director of Comms CLC Amanda Wilkins Partner Angel Wilkins
“I believe that the Home Buying and Selling Group has now gained enough momentum to be self-propelling and to continue apace” 27
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In summary... “Having been at all four roundtable discussions, to listen, record and write up a summary from each event, no way could I do full justice to the wide-ranging discussions in one double page spread per venue. But I hope you got the flavour. So many issues, positive and less so, were discussed, and it became clear from the outset that the common challenges, complications and opportunities faced by the conveyancing sector are national, with very few regional variations.
“So, what’s on the horizon? It’s probably fair to say that the aspirations of prop-tech providers range from wildly ambitious to sensibly pragmatic. While there’s a sense of inevitability to the use of smart contracts and blockchain, most conveyancers are more likely to be immediately assisted by the benefits derived from increasingly sophisticated case management systems that streamline processes and help to keep clients in the loop about the progress of their transaction.
And yes, there was a hint of siege mentality about some of the topics discussed, mainly around how workloads had significantly increased over the last decade, how conveyancers were left picking up the tab for so many tasks considered not part of their remit, and the race to the bottom on fees.
However, the collaboration between conveyancers and technologists means that within the next five years, we are likely to see increasingly practical ways that legal prop-tech will assist conveyancers. For example, there are platforms that exist today that enable property lawyers to have access to instant and rich property datasets that help to speed up the conveyancing process.
But there was also an overwhelming and passionate sense of positivity regarding the changes facing the industry, many technology-led, that will result in conveyancing finally joining the 21st century, to become a profession better suited to serve the needs of its clients, as well as itself. But I’ll leave the final word to London attendee Jonathan Achampong…”
Going forward, and without wishing to trigger scepticism, conveyancers should be aware that advances such as smart contracts, blockchain, property logbooks and tokenised property will almost certainly transform the process of legal due diligence for property transactions. Accordingly, law firms should remain open to and embrace change where this is likely to help them work more efficiently and deliver a better service to clients.”
Pete Ward, Editor, Modern Law
Jonathan Achampong, Partner at Wedlake Bell LLP
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IT’S CLEAR TO SEE THE BENEFITS OF TRANSPARENCY In December last year, we introduced our new transparency rules. These rules are designed to make it easier for the public to find out about, and ultimately engage with the services you offer. Introducing these transparency rules addresses a real problem…
ine out of 10 people who need legal services do not seek assistance from you, the very people who could help them most. The Competition and Markets Authority found in 2016 that a lack of available information was one of the root causes of this. Putting more information in the public domain, helping potential clients understand the services you offer, will help to bridge the gap. When looking for legal service providers, people behave in just the same way as when buying anything else, from financial services to a buggy for a new baby, or a mobile network provider – they listen to the recommendations of friends and family and they shop around to find the best products and deals. Our research of both businesses and the public has consistently shown that people are more inclined to use a law firm if price information is made available. And people like to see evidence that a firm – and importantly the people working there – have the relevant expertise, before they make the commitment to approach them directly. Publishing meaningful information about what services are available and at what likely cost gives potential clients greater detail, allowing them to make better choices. So, under the rules, we require firms to publish information on prices they charge and what these cover across a number of common services: • For members of the public these are: conveyancing, probate, motoring offences, employment tribunals (claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal) and immigration (excluding asylum)
“Publishing meaningful information about what services are available and at what likely cost gives potential clients greater detail, allowing them to make better choices” • For businesses these are: debt recovery (up to £100k), employment tribunals (defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal) and licensing applications for business premises Firms are also required to publish information on the teams and individuals who deliver these services. Those that don’t have a website are asked to make the information available on request. This will not be news to a large number of solicitors as they have already taken advantage of the guidance and templates we published on our website to make it easier for them to adhere to the new rules. When we carried out spot-checks on the websites of nearly 450 firms in the summer, we found that more than four out of five had started work on making the necessary changes.
“The introduction of our new Standards and Regulations will herald a new era of innovation in law firms”
Alongside this drive for transparency, we have introduced our clickable logo, which all regulated law firms must display on their website from November. The clickable logo provides potential clients with reassurance about the validity of the firm and that protections are in place through our regulation. Initially introduced on a voluntary basis, more than 40 percent of firms are already using the logo. I’d encourage any of you who have not downloaded the logo yet to get in touch with whoever looks after your IT as soon as possible. For the logo to work, we must first hold correct and up-to-date details about your website address, so please double check these are correct in your firm’s mySRA account. The introduction of our new Standards and Regulations will herald a new era of innovation in law firms. There will be greater flexibility to allow solicitors to deliver services in the way that clients need them, with unnecessary burdens that add nothing to public protection removed so that they can get on with the business of law. We know that many firms are already providing good information for future clients to give themselves a competitive edge. Our reforms will help all firms to be much more open and encourage small businesses and the public to recognise that legal services are accessible. That’s a win-win all round.
is SRA Executive Director, External and Corporate Affairs
AVOIDING WILLS AND PROBATE COMPLAINTS I imagine that being a private client practitioner must be hard. No doubt, you will have long-standing clients who have instructed you to draft their will, plan their estate and act as a professional executor. Joshua Jackson continues…
ou will have spent time with your client discussing their estate, followed their instructions to include their wishes regarding the distribution of the estate, and told them about your costs for acting as a professional executor. When your client passes away, it is a very upsetting time for their loved ones. This upset might be deepened if it comes as a surprise that someone outside of the family has been appointed as an executor; as your client’s spouse or children may have assumed that they would administer the estate.
““If your client’s loved ones did not wish to be appointed as an executor they may be unfamiliar with how an estate is administered and the costs of doing so”
There may be bumps in the road during the administration. For example, a caveat might be entered which prevents the grant of probate or HMRC could raise issues about your client’s tax affairs which would need to be dealt with. These things will affect the time and costs of the administration, which is why it will be important to keep residuary beneficiaries updated.
If your client’s loved ones did not wish to be appointed as an executor they may be unfamiliar with how an estate is administered and the costs of doing so. The beneficiaries may raise a complaint about the service provided during the administration of the estate and this is something the Legal Ombudsman can often find itself investigating. In fact, wills and probate issues are consistently in the top five areas of law we receive complaints about. Common complaint themes include: • Excessive and unexpected costs; • Delays – which can affect the time and costs of the administration; • Poor communication – this is a broad category and could include a firm failing to explain why they have not done something they had previously promised, or not responding to reasonable requests for information; and • Misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations of cost and time – which could have been avoided had a better explanation been given by the lawyer.
There are measures that firms can take to make sure the administration of the estate runs smoothly. These may prevent beneficiaries of an estate from raising a complaint. For example, it is good practice to provide residuary beneficiaries with details about the process to be followed, including the time scales and your firm’s costs. The estate might be modest and straightforward or it might be large and complicated, such as assets based abroad or cryptocurrency. Either way, it would be sensible to explain the impact this will have on both the time and costs of administering the estate.
Hopefully, by following these suggestions it will reduce the risk of your firm receiving complaints and allow you to concentrate on carrying out your clients’ wishes.
“The estate might be modest and straightforward or it might be large and complicated, such as assets based abroad or cryptocurrency” 33
Joshua Jackson, Legal Ombudsman
BEING CLIENT-CENTRIC IN THE DIGITAL ERA Holden Smith Law is a young firm counting 14 employees based in Huddersfield. Directors James Smith, David Bancroft and Jamie Megson wanted their new venture to be embedded in today’s digital market. Many years of experience in the legal industry taught them that firms could waste a great amount of time answering phone calls and emails to update all parties in a transaction, inevitably leading to a loss of business. They made a point to make digital communication a priority within their new techfocused firm and chose to work with Perfect Portal. TECHNOLOGY AND TRANSPARENCY AS STRATEGY
Using Perfect Portal integrated with LEAP allows Holden Smith, as a small firm, to compete against a few of the biggest firms in the area, David adds, “The integration between the two systems is key when you are dealing with volume conveyancing.”
In the process of getting their new business off the ground, James, David and Jamie soon realised they wouldn’t be able to compete with large firms working on volume and price in their area. Aware of today’s changing market in the legal sector, they believed customer service and a good quality product would be key to beat the volume conveyancer and therefore, chose to base their strategy on technology, transparent fees and high street customer service. Today, Holden Smith Law is all about communicating effectively and transparently with the client, either through online portals, mobile apps or face-to-face.
