Inadvertent Negligence in Conveyancing Can be Easily Mitigated
By Simon Farthing, Head of Client Advising
Figures released by the SRA show that negligence has cost solicitors almost £2 billion in the last decade. A staggering amount, and in context enough money to pay for the NHS’ Birmingham flagship hospital four times over or enough to build 33,200 social homes.
You may not be so shocked to hear that conveyancing accounts for nearly half that amount. The report identified that the root causes included work being completed by unqualified staff without suitable supervision, inadequate risk practices, pressures to complete large volumes of work quickly, and the amount of client money linked to conveyancing transactions.
The sad reality is that most of the key issues identified can easily be resolved or their risk reduced via the smart use of technology. What is perhaps worse is that most firms already deploy some form of case management solution, which could assist but potentially they aren’t optimising its usage.
Streamlined and automated administrative processes
The conveyancing market is highly competitive, no longer the bastion of the high-street practice alone, it is filled with firms that are focused on delivering the best price and completing the greatest number of transactions. Profit margins are wafer thin and the administrative burden of managing a matter is becoming increasingly high. There is good news though, the majority of the processes surrounding the routine case are repetitive, repeatable and definable, and hence easily automated.
Take the example of submitting searches, such as the local authority or environmental searches. Some firms are still carrying out these searches by printing out and completing the forms manually and then submitting them through the post, and paying for them by cheque. Even in cases where firms use search provider websites, they are often required to manually key in property details and file references, choose the right search type, upload an appropriate plan and effectively duplicate all the details previously entered on the case file. There are of course a number of steps that can be taken to improve this – using the firm’s case management system to generate all the documentation from its database, or even better, integrating it with the chosen search providers, so that searches can be easily generated and tracked. Similarly, the case management system can be connected to electronic registration with e-DRS offered through the Land Registry’s business to business transactional channel – Business Gateway. This allows the conveyancing firm to automate key chunks of the process – from accessing Land Registry information, through to creating and submitting applications in XML format. Even if you are using electronic registration already, integration with case management will minimise the manual effort of inputting information into the e-DRS portal with the case management system automatically processing the details of the transaction into Land Registry’s format and delivering the results within seconds via the e-DRS. Simple steps such as these avoid duplication of effort, reduce the possibility of miss-keyed information and make key steps much more traceable to eliminate unnecessary delay or omissions.
Good communication for strong client relationships
With so many firms for clients to choose from, conveyancers need to undertake a concerted effort to establish the best possible relationships with clients in the earliest stages of transactions. According to the Legal Ombudsman, key areas of customer complaint are around delays, failure to return calls, poor execution of instruction, and mislaid documents. In today’s always-on world and instant communication capability, poor communication is indeed unacceptable, especially because it is easily addressed. Today, firms can communicate in a number of ways, be it through web portals, texts messages or emails at key stages of the transactions. Also, conveyancing software solutions can embed such capability alongside reminders to call and follow up with clients when things are becoming stale. Clients can upload and download key documents at the times that they need them rather than being restricted to core office hours. With more efficient processes comes the opportunity to spend more time talking to customers.
Firms can be operationally efficient and eliminate mistakes by ensuring consistent processes and good supervision. Conveyancers must look to exploit the workflow technology offered by their case management systems to make continuous improvements to business processes. Using workflow to generate the right management information to identify common delays and inefficiencies allows continuous fine-tuning of those defining processes.
Optimised skills and resources
Good people are key to any customer facing process, but as we know human resources are the most expensive part of any business and often staff are not used in the right, or most efficient way. Time and again the most expensive resource to the firm, the solicitors and senior lawyers are undertaking mundane, administrative tasks due to lack of business processes and poor distribution of work. This also has the effect of demotivating and reducing job satisfaction, which in turn can have knock-on effects on customer service, as well as hit the recruitment and retention of staff. Using workflow, processes for resource allocation can be defined. This means that the system automatically assigns the right cost resource to the work, facilitating profitability – and that same system can be used to offer support through guidance and escalation at key stages for the less experienced employees in delivering best practice.
Furthermore, by leveraging the automation or robot capabilities for document generation, task chasing and risk escalation in the case management system; non-profitable processes can be eliminated.
The right price doesn’t always mean the cheapest rate. Better processes ensure less cost leakage, with the right resource doing the right tasks. Consequently, case workers and fee earners have the time to focus on customer experience, which clients value. If the service is valued, customers pay for it and the firm’s good reputation often drives demand.
Embedding risk management into business processes
Conveyancers can embed risk management and negligence pre-emption into the conveyancing process with workflow technology. For instance, they can build in controls and automatic reminders into the case management system to ensure that schedules are adhered to, supervisory checks executed to guarantee that searches and surveys are suitably carried out, that funds and offers of lending have been received and processed and that the right advice is delivered to clients on title and contract. The adoption of due diligence processes to validate and record client’s identity, check against professional conflicts can also be built in to the process. This also has the secondary effect of helping negotiate better indemnity premiums and reducing the cost at renewal through a better claims history.
A conveyancing business has to be highly efficient and supremely productive to maximise profitability. Automation of core business processes is the only way to achieve this – everything from conveyancing workflows and document production through to key data management, user ‘to-do-lists’, reporting and management information, as discussed above. All this does not detract from the skills of conveyancers, but enables them to focus on the more taxing issues and be more client focused. Many conveyancing firms already have automation capabilities in the form of case management systems and accounting and financial management systems, but their use isn’t optimised. Technology simply delivers a slick business operation It’s worth revisiting the firm’s system to determine where improvements and enhancements can be made so that the operation is underpinned by a platform that aids growth and facilitates business adjustments, as a matter of routine.
Originally appeared on Inside Conveyancing.