Conveyancing is ripe for automation

The world of conveyancing is a mystery to most people who see it as not much more than legal paper shuffling which causes delay, costs money and creates frustration.

In fairness to the legal profession, many of the problems are caused by factors beyond its control. For example, local authority searches can take longer than they should and are fraught with difficulty. They are often inefficient, overpriced and restrictive.

In an ideal world, everyone should have access to the same local authority information at the same price for both pre-packaged and packaged data. You don’t have to be a genius to see that the provision of such a service will be fundamental to the success of Home Information Packs.

Stripped to its basics, conveyancing is a process of information exchange and therefore ripe for automation. The Land Registry has not been slow to pick up on this and is hard at work implementing a project it says will make conveyancing easier for all. The Land Registry says its mission is to transform the conveyancing service in England and Wales and improve the buying and selling process for the public. It’s vision is to “deliver a world class conveyancing service where the worry and risk of the process are significantly reduced” and where “authorised parties involved in a conveyancing transaction can exchange information quickly, securely and reliably with each other”. Excellent. May the force be with it.

The development of a fully automated e-conveyancing system will take between three and five years. The first phase is the development of what is known as a chain matrix. This will allow everyone involved in a property sale to track their progress along the chain using a secure portal.

The chain matrix is being piloted in Portsmouth, Fareham and Bristol between this autumn and next summer. This will be the first step in a five-stage implementation programme. The next phase will be to develop electronic funds transfer and electronic signature facilities.

E-conveyancing is still in its early days but the vision is to allow all parties in property transactions to complete the process online. This is a heady ideal but one that is well worth pursuing. The legal profession cannot discard its quill pens and curly wigs just yet but it might be time for lawyers to start brushing up on their keyboard skills.