Holden Smith opted for a technology that would not only provide a system but an ongoing support too. Jamie says, “All users are trained by Perfect Portal, which saves us time. Any new staff user is trained on how to use the system properly and can contact their Account Manager directly for support.” Time is really the key to efficiency and Perfect Portal provides Holden Smith with an easy to use online platform that allows them to quickly generate quotes, send regular updates to all parties, have access to all the data and get reports at a glance within the Dashboard.
James explains, “Days of additional fees are gone, it only leads to complaints. We are proud to tell our clients everything they see is what they will pay. We try to sell a quality product and deliver a high street service rather than going for the lowest quote, we take the first call very seriously and we are honest about the fees. Perfect Portal helped improve the quality of our clientele, who value our work and not just the price.”
James comments, “It is really easy to find the data you need and you can easily keep track of how much business is coming in and how much is being lost. We save at least one hour per case by using Perfect Portal’s Key Stages to update all parties involved in a transaction with the click of a button. It’s also great to track new business coming from referrers, they can be quickly updated and log into their own app when on the go.”
PERFECT PORTAL FROM DAY ONE Being forward-thinking, Holden Smith chose to use Perfect Portal from day one to be efficient, transparent and to save time. Jamie says, “The system helps support small firms like us who started out in a kitchen but also large firms with multi-offices. It is really easy to set up and allows us to look professional with little effort.”
THE ULTIMATE COMPETITIVE EDGE Recently, Holden Smith also decided to use the Branded Client App by Perfect Portal in order to increase their brand recognition. Their App is another way for them to provide a professional and outstanding client experience throughout the transaction.
Perfect Portal allows Holden Smith to work smarter and quicker, James comments, “We have seen from working at bigger law firms, which don’t use integrated technology, that a lot of time can be wasted by rekeying information several times. With Perfect Portal’s quote calculator, we are able to get through more cases, it cuts a lot of time off the transaction thanks to the automatic fee calculations for Searches, Land Registry and SDLT, which alone would take an average of 20 minutes.”
Jamie explains, “The main reason why we wanted to get our own App was to get our brand out on the app stores and on people’s phones. People don’t delete apps so if a client used our services once, they would contact us for any other legal matters when seeing the app on their phones.”
“Being forward-thinking, Holden Smith chose to use Perfect Portal from day one to be efficient, transparent and to save time”
As a young and client-orientated firm, Holden Smith believe the legal sector, and particularly conveyancing, should be about prioritising the client experience. The App allows them to send push notifications and quickly update clients every step of their journey, making communication easier and improving their experience.
“The integration between the two systems is key when you are dealing with volume conveyancing”
Perfect Portal Perfect Portal is a New Business Management System that empowers law firms to take advantage of every opportunity and to adapt to the digital world by providing instant and valuable information to all parties involved in a transaction, with one simple click. Visit the website to find out more: www.perfectportal.co.uk
Jamie comments, “Our clients love the app, it fits in seamlessly with our ethos at Holden Smith, which is to utilise technology to facilitate modern and open communication. This is somewhat of a rarity in the industry. It is also great for maintaining the level of contact that consumers deserve and demand of a business in today’s digital era.” The App fits in today’s technology-shifting market, where instant information drives consumer behaviours.
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For 30 years, Dorset Orthopaedic has prided itself on providing up to date, relevant and innovative patient care solutions for those living with disabilities and has expanded its range of services available to patients effective from August 2019. Alison will team up with in-house physiotherapists, prosthetists and orthotists to ensure patients have an even greater experience with one of the UK’s leading providers of private patient prosthetic care. “I can’t wait to get started and supporting the team to enhance the care our patients receive at Dorset Orthopaedic”, says Alison. The whole team at Dorset Orthopaedic are extremely caring and professional and I believe that together we will make a real difference to our patients’ lives”. Another new addition to the team in the Midlands Clinic is Dr. Rhodri Phillip OBE, who is currently the Clinical Director at DMRC Stanford Hall where he is responsible for all clinical activity throughout the unit. This activity includes dealing with complex trauma rehabilitation, ranging from spinal cord injury to multiple fractures and amputees. Rhodri’s experience in healthcare spans three decades and he’ll add significant value to patients going through their rehabilitation journey. Alison Neal joins the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) at the Midlands Clinic and brings a wealth of experience in Occupational Therapy to the clinic. Alison graduated from Derby University and developed a broad range of experience in physical and mental health before moving into community paediatrics for NHS when she spent seven years. A qualified member of the British Association of Occupational Therapists, Alison has worked as an Independent Occupational Therapist since 2010 and has her own successful practice. Her areas of expertise include children and young adults with a range of conditions. Alison also carries out independent assessments for special educational needs and disability tribunals.
As well as providing patient care since 1995, Rhodri has also been involved in the teaching and development of junior and middle grade doctors, mentoring of consultant colleagues and has taught on various MSc courses. Rhodri’s role at Dorset Orthopaedic will be a combination of clinical assessments as part of the existing MDT team, assisting with signposting medical treatment for individuals during their various stages of rehab. He’ll also be able to receive medical legal instructions from personal injury case managers and solicitors as part of his role with Dorset Orthopaedic.
“We are delighted to welcome these highly skilled professionals to the team at the Midlands clinic and very much look forward to working with both Alison and Rhodri in the years to come”. Moose Baxter, Clinic Manager, Midlands Clinic.
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What’s an API and why should I care?
Are service and knowledge mutually exclusive elements of the wider home moving experience, or are they intrinsically tied?
APIs are are a hot topic at the moment, but is there any relevance to law firms?
The relationship between the two will no doubt vary by firm and individual clients. Although, in a changing consumer landscape there is a paradigm shift toward customers prioritising service. Research conducted by the SRA in 2018 highlighted some key areas of concern within the conveyancing sector, with 37% of consumers finding their solicitor slow or inefficient. A further 22% also listed poor communication as an issue they faced throughout the home moving process.
APIs – or Application Programme Interfaces – allow applications to talk to each other. So basically, they enable apps to pull data from one another quickly, safely and securely. You may not think you know what they are, but I can guarantee you have benefitted from them at some point – and most likely, more times than you can remember.
What is clear from the research is the greatest complaints relate to perceived service levels. These findings are supported by consumer research InfoTrack completed in 2018 whereby 64% of respondents noted regular communication throughout the process was important to them and 50% wanted more information from their conveyancer about the home moving process.
For example, if you have ever used a hotel booking site to search multiple hotel providers, that site would have used an API to talk to all the hotels on its database to find your hotel. If you have ever ordered fast-food from an app like Just Eat, that app will have used an API to find your food. The fact is, APIs are everywhere. But what has ordering pizza got to do with law firms?
First time buyers and sellers were the most likely to state their solicitors didn’t provide a clear explanation of the process with two in every five needing more information according to the SRA research. The research signifies a gap in the consumer knowledge of the home moving process, with the expectation that their solicitor will provide the necessary information.
Well, law firms, like many regulated sectors, deal with client data on a day to day basis, and often, need that same client data for multiple purposes. One example would be that law firms have an obligation to carry out AML checks on their clients. More often than not, they will have that client’s data already in their system. They will then have to re-enter than data into another system to do all the ID checks they need to do to meet their AML obligations.
Technology can be used as a facilitator to bridge these knowledge gaps while also improving service levels, taking a holistic approach toward the customer experience. The call for ‘clearer conveyancing’ presents opportunities for firms to embrace technology that automates administrative tasks and allows them to focus on their legal expertise while disseminating information to their clients.
And that is where APIs come in. We are now using APIs to integrate our SmartSearch AML platform with our clients’ own systems to allow AML checks to be carried out quickly, efficiently and securely. What this means is, if one if our law firm clients already have their client’s name address and date of birth on file, instead of inputting that same data into the SmartSearch platform, they can click a button on their own system which will use an API to talk to SmartSearch. This will then run the check and send the result back into the client’s own system in a format they can then save to that original client file.
Apps in the market now give firms the ability to provide regular updates to their clients every step of the process. Digital forms and e-signature technology are evolving the market, giving home movers the choice to access them when and where is most convenient for them. Utilising technology that is available in the market empowers firms to navigate the balancing act between knowledge and service to deliver a cohesive customer experience that delivers on home mover expectations. In a climate where experience takes centre stage, it is clear knowledge and service must coexist rather than be treated as separate entities.
