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The exceptional evolution of e-conveyancing

As e-conveyancing and e-settlement spaces become more digital and efficient, the industry in Australia is changing. Here’s what it means for lawyers moving forward.

user iconLauren Croft 16 June 2023 Big Law
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For the world of e-conveyancing and e-settlements, 2022 was a “year of contrast” — and in March this year, there were reportedly hopes to see more optimism in the space in 2023.

This was noted by Sympli chief executive Philip Joyce on an episode of LawTech Talks, who said that “the environment has changed over the last year” and that more and more conveyancers would be thinking through whether to outsource, how to improve processes, and how to attract and retain staff.

Following these developments, Lawyers Weekly spoke to three e-conveyancing professionals to get their take on the state of the current market and what will constitute best practice for lawyers in this space moving forward.

 
 

SettleIT general manager Daniel Petrucci confirmed that the e-conveyancing market “has evolved exceptionally in recent years”.

“Key drivers have been the obligation to meet e-conveyancing mandates, settlement efficiency gains and adapting to post-COVID life, which accelerated digital adoption, generally. We have seen state governments in Australia transition from paper-based practices to fully electronic conveyancing through mandates. Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia led the charge, with Queensland the latest state to mandate in February 2023.

“We are now at a point where the majority of property transactions in Australia are processed electronically. Clients expect more from their lawyers. Gone are the days where you would request a client attend your offices to go through and sign a contract for sale,” he explained.

“Lawyers rarely use their office boardrooms anymore to see clients. These days, the client expects that a lawyer will be engaged and communicate remotely with them, that they use the best technology, that documents can be signed digitally and securely. That emails be responded to the same day and proper payment platforms be used to handle funds.”

In addition to the mandate in Queensland, LodgeX CEO and founder Kathy Constan said a number of other states were making major moves towards digitisation.

“WA has been developing its e-conveyancing hub and is in the process of removing paper certificates of title, Victoria is also soon to convert all paper certificates of title to electronic, NSW has introduced its ePlan portal, and SA is undertaking key work in the understanding and resolving settlement pain process.

“There is also the ongoing conversation and action surrounding interoperability as Australia moves closer towards reaching the Day 1 and Day 2 milestones.

“Together with the regulatory and operational movements, there are also a number of ancillary technology solutions emerging, which will continue to impact the e-conveyancing industry,” she explained.

More and more innovative products and solutions are emerging, designed to remove the traditional pain points in the conveyancing process. These include processing solutions, VOI solutions, [and] contract and document creation solutions, alongside the traditional workflow and CRM solutions. Technology products are focusing on specific solutions and are designed to assist practitioners to be more efficient and compliant with fewer errors.”

Love Homes Conveyancing principal Robin Carter also noted the mandate in Queensland — and said that this means that settlements can now be “efficiently conducted in an electronic workspace” across all states.

“This development brings about significant benefits, including enhanced standardisation and efficiency for all involved parties. Notably, investors seeking interstate opportunities may find this particularly advantageous. Lawyers should be aware of these key trends in the industry to stay ahead.

“One significant trend is the increasing preference for digital service delivery due to the rise in remote work and a desire to minimise physical contact. As a result, e-conveyancing is gaining prominence, eliminating geographic limitations, and allowing people to search for legal services online. Consequently, the effectiveness of the traditional local referrer model has diminished, emphasising the need to explore diverse channels for acquiring new clients. It is crucial for lawyers to adapt to these evolving dynamics and consider leveraging multiple platforms to attract potential clients.”

The legal e-conveyancing space, in particular, has witnessed significant recent developments, which Mr Carter said have potentially promising prospects for the future.

“One exciting aspect is the increasing integration of technology, such as blockchain and AI, which holds immense potential to enhance security and streamline processes. The astonishing and widespread adoption