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Technology: friend or foe of the conveyancing lawyer?

22/01/2018
Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

As any conveyancing professional knows, there can be an inordinate amount of time spent pouring over papers and inputting data manually, not to mention the frustration of being part of a sequence of communication very much like the property chain itself, where it only takes one lawyer to go on holiday and all associated proceedings grind to a halt for a fortnight. The real risk of a process where things are dragged out is of course, that the chain may collapse and the sale of the property may not go through at all. And, in an age where so much information is readily available at the touch of a button, it is understandable if clients get a little impatient. 

Most of us would agree that more efficient methods are needed and as a result, in recent years there has been a surge in the number of companies providing technology specifically tailored to the needs of conveyancers, designed to simplify and speed up the most time consuming and intricate processes. For example, firms can easily send documents via secure portal and receive electronic signatures, rather than relying on the return postal system and complex tech that now exists which enables faster and increasingly sophisticated property searches. 

So, are firms making use of the new tools at their disposal? Not according to a recent survey by PwC, which found that 55 of the UK’s top 100 law firms were failing to keep pace with cutting edge technology, with just 11% utilising big data or predictive analytics. However, awareness is certainly increasing: Reuters’ analysis revealed a 484% rise in new legal services patents globally, indicating that while there is a way to go, law firms all over the world are beginning to invest in legal tech.

With clients’ expectations growing, firms must ensure their resources are being utilised in the most efficient way and demonstrate their value add to clients. It’s clear that many firms need to revolutionise in order to compete. But, when this technology would free up lawyers to concentrate on real add-value work, such as providing strategic advice, why are so many, reluctant to embrace it? One reason might be the perceived risk to jobs. However, rather than seeing tech as a threat, firms should recognise its potential to help them grow and actually increase headcount. Conveyancers sit on a wealth of data: proper analysis of it will enable you to capture its innate value and use it to offer more comprehensive consulting services. Matt Taylor, a partner at Clifford Chance, agrees. At a recent roundtable hosted by news resource Legal Futures, he predicted that the shape of law firms will change and “move towards the consultant side” of the property transaction as a result of embracing technology and data. For example, Norton Rose Fulbright’s Newcastle office, already has a hub of lawyers and legal technologists working with process designers and paralegals to trial and apply new legal technologies. 

So, the message to law firms is that the leading players of the future will be staffed and shaped differently. Law practices will almost certainly start to move towards the consultancy side and develop teams which are more system savvy. Try to keep abreast of changes, identify where the landscape is shifting and what it means for your business in terms of required skills and talent. Businesses should be planning strategically, with a view to creating a team of lawyers and those providing technical expertise – such as data scientists or programmers- working closely together. Many firms will chose to enter into partnerships with these service providers. It’s important not to underestimate how quickly we will see these changes: rapid technological developments could mean more traditional companies fail to keep pace and struggle to remain relevant to their clients. The firms that keep abreast of these changes and staff their teams accordingly are the ones that will reap the commercial rewards.

To find out how Clayton Legal can help you plan for the future needs of your firm, contact us today.

Take a look at some of our other blogs to gain more insight into the legal sector.

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