Obviously, this is quicker and easier, but it is also more secure and less prone to errors due to the fact the data is only entered once. Integrations like this are becoming more commonplace and SmartSearch is already integrated into 16 third party providers with another seven currently in progress. And with the 5th money laundering directive stipulating that electronic identification be used wherever possible, demand for these types of services are only set to increase.
“The call for ‘clearer conveyancing’ presents opportunities for firms to embrace technology that automates administrative tasks and allows them to focus on their legal expertise while disseminating information to their clients”
“Law firms, like many regulated sectors, deal with client data on a day to day basis, and often, need that same client data for multiple purposes” 39
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is Founder & CEO of VFS Legal Funding
Too much ‘tech’ – Make client care not enough ‘touch’? a core value Technological advances continue apace, permeating every area of our lives and driving significant changes.
It goes without saying that clients are at the heart of any law firm and excellent client care is usually a core value for most lawyers. But in this fast-changing profession it can unfortunately be all-too-easy to lose sight of the client’s best interests or let other issues get in the way of delivering the very best service.
In the vast majority of cases, technology’s influence is felt as a positive thing, yet opinions are far from unanimous. So, is its use in the conveyancing industry causing us to lose the personal touch in client relations? Who better to evaluate the effects of technology on the customer experience than the customers themselves? While it’s clear that technology is playing an increasingly important role for many law firms¹, all indications point to the fact that there is a very clear demand amongst consumers for it to be used even more. Indeed, research has revealed that house buyers are keen for their conveyancers to adopt additional technology to improve both digital communication and transparency, providing access to real-time information concerning their transaction².. Tellingly, government bodies have already switched on to the benefits of technology on the home buying process; HM Land Registry is now well into its Digital Street project, which explores how new technologies can support a simpler, faster and cheaper experience for home buyers.
For example, technology is increasingly being utilised by law firms to improve efficiencies and cut down on admin time for lawyers. But there is a danger that substituting the ‘human touch’ of an email or phone call with a computer-generated response means valuable relationships with clients degrade over time, leaving more space for competitors to swoop in. And in the current legal market, new entrants are popping up constantly, with many businesses utilising their already wellknown brands to offer legal services and attract clients. For example, the Big Four’s foray into the market has shown how law firms must stay on top of their game and simply cannot afford to rest on their laurels whilst huge, trusted brands with loyal clients and innovative offerings pounce.
As well as providing much sought-after transparency and improved communication, using technology can also significantly speed up a range of processes. For example, using AI to automate routine work means that it can be completed accurately and in as little as half the time that a human lawyer would take, reducing the likelihood of delays and enhancing the customer experience. It also allows conveyancers to dedicate more mental energy to the extremely complex reality of their daily work, which relies upon immense reserves of knowledge and judgement.
Unfortunately for many firms, especially those operating in personal injury and related practice areas, finances and cash flow can dictate how a case is run and this can mean a client’s best interests fall down the list of priorities. Complex personal injury cases can run for many years, with ongoing cost negotiations lengthening the time it takes for a legal team to get paid. Without adequate cash flow management, a firm can find it is continually struggling to keep its head above water and this financial stress can lead to lawyers compromising and settling the case sooner to release much-needed funds.
So, are conveyancers increasingly relying on technology to perform vital day to day tasks? Undoubtedly – but it would be a mistake to claim that this is negatively affecting client relations. On the contrary, judicious technology use is actually freeing up solicitors’ valuable time and allowing them to focus their energy on what’s really important; providing the best possible service for their clients.
Thankfully, there are other options available to firms to ensure they are not caught in this difficult situation where they have to consider their clients’ best interests and their own precarious financial position. Financial solutions, such as our Costs Advance Facility, create flexibility for a firm by providing cash flow certainty. This facility can be used when a case has been won and a draft bill of costs has been issued, yet the firm’s funds are tied up in ongoing cost negotiations. This facility immediately releases the cash, meaning the firm is given the gift of time, not to mention the financial muscle, to negotiate a better settlement for their client. In a fast-changing profession, more and more firms are realising the benefits of these facilities to ensure their clients remain at the core of their work.
The truth is that technology and human interaction aren’t adversaries. Instead, they are both vital, complementary sides of the same coin. There is no doubt that as a profession we should be embracing the latest technological developments with open arms, to add value to our customers’ experience and steal a march on our competitors. Any law firms not doing so risk missing a serious trick. CBRE, LONDON LAW FIRMS EMBRACE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, 24th April 2018 1 https://news.cbre.co.uk/london-law-firms-embrace-artificial-intelligence/ 2 Property Wire, Home buyers want better communication from conveyancers, research suggests, 31st May 2018 https://www.propertywire.com/news/uk/ home-buyers-want-better-communication-conveyancers-research-suggests/
“…the Big Four’s foray into the market has shown how law firms must stay on top of their game…”
“As well as providing much sought-after transparency and improved communication, using technology can also significantly speed up a range of processes” 41
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Quality control of 100% of searches where manual input was involved Full protection for the solicitor and the homebuyer
is Chief Operating Officer at tmgroup
is VP EMEA at DocsCorp
Helping the customer journey
Are we helping or hurting our clients when it comes to sharing their personal data? Without robust processes and systems in place, we would have to say the latter.
With ‘apps’ being used increasingly for communicating between groups of people, it is easy to lose that personal touch and hide behind the technology.
Protecting clients and their personal data is something that every law firm takes very seriously. However, it is difficult to deliver on this mission when we are the weakest link in the protection chain. Clients and governments around the world are responding to the growing problem of data leaks by demanding firms put in place robust processes and systems to prevent them in the first instance, and to inform individuals if a leak has occurred. However, despite new laws and regulations, we continue to read about leaks that result in millions of private and sensitive data items being compromised.
Too often we get dragged into conversations we don’t really need to have on the multitude of WhatsApp groups we belong to and yet somehow get drawn towards what lies behind the red circles. How many times has the wrong message been sent to the wrong group? In business, technology should not be adopted just because it is available, rather consideration should be given as to how it helps the customer journey, streamlines a process or makes information more accessible so people are kept informed and feel empowered.
And the source of these leaks?
Technology, alone does not value you as a customer – it can make things easier but it can’t empathise with your situation. How many times has Alexa proffered ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand the question’ and yet it can always guess what you are thinking of in 20 questions – a great gimmick – however not value added.
Email is the proverbial leaky tap With over 124 billion business email sends on an average weekday, an email data breach is inevitable. In its latest report, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced that data breach incidents in the legal sector rose by 112% between 2016-18, and that human error is the number one source of information leaks.
In most circles, people interchange customer and client with little difference on emphasis. But do they really mean the same thing and how does a business differentiate the terms? Within tmgroup we have recently undergone an internal exercise to do just that. We believe that where there is an ongoing, mutually beneficial partnership between the parties, this professional relationship is defined as being between a client and their supplier. The supplier has a vested interest in doing well for the long-term client and should feel to the client like an extension of their team. Customers on the other hand can tend to imply one of a more transactional and transient relationship. Either way the term is perhaps irrelevant as long as the relationships are well defined and expectations of both sides are understood and delivered upon. As a consumer, I am not sure the terms register differently with me, other than perhaps one of transactional cost.
Most of these errors can be broken down into the following categories: • Missent emails – sending confidential emails to the wrong person is a common occurrence • Hidden metadata – failure to remove harmful metadata from documents before emailing • Improper redaction – sharing confidential documents that have been improperly redacted Not only will firms be subject to severe penalties if they are the source of a data breach but also adverse media attention and legal action for professional negligence are possible, which could lead to clients losing confidence and walking away from the firm. Plug the leak with smart technology Time pressure and heavy workloads for lawyers mean there will always be data leaks, unless we can come up with a solution that is smart enough to recognise risk and intervene in the emailing process when needed.
It is often said that the customer (or client) is always right when we all know that this is often not the case. I’m sure that we have all put ourselves in the position of acting in the right even when we know we are in the wrong – what can we get away with? How do I cover up my mistake? You have to try, don’t you? Ask yourself however what feels right to you when you are on the receiving end of good customer service. When you are listened to. When an effort is made to understand the nature of your problem even if a resolution cannot be offered. When you feel valued, I guess.
This technology exists and here’s how it works. You’re about to send an email to John Doe with a number of confidential documents you marked up the night before. You type John and select the first John from the Outlook autofill and click Send. An alert pops up indicating you are about to email John, but it’s the wrong John, and the attachments still contain your track changes and comments. You click cancel – major data breach averted.
There is a real skill in good customer service where you make the customer feel heard and understood, which doesn’t always have to result in bending over backwards and giving something away for free. We have all experienced the occasional abusive, unreasonable customer I’m sure. In these situations it is important to see the business supporting its staff and not tolerating abusive behaviour. Unreasonable customers are usually a huge drain on time and resource, which could potentially be better spent helping other customers with genuine problems.
“Not only will firms be subject to severe penalties if they are the source of a data breach but also adverse media attention and legal action for professional negligence are possible, which could lead to clients losing confidence and walking away from the firm.” 43
Dr Matthew Terrell
is Business Development Executive at Unoccupied Direct
is Head of Marketing at Justis
Technology to connect and maintain
Understand the difference between your clients and your customers
I have recently been considering my answer to the question: “Are we relying too much on technology and the internet and losing the personal touch in client relations?”
When you need a competitive advantage, understanding the differences between clients and customers is important for both law firms and legal technology firms.
My immediate reaction, in relation to Unoccupied Direct, was absolutely not! Each member of our team works hard to maintain a professional yet compassionate relationship with our clients.
This knowledge enables your product development, marketing and sales teams to understand their differences in needs and interests and therefore how to pitch your arguments, messages and promotional material. You will also understand when and how to tailor your services, offerings and activities to maximise your ROI for your engagement efforts, and all the behind the scenes work that goes into this too!
We provide insurance for homes that have become unoccupied due to probate or the owner moving into care, so it seems only human to us to want to maintain a personal touch when dealing with individuals during a difficult time. This personal touch can be seen in the products and services a business provides. Along with a dedicated customer service team, there is no reason why any client should look back on their experience with anything other than satisfaction.
However, some companies get this very wrong. Other companies such as Justis and vLex have invested a lot of time refining this understanding. This preparation is often the most valuable piece of the puzzle as you can define the unique characteristics, activities and purchasing behaviour of both customers and clients, or endusers as they are often called in technology sectors.
Some businesses may have repeat custom in mind, others may focus on the goal of client growth through good reputation. Regardless, it is a necessary aim to tick as many boxes as possible, when it comes to the needs of those in your professional care.
With a suitable understanding, you will see the difference in how your front of house staff spend their time, often more efficiently focusing on relevant topics for the right audiences, and not sharing large volumes of information to people who are not the decision makers. Ultimately, paying attention to this detail can go a long way and make a lasting impression on your clients and customers.
We do not “rely” on technology, but use it to increase the accessibility of our services. We post on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn regularly, sharing any news that we feel may be of use to our clients. They benefit from receiving updates of any company changes, from opening hours to a release of new policy wordings, which the internet allows us to do.
So what is the difference between clients and customers? Often customers are paying for the services, and clients are using the services. Picture a venn diagram with customers on one side and clients on the other, there are always areas which overlap, where we both buy and use the services. In the legal sector, where many B2B conversations occur every day, it is valuable to embrace the differences of both customers and clients to maximise our time spend with each and to engage with them in the ways they expect and deliver the information and services they need.
Furthermore, we encourage anyone with an enquiry to give us a call or send over an email – we always aim to reply as soon as we are able. But we don’t stop there. When it comes to the solicitors we work with, we are more than happy to arrange a meeting in person to answer any queries. We have created an online service to provide the best experience for our clients, but our face-toface consultations also allow us to explain the product further, along with how to use the website.
At Justis and vLex we have a user-centric approach to our design, development and engagement. This ensures that customers have the information they need to subscribe, use our services and our admin portal, and to access our other supporting resources. In parallel, we offer each end-user the information they need to use and access the vast quantity of legal material on offer.
As a Business Development Executive, I spend the majority of my time out of the office visiting clients. I believe that by meeting in person, I can provide a comprehensive explanation and answer those questions that aren’t always easy to structure into an email. So, this is why I believe that we are not relying too much on technology and the internet and losing that personal touch. A balance is possible and I’m certain Unoccupied Direct is not alone in this thinking.
While it sounds simple, there are many examples of companies not paying attention to the nuances and key differences in the interests and needs of both clients and customers. If you can get it right, the main beneficiary of this effort is you and your company.
“I believe that by meeting in person, I can provide a comprehensive explanation and answer those questions that aren’t always easy to structure into an email”
“So what is the difference between clients and customers? Often customers are paying for the services, and clients are using the services” 45
Alan J Smith FCIM
and authorised HCEO at High Court Enforcement Group Limited
is Managing Director at SIFA Professional
Boosting client experience
Changing a customer into a client Calling a customer a client does not make them one, even if you consider them to be. Only the individual or individuals can truly decide whether they consider themselves a client of your legal practice.
In the digital age where technology is at a client’s fingertips night and day it can be incredibly useful to develop ways for them to have oversight on the progress of their case.
However, the regularity with which a customer buys a service from you is likely to be the determining factor. Buying a service on a one-off transactional basis would certainly make someone a customer, whereas buying services or advice on an ongoing or regular basis might suggest that someone has evolved into a client.
The fact is we have become so used to technology being part of our everyday lives that without it there can be frustration. We have all had our phones die at an inopportune moment or felt the pain of the broadband connection failing during a critical moment when we needed to send an important email. We all know the pain of being left on hold waiting for the answer to a simple question.
As a business, ask yourself this; if someone has bought a legal service or taken legal advice from your firm, are you confident they would return if they need a different legal service of advice in the future? If the answer is yes, then you may have a client. If the answer is no, then you only had a customer.
Embracing technology can help ease this client frustration, so law firms should be looking at how they can make best use of it and be forward thinking in their solutions so that they aren’t left behind when their competition takes strides to improve the way they work and communicate.
In a truly competitive legal services market, regular client contact becomes crucial. This begins with your website and brochures, making sure you accept the challenge of the new SRA Transparency rules to portray your services (not just the compulsory ones) in a clear, confident light. Add academic and personal information about the key people in your firm. Individual details and a face helps personalise the customer experience from the start..
The development of apps, online portals and reporting on the go enables clients to see where, when and how progress has been made with their case as well as who has been working on their case and what the next steps are. This can be particularly useful if documents need to be uploaded, evidence needs to be provided or actions are necessary for the case to move forward.
As a customer, knowing who I will be dealing with, what their responsibilities are and that it will be the same person or persons throughout the process is the next stage in my journey from customer to client. The SRA is putting huge emphasis on concise, jargon free ‘client care letters’ and this is another opportunity to reinforce the message that you want them as a client. Indeed the SRA details in its guidance (https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/ guidance/ethics-guidance/client-care-letters/) what it believes are the main business benefits of quality client care letters and ‘retaining clients’ is front and centre.
At High Court Enforcement Group our Remote Bailiff app provides data-rich quality reporting quickly to clients and we can stream data into a client’s case management system, adding significant value. We also developed a custom-built audio recording function for agents to dictate visit reports and programmed Remote Bailiff to open the phone’s camera, so the agent can take photos and then save them to the app, for inventories and evidence.
After winning the customer’s business, what will be the key to ensuring the customer stays with you as a client? Firstly, you must demonstrate your interest in all the individual’s affairs and not just the immediate legal matter at hand. Secondly, communicate regularly and effectively with them.
The app generates automatic client reports, with the option of a direct overnight feed into the client’s case management system. The app was designed and built in-house, this was because we were very aware that we needed to retain control over the development and scope of the app. The security measures and processes High Court Enforcement Group has put in place reassure us that Remote Bailiff is GDPR compliant.
Showing you have a holistic interest in the customer is important and proper fact-finding will assist you. Might they need complimentary legal services that your firm can offer, or perhaps other ancillary advice you can facilitate by a referral to trusted partners such as financial planning or accountancy professionals? This shows you are treating them as a client not a customer and they will appreciate the distinction.
Keeping abreast of technology and embracing change requires all clients and employees to be on board and therefore robust training and development opportunities must always be considered when making significant changes and for this to be part of a wider marketing opportunity for the business.
Developing your knowledge of the client will assist you with effective and ongoing communication. Material available from your financial planning partners, for example, can provide opportunities linked to your work in areas such as estate planning, divorce or trustee investment.
“The fact is we have become so used to technology being part of our everyday lives that without it there can be frustration”
Ahead of November really is the time to ask, honestly, as a solicitor’s business, do we really have a client bank or a collection of files on one-time customers. If the answer is the latter now is the time to act and there is no doubt that quality financial planning partners can help you change that customer into a client.
Your Expert Conveyancing Partner At Searches UK, we like to think of ourselves as your outsourced conveyancing department with a proven track record in helping solicitors grow their own business. We aim to bridge the gap between technology and customer service by providing innovative technical solutions but with that personal touch when needed. We have the most comprehensive range of residential and commercial searches in the market and you can also save time and money with our extensive range of value added benefits.
Why not call for a chat today to see how we can add value to your business call 0800 043 1815 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Hugh Koch
is Professional Services Director at Insight Legal Software Ltd
is Professor in Law and Psychology at Birmingham City University
Internet and the personal touch
Client Psychology: ‘win-win’ connections Who is our client? Understanding ‘customer-supplier’ (C-S) interaction is crucial to managing a successful law firm. Regular day-to-day communication can be with a claimant, barrister, expert witness, legal colleague, insurer, court representative or judge.
Are we relying too much on technology and the internet and losing the personal touch in client relations? That depends largely on a firm’s overall business strategy. A cost leadership strategy is likely to favour reliance on technology and repetitive processes over client contact as a means of achieving profitability. That said, most law firms choose (or claim) to pursue a strategy of difference, based on client service. The client experience is key to ongoing profitability of a firm and personal touch is an important element.
All have implicit or explicit expectations of us with accompanying standards for how these expectations are to be met. These C-S links can cause conflicts for example, the claimant and medicallegal expert may disagree as to how they and we have interpreted inconsistencies in the claimant’s self-report. Similarly, the judge may disagree with how we and the claimant have interpreted timescales and reasons for the delay in document submission. The provision of information and written evidence and the timescales for this frequently cause conflict and hence frustration in one of more of the civil litigation ‘players’.
To help answer the question it is necessary to analyse the workflow pertaining to different matter types. A step-by-step process from file opening to file closure to understand where added-value human interventions sit alongside technology-driven activity. Take a conveyancing transaction, a solicitor may provide personal and authentic updates at certain time intervals or/and when critical milestones are reached.
Sometimes, lawyers deliver the legal expertise that is needed by one or more of their customers, but fail to deliver the service they expected or wanted – so which is more important, the service or the knowledge/legal outcome? Clearly, we need to meet and exceed expectations in both product and service wherever we can.
Industries similar to legal are relevant too, as they can shine a light on where a consumer might expect to be led by technology, rather than a person. Insurance is one example. Consumers are very comfortable disclosing initial personal information from their keyboard. In fact, a law firm client today may frown if they were asked to come in to provide basic file opening details!
A survey in the NHS many years ago indicated that the happiest customer (i.e. patient) was the one where initially the doctors had made a mistake, which was then acknowledged and resolved/ put right. On one occasion, a hospital had made a big mistake, providing poor clinical service – they took the feedback very seriously, and changed practices – the offended, but now astounded, patient gave the hospital £10,000!!
My personal view is that people only rail against technology when it ‘fails to behave itself’ AND when there is no one available to help. An effective escalation procedure is vital. The question is not so much about losing the personal touch, rather the client being able to speak to someone at a time of their choosing or need, and not the other way around. First Direct is a good example, HMRC perhaps less so!
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is – get it wrong, put it right and have a happy customer for life! Seriously though, with multiple customer-types, the quality and psychologically minded lawyer needs to apply core values of ‘getting it right first time’ and ‘putting each customer first’ but understanding that in the legal context ‘customers’ will be competing for best service and ‘win-win’ situations can be complex.
The balance between ‘tech touch and human touch’ is one we face in our business at Insight Legal. As a supplier of practice management software to law firms, client support is key to our success. We don’t place our customers on long-term contracts. We listen to them, encourage engagement and feedback, so that every new software release includes features that will make users working lives easier.
The impartial legal professional has a duty to the court to be balanced and fair, a duty to fully acknowledge and give balanced opinion on all available facts, and a duty to the claimant to be empathetic and hear their story before providing a robust service which helps the court resolve the dispute. The psychology of civil justice requires a clear understanding of the psychology of each customer and how expectations of each may conflict.
At the end of the day, the balance to be struck between technology as a client service enabler, as opposed to a barrier, is an ongoing discussion within a firm’s executive team. If at any time a firm is unsure if its approach is too far one way or the other, then why not ask the clients themselves. Now there’s a novel idea…
It is also essential that, all legal parties, judges, barristers, like their lawyer colleagues, share and enhance their awareness of this crucial aspect of civil claims.
“The client experience is key to ongoing profitability of a firm and personal touch is an important element”
“The psychology of civil justice requires a clear understanding of the psychology of each customer and how expectations of each may conflict” 49
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Forget ‘know your client’ – do you really know who your client is? Our resident Tech columnist Charles Christian writes…
ompliance, compliance, compliance. Yes, we all know it is important and that legal practices must follow the regulations about “knowing your client” to ensure you don’t inadvertently find your firm helping to launder drug money for the Elbonian* mafia. And, naturally, there is plenty of nifty technology available to help automate the know-your-client and antimoney laundering compliance procedures. But, this is only part of the story. Knowing your client for compliance purposes and ‘really’ knowing your client for business development and fee generation purposes are two entirely different things – and for the latter, the tools you need are the ability to mine your practice database and accounts records. Let me explain… In many instances your ‘client’ is not a simple entity who uses your firm to handle one matter and then drifts away. Instead, your client is more likely to be a complex entity who uses your firm for multiple matters but in different capacities. For example, in the last couple of years I have used my local law firm in my capacity as the managing director of a company negotiating a licensing agreement, as an individual involved in litigation, and (along with my wife) exercising our powers of attorney to sell my mother’s house and business. And that’s just me and, frankly, you don’t get much simpler than me! Now not only was I acting in totally different capacities, but I was also dealing with different departments within the firm, so what the property department “knew” about me, would have been entirely different to what the litigation and commercial lawyers knew about me. The question for the firm is: how good are their internal systems and can they capture the complete picture of me? For example, given my age (I’m not only simple, I’m also ancient) and my changed circumstances, might I want to review my will and inheritance planning? Have they picked up on the fact I’m also
“Knowing your client for compliance purposes and ‘really’ knowing your client for business development and fee generation purposes are two entirely different things…”
an author and therefore have various rights issues I need to legally safeguard? And of course, it is not just about me but also all the hundreds of other clients they have on their books. If you don’t really know who your client is, you are not in a position to proactively up-sell or cross-sell your client other products and services your firm may be able to offer. There is however also a second side to really knowing your client and that is understanding how much they are really worth to the firm. The big issue here is not the total amount of fees they generate but their profitability. In other words, you may think a particular client is a major source of fees but is this really the situation when you accurately take into account all the overheads? Then you could find they are actually far less profitable than you first imagined. And that’s without getting into the whole aged-debtor analysis scenario of can a firm afford to have major clients who take 12 months to settle their bills and whether it would be better for cash-flow purposes to have smaller clients who pay promptly. Here are some statistics to chew over as I bring this latest column to a close – and these statistics relate to professionals’ services generally, not just law firms…
is a former practicing barrister who has been writing about law and legal technology for longer than he cares to remember and still talks about tech and geek stuff on Twitter at @ChristianUncut
• 15 percent of clients generate 45 percent of turnover (i.e. total fees billed) and 70 percent of profits • 25 percent of clients generate 35 percent of turnover and 20 percent of profits • 60 percent of clients generate 20 percent of turnover and 10 percent of profits Your challenge is to be able to identify which of your clients fall into each category – and then to do something to improve this position. Now that is really knowing your client! * Elbonia is a fictional nation that appears in the Dilbert cartoon series
Two reasons for sleepless nights? According to Phoenix Legal Services’ Stephen Averill, there are many things keeping the world of costs awake at night. Here he shares two of them with Modern Law.
he first concern I’d like to share is the immortal question “When will there be coherent guidance on the new test of Proportionality?”
To be blunt, there won’t be. The problem with guidance is that it is general in nature and is only beneficial to cases that are identical in circumstance. The challenge raised by a paying party to a Costs Judge is: “The costs in this case are disproportionate and so need to be reduced.” What does the Costs Judge then do? The Judge will delve into the facts of the case and will weigh up the appropriate factors set out in CPR 44.4. The Judge may ask questions of the parties if the assessment is taking place in person. Otherwise the Judge will make a decision based upon the specific facts of that particular case. End of Story! The decision is therefore unique as no two cases are identical. The only guidance required by practitioners is that contained within CPR 44.4. If there is to be a proportionality challenge then a receiving party should be asking themselves this: “How can I use my knowledge of the case to persuade the court that the time and effort I have expended on this case is proportionate?” Once again this is answered by delving into the individual facts and circumstance of the
“If there is to be a proportionality challenge then a receiving party should be asking themselves this: ‘How can I use my knowledge of the case to persuade the court that the time and effort I have expended on this case is proportionate?’” case and cross referencing it against CPR 44.4. There should no longer be any calls for coherent guidance as we have enough contained within the rules to help us. The second point is about technological improvements. Over the years these have allowed the profession to make huge strides in streamlining processes and making itself more efficient. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the benefits of things that improve the way we work. Sadly, there is a limit as to how far technology can go before it becomes counter-productive. Take the new electronic bill – oh! I can hear the groans. It is one of the most unwieldly pieces of software created which has replaced something that actually worked perfectly well. There is an acceptance that the new form of bill takes considerably longer to prepare than the one it replaced. Every item, including routine items, now
“The problem with guidance is that it is general in nature and is only beneficial to cases that are identical in circumstance” 55
have to be individually identified. There is also an acceptance that the time to prepare Points of Dispute and Replies will also take longer as the parties are searching through the numerous worksheets. One can only imagine how much extra time will be required for a detailed assessment as the parties and Judge try to navigate around the document on three laptops to find that elusive 6 minutes that has been challenged. There is an old adage – “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”
is Managing Director at Phoenix Legal Services
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The next chapter in conveyancing: The Thirdfort Modern Law Conveyancing Conference 2019 The call went out to conveyancers, looking to deliver a more streamlined and effective customer-focussed service to help plan their conveyancing futures, to attend the Thirdfort / Modern Law Conveyancing Conference 2019. The result was a packed Queen Hotel, in Leeds. Modern Law’s Editor, Pete Ward, reports… Queens Hotel, Leeds, Thursday 4th September 2019. Featuring an interactive interview format, broken into bite-size modules each section of the conference featured panels of industry leaders onstage, discussing and exploring how traditional and current practices can be integrated with rapidly evolving technology advances, to enable firms to offer a modernised customer-led conveyancing service.
CHAIRS FOR THE DAY WERE:
David Gilroy, BSc, MBA, FCIM, MIOD, MPSA, Managing Director at Conscious Solutions. One of the company’s founders, David has personally worked with over 300 law firms on digital marketing strategies, website design, email marketing, lead conversion, social media, SEO, PPC and CRM.
Olly Thornton-Berry, Director at Thirdfort, the headline sponsor for the event. Olly spent six years working in banking and technology investment, before co-founding Thirdfort which aims to improve the process of buying and selling a house to make life easier for both lawyers and their clients.
Hema Hirani, Sales Manager at SearchFlow, ably stood in at the last minute for SearchFlow’s Sales Director Tracy Burtwell who was unfortunately ill on the day. Hema has ten years’ experience in business development, and during the last four years has supported law firms across the country by providing conveyancing search, risk and compliance solutions.
MORNING SESSIONS the longer-term strategies conveyancers will need to consider in a rapidly changing market, fuelled by new tech advances, ultimately which will transform the future of conveyancing.
The first module featured David Gilroy in the Chair, talking with Tom Bridge, Julie Davis and Harvey Harding, they covered the evolution of the conveyancing market, past, present and future, starting with the long-standing traditional ways of conveyancing. Client expectation being one of the things that has changed massively over the last three decades. Then, a client would instruct a solicitor, didn’t write, phone, or call into the office unless summoned to do so. Whereas now the client appears to be on permanent red-alert as far as chasing goes. This led onto the unprecedented speed of change in the last few years, to the present day and beyond. The discussion also touched on
The morning sessions continued with Olly Thornton-Berry taking the Chair. He was joined onstage by three experienced conveyancing gurus in Jonathan Achampong, Christine McClenaghan and Mike Leeman. They discussed change and explored the expectations of the client, while delivering insights into core elements of technology, management consultancy and business planning.
Jodie Keenan, Addleshaw Goddard LLP
Jonathan Achampong, Wedlake Bell
Mike Leeman, Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors
Bruce Lightbody, Addleshaw Goddard LLP
Christine McClenaghan, Thorneycroft Solicitors
Tom Bridge, New Vision Legal
Julie Davis, LCF Residential
Harvey Harding, PM Property Lawyers
AFTERNOON SESSIONS Hema Hirani then took the Chair and introduced Jodie Keenan and Bruce Lightbody to the stage where the discussion covered the day-to-day high-level performance tasks of a conveyancer, and explored the current challenges and opportunities regarding technology, HR, planning and forecasting.
Following lunch, the afternoon session touched briefly on Brexit and media speculation about the ‘as yet unknowns’, consumer confidence and predictions about the property market. It was discussed that during periods of economic downturn, progressive companies put strategies in place before any downturn hits, including not panicking by cutting head count and marketing activity – and looking at more efficient ways of doing things.
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SEARCHES Here, eight expert voices chose from eight questions to share their views, based around the theme: 20/20 vision â€“ the future of the searches industry. From current issues and trends to longterm strategies. From the importance of training to the impact of technology. We may not always agree with what we read, but if it enables us to explore and engage in onward discussion with our colleagues then mission accomplished. So, over to our experts for their viewsâ€Ś
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EA TH SIE AN R S DO AID NE
What are the current issues, trends and realities facing the conveyancing sector today?
How to improve the customer experience is a challenge faced by all legal ﬁrms. We saw the new price transparency regulations introduced earlier this year, with the aim of giving customers more transparency of choice.
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However, many law ﬁrms are struggling, with only 10% offering pricing information and only 4% satisfying the minimum regulatory requirements according to our recent survey. Suddenly becoming a digital expert is easier said than done! Most organisations don’t have the IT resources or budgets required to develop bespoke digital platforms to engage and capture clients. Here, the answer must lie in outsourcing to a trusted partner who understands the needs of law ﬁrms and can provide intelligent, cost effective, technical solutions which can be easily integrated into an existing infrastructure and website. Fortunately, there are solutions available which provide automated responses such as poweredbypie’s Brighter Estimates Instant Quote Calculator to supply quotes on demand.
In the future, with the technology taken care of and with all ﬁrms complying with regulations about transparency of fees, you may well wonder how you will stand out on a ‘level playing ﬁeld’. The fact is that people don’t just buy on price, they want instant communication, rapid response to questions and a high level of customer care. Keeping customers informed with a responsive mobile friendly service, engaging with clients and providing an overall positive, customer centric experience will result in repeat business and recommendations to help organisations thrive and grow.
What strategic improvements will tech advances deliver – such as: cost benefits, speedier processes, greater accuracy, client satisfaction etc?
Advances in technology certainly offer opportunities to speed up the conveyancing process. However, cybersecurity remains one of the most serious threats facing the legal community. To protect clients, law ﬁrms understandably need to trust in any new technology application which has been designed to solve these threats and speed up workﬂows.
Software and technology which enables secure communication between solicitors and clients will be key and multi-factor authentication can now enable solicitor and client to communicate in a secure environment. We anticipate successfully deploying secure What are the current communication systems that require multi-factor issues, trends and authentication in this way, will be a game realities facing the changer for law ﬁrms, resulting in a conveyancing sector smoother, faster client journey and a greater degree of client today? satisfaction. The biggest issues facing the conveyancing sector today relate to the uncertainties that have, principally, being caused by Brexit. Whilst there are inevitably requirements for people to move home or to relocate their businesses there continues to be a reluctance to make ﬁnal decisions in the face of unpredictable circumstances. Until such time as Brexit is resolved and we can return to a state of ‘business as usual’, whatever that means today, there will continue to be transactions that don’t get off the Kevin Johnson has built a career delivering outstanding ground and delays and cancellations to those that do. This makes customer service centered on communications, ensuring it impossible to plan for future growth as the ﬂuctuations are so timely, accurate and relevant messaging. Kevin’s team support severe. Most individuals and companies are taking a much more conservative approach and adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude. conveyancing solicitors across South West London and Surrey
PLANNING FOR GROWTH
with the aim of saving them time and improving efﬁciency to ensure that property matters can be handled as quickly and accurately as possible. He lives in Epsom with his wife Sarah, daughter Freya, two dogs and three cats.
Kevin Johnson is Conveyancing Search Expert & Managing Director at Index Property Information
Will those training to become conveyancers need a new and mixed skill set?
In every sector, rapidly evolving technology, changing market conditions, extreme competition and alternative ways of working necessitate new and mixed skill sets and this is no different with regard to conveyancing. Furthermore, it is no longer sufﬁcient to simply be trained to deliver in the short term; the process of developing skills and experience is ongoing, fundamental and we all have to make time to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, learning new skills as we go.
UPPING THE GAME
Vicky Farrell has worked for SafeMove for over 14 years having started out compiling the CON29DW report and progressing to SafeMove Service Delivery Manager in 2015. Vicky has led the team to achieve strong business results for both team members and customers alike. This is reﬂected in SafeMove achieving Investors in People Platinum, ICS (Institute of Customer Service) Distinction and EFQM UK Excellence winners (European Foundation for quality management). Vicky is committed to people leadership providing a customer service experience second to none through a highly experienced team.
Is e-conveyancing the future?
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It was nearly twenty years ago when I bought my house and it seemed a relatively straight-forward process at the time, i.e. my offer was accepted, appoint a solicitor, deposit some money with the solicitor for searches etc., then sit back and wait. Twenty years later and the process doesn’t seem to have changed much. Certainly, the time taken to complete hasn’t drastically improved and, yet, we now have all this technology in our daily domestic lives as well as corporate applications that have been developed in almost every industry you can think of. Conveyancing must be one of the very few ‘commercial’ processes where, from the consumer’s perspective, technology has provided little improvement. Yes, the consumer can now communicate with their conveyancer quicker and some documentation is electronic, but the overall process is no quicker and that has to change. E-conveyancing must be the future, but all parties will need to subscribe to make it happen not just the conveyancers.
Are ‘robot conveyancers’ a likely reality?
Vicky Farrell is Service Delivery Manager at SafeMove
Robot conveyancing is a cold, clinical phrase but it needs to become a reality for the beneﬁt of the consumer and it’s already starting. If we just look at the searches/title document part of conveyancing, Land Registry have ‘sowed the seeds’ with their initiative of automating the LLC1 and it’s logical that the CON29 should follow. Many other search providers already have efﬁcient automated processes of their products but that’s the issue, there are ‘many’ of them so let’s remove them from the current process! If all required documents were processed centrally then robot conveyancing starts to become feasible. It’s simplistic but a conveyancer could send a request to Land Registry, who then request the documentation from the relevant suppliers. Everything is then ‘handled’ in that portal and returned to the conveyancer. Lenders and other stakeholders would have to up their game but, potentially, we could have conveyances completed in a couple of weeks. Whether robot conveyancers can interpret issues in documents may be a step too far at the moment but it’s not impossible. Yes, it’s a simplistic vision and there’d be many organisations who’d object to protect their own interests but this is progress and it needs to happen for the beneﬁt of the consumer.
Unprecedented tech advances will massively transform the future of conveyancing – true or false?
True! Whatever we say, think, or do, technology is here to stay and it touches our lives in so many ways! With Law ﬁrms now starting to harness technology and embrace its use in the property sector, I feel these advances will transform the future of conveyancing!
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Speed, price and accuracy are the three key areas when buying or selling a property and law ﬁrms who are unable keep pace with modern advances and provide their clients with the latest solutions, will simply fall behind the curve, eventually being unable to compete with ﬁrms who evolve.
Is e-conveyancing the future?
Legal Bricks has looked at this area extensively, and offer a range of solutions to meet the needs and demands of today’s and tomorrow’s conveyancers. We feel the key to delivering these advances, is simplicity. Not overloading law ﬁrms with huge change, but instead, providing incremental amounts of “Tech” which ensure the internal and external user journey is simpler, quicker and inevitably, more cost effective.
No! Certainly not in the next 10 years and maybe beyond this too. Buying and Are ‘robot a house is not an easy process and Solicitors are tasked with a huge conveyancers’ selling role in balancing several key components within the transaction. Sometimes a likely reality? there are no “Right or Wrong” answers to a question or point, instead relying
Over 150 years’ worth of documentation, legislation, change and data capture exists in a non-digitised format. For e-conveyancing to be successful, all this has to be in digitised form so that computers can talk to one another. The difﬁculty of doing this is why the Land Registry proposal to absorb Local Land Charges from nearly 400 district and unitary councils is currently projected to take until 2023. To coin a phrase, this is the tip of the iceberg and is why e-conveyancing may be the future, but possibly not for a decade and certainly not in the immediate near future.
on the creativity, knowledge and understanding of the Solicitor acting for their client.
With Artiﬁcial Intelligence in its ascendancy, I’ve no doubt that this will play a big part in the future of not only conveyancing, but also within legal practice in general. Machine learning will be intrinsic to the future of Conveyancing, where “Bots” will begin to reproduce human actions and learn as technology evolves, and this in-turn will give the law ﬁrms who use it a massive advantage. Processes will become quicker and more accurate and the pulling and pushing of data will happen with greater expediency. My personal vision sees computer technology being used as a counter-part to Solicitors to complement and enhance the user journey, but owing to the complexity and intricacies of law, I do not feel Solicitors will be totally replaced.
Dan Montagnani is SVP and Managing Director at Groundsure
CHANGING LEVEL OF EXPECTATION
Dan is Managing Director of Groundsure having joined the business in 2005. Dan has spoken on environmental risk at various conferences and events and has a number of publications on the topic and related matters. Dan’s background is environmental risk and liability consultancy having worked on UK and international environmental due diligence projects since 1995 including two and a half years on secondment to Barclays Bank.
What long-term strategies will conveyancers need to consider in a rapidly changing market?
What are the current issues, trends and realities facing the conveyancing sector today?
Some say that the pace of change in the conveyancing industry is at a level not ever seen before. Technological advances have led to a wave of a new services, products and process, with conveyancers and search companies developing digital solutions to speed up transaction times and make them more secure. However, legal and regulatory changes designed to bring greater security and prevent fraud are to some degree, slowing things down. Whilst there is a lot of positive change compared to other sectors, ours still lags in terms of modern-day expectation of immediacy – current average turnaround time for residential transactions in the UK is reported to be 16-17 weeks.
With 50% of the next wave of homebuyers comprising millennials, conveyancing needs to better adapt in order to meet future customer expectation. Millennials live in an increasingly automated, fast-moving world where instant messaging makes email seem slow and where customer dissatisfaction is freely shared on social media. So how does the conveyancing search industry respond to this changing level of expectation? At Groundsure we don’t have all the answers, but we do believe it is important that we play our part. We continue to innovate our product set focusing on speed and user experience whilst maintaining the rigorous high standards brought about by the most complete, big data. Behind the scenes we are continuing to evolve our algorithms and artiﬁcial intelligence giving more accuracy and speed to the interrogation of data. In-product our customers are now familiar with our clean unfussy dashboards with signposted next steps. Our goal is always clear and simple, customer risk certainty.
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But as we all race towards a visionary world of machine learning, robots and automation it is hugely important to remember the quality and value that our people continue to bring. Algorithms are only as good as the human minds that engineered them. Utopia is not unilateral automation – for Groundsure it is the precise deployment of automation where it can bring better service and customer outcomes. Our people remain our greatest asset and where our customers have complex environmental risk issues we know that it is our human rather than machine intelligence that will deliver the solution. The similarity here between conveyancing and searches here is striking.
Which advances do you anticipate will become ‘the norm’ in conveyancing practice – tech and/or non-tech related?
We are anticipating a push towards more data being made available earlier in the transaction in alternative, machine-readable formats to increase efﬁciencies for both the conveyancer and mortgage lender. With a signiﬁcant amount of information such as searches and title information not being identiﬁed until the conveyancing process is well underway, it’s no wonder that our fall through rate is so high. Having more information available at an earlier stage means the homebuyer can be more conﬁdent in their decision to buy, as there is less chance of an issue being identiﬁed down the line that would impact their decision; such as a restrictive covenant coming to light that means they can’t park a commercial vehicle on their drive or an uncapped chalk mine entry in their garden for example. It also means that mortgage lenders can give a more accurate decision in principle, reducing instances where purchasers pull out mid-way through the process as an issue has been identiﬁed that doesn’t ﬁt their lending criteria or risk appetite.
There is huge potential to change the way information is provided within the conveyancing process, particularly environmental information, which has become stale over the past ten years with little innovation or advancement. This is where Terraﬁrma is investing its resources to positively impact the transaction process as a whole and advance the availability and quality of data.
What strategic improvements will tech advances deliver – such as: cost benefits, speedier processes, greater accuracy, client satisfaction etc?
Conveyancing is viewed as the riskiest practice area, and there is the potential for technology and innovation to decrease some of these risks that are currently being shouldered by the law ﬁrm. Using the Terraﬁrma CON29M as an example, by including more data and interpretation with no extra cost, we have reduced risk for the law ﬁrm, made the process quicker, saved administrative costs for the ﬁrm and client, and therefore increased satisfaction. The same can be said for many different parts of the process – there have been some interesting entrants to the market for ID and source of funds veriﬁcation, document management systems, e-signatures and post completion, all aiming to reduce risk through automation, using more accurate data, and bringing efﬁciencies to law ﬁrms.
What are the current issues, trends and realities facing the conveyancing sector today?
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There is no denying the disruption that Brexit is having on the property market. There is talk of leaving with no deal, talk of asking for an extension, talk of a snap election – lots of talk, but ultimately the home buying and selling public are as much in the dark as the rest of us, causing many prospective buyers and sellers to ‘wait and see’. With the market in the doldrums since the referendum in June 2016, and house prices rising at a slower pace than we’ve seen in the past, it seems that only ﬁrst-time buyers are making much of a dent in terms of transaction numbers. Cybercrime brings ever-increasing dangers and the conveyancing sector is particularly susceptible, with increased fraud affecting buyers, sellers, conveyancers on both sides and even lenders. Great steps have been taken to mitigate these risks and most conveyancers are going the extra mile to ensure compliance and protect their clients (as well as their own) interests and money.
Unprecedented tech advances will massively transform the future of conveyancing – true or false?
Technology continues to evolve at pace, and there are some exciting new changes, including electronic signatures being accepted, the ﬁrst UK properties being purchased using Bitcoin, blockchain encryption being used to exchange contracts digitally and the digitisation of HM Land Registry. It’s certainly true that the technology is available for forward thinking ﬁrms to take advantage of. However, in terms of the conveyancing industry changing radically, that very much depends on how keenly conveyancers embrace the technology – not to mention how deep their pockets are in terms of investment.
Tracy Burtwell is Sales Director at SearchFlow
Are ‘robot conveyancers’ a likely reality?
Tracy Burtwell joined SearchFlow in October 2018 as Sales Director. She came to the business with more than twenty years senior sales experience, including board-level responsibilities with Linde Materials Handling, Briggs Equipment and Viridor. At SearchFlow, Tracy utilises her extensive experience in supporting the company’s account management, portfolio and awardWhat strategic improvements will winning customer services teams, tech advances deliver – such as: cost to successfully put in to action the benefits, speedier processes, greater strategic sales plans.
What are the current issues, trends and realities facing the conveyancing sector today?
There are already businesses offering automated conveyancing processes and given that a lot of the conveyancing process can be broken down into stages, it’s entirely feasible and indeed cost effective for some of the more straight-forward processes to be completed by digital software robots. By fostering innovation in the delivery of legal services, there’s no doubt that systems can be improved and streamlined to offer a more cost effective and client friendly service. However, experience and expertise cannot be replaced by automated systems and ultimately, regardless of the tools used and processes followed, the buck stops with the conveyancer.
accuracy, client satisfaction etc?
There are many realities facing the conveyancing sector today. Transactions are becoming protracted despite many areas of the process now being quicker than ever before. Why is that? One reason is that more due diligence is now expected than it was a decade ago. Property lawyers are, by their very nature, risk averse and there to ensure no nasty surprises appear post-completion. Reliable sources of data for this due diligence are therefore important, along with a way to ensure any risks are adequately insured against. With elongated transactions, an increase in aborted transactions, concerns relating to risk, fraud, cyber security – and all this against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty surrounding Brexit - it’s clearly a challenging time for our industry. That’s why it is essential to provide assurances that property professionals are accessing the best products and solutions that are going to mitigate risk.
Technology, software and online services should be seen as an enabler – we shouldn’t expect legal professionals to become data scientists or technologists to drive efﬁciencies in their practice. These tools should augment their role, and this is where suppliers and external software partners come into play. For us, we want to support our clients in cutting out the laborious administrative processes that take-up their valuable time, as well as enable their decisions to be qualiﬁed by authoritative data and insight at the easiest possible stages in a transaction. One example is how we’ve applied AI technology around image and text recognition and interpretation. In doing so, we have created a more automated approach to identifying properties from location plans and title deeds, removing a great deal of manual work that previously required manual interventions. Improvements like this are already delivering efﬁciencies to the sector, without legal professionals needing specialist training or technologicalknow-how; it just works under the bonnet, removes administrative effort, and delivers a swifter service to the ultimate end-customers the home buyer or seller - which can only be a good thing.
10 MINS WITH
HELEN HAMILTON-SHAW Q A
Has the industry changed drastically since you started working in it?
Life would be so boring if things stayed still, so thankfully, yes! If I just think in relation to our network, one thing that really stands out is the professionalisation of law firm management. When I first started out most firms still operated with a Managing or Senior Partner (or both) at the helm, with even the most mundane decision-making needing to include all the partners. Very few firms had professional finance, IT, HR, Marketing & BD or other business specialists working in them. Or if they did, they were relatively junior. Roll forward 15 years and the landscape looks completely different. The majority of our firms now have Management Boards with delegated authority for decision making. It’s common for Finance, HR & BD specialists to sit on those boards and a number also have professional CEO’s in place. LawNet has always encouraged this and the impact on firms has been clear to see, with members demonstrating more sophisticated leadership and management approaches delivering great results. What has been the key positive, or negative, impact of change in your area of the market?
“The impact of truly focusing on the needs of your clients and your people are powerful drivers for change”
Second is the changing nature of the relationship law firms have with their workforce. Our firms are embracing leading edge leadership thinking and focusing on making their firms great places to work. The impact of truly focusing on the needs of your clients and your people are powerful drivers for change.
Who inspires/inspired you and why?
I’ve always been inspired by those who don’t follow the crowd, and do things differently – the trailblazers. When I was growing up Kate Adie was a particular heroine of mine. She was such a strong, independent role model, doing important work and refusing to be defined by stereotypical notions of what a woman should or shouldn’t be doing. Although, I think my parents were very grateful when I decided war reporting was not for me! What has been the most valuable piece of advice given to you?
I’m lucky that my role requires me to spend a huge amount of time researching the latest ideas, thinking and innovations so I have been exposed to a lot of advice over the years! But one thing that really sticks out is to always “Be a learner”. Eric Hoffer, the American philosopher wrote: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” I cannot imagine a time when that was truer than now, with the challenges and change the profession is facing. If you were not in your current position, what would you be doing?
LawNet members are mid-market firms with the majority ranging in size from £2M - £25M annual turnovers. Two key positive trends stand out for me; the first has been the increasing focus on client experience and service. Our firms are committed to putting the client at the heart of their businesses and use the support we provide them with to create holistic programmes of measurement and improvement. We all know that what gets measured is what gets done and the LawNet Excellence Mark programme proves that is true. Our latest white paper focuses on the work our firms have done in this area and the insights demonstrate clearly the positive impact of building a client focused strategy, something we encourage members to continually refine and develop.
I’m fascinated by how the brain works, psychology and neuroscience. I’m always trying to work out what drives people to make the decisions they make so I think I’d probably explore a career in those fields.
“I’ve always been inspired by those who don’t follow the crowd, and do things differently – the trailblazers” 66
is Member Engagement & Strategy Director at LawNet
Announcing new updates to
The Terrafirma Ground Report Terrafirma has recently launched a major update to its standard-setting Ground Report, making it the first domestic search product to provide detailed, property-specific information on the risks from clay-related subsidence and trees â€“ a major cause of building damage in the UK.
Now including the following features: Improved clay subsidence risk assessment, with new data from Cranfield University, including future climate change scenarios and improved purchaser recommendations The addition of a comprehensive clay subsidence module, using advanced modelling to portray potential zones of influence from nearby trees
Terrafirmaâ€™s unique sinkhole alert forms part of the front page location map, providing up-front information on recorded collapses near to the property
A revised Natural Ground Perils module which identifies the likely risks from slope movement as well as any mapped landslide areas which may affect the property
Further information For more information about the Terrafirma Ground Report and for a sample please visit: www.terrafirmasearch.co.uk Call us on: 0330 900 7500 or email us at: email@example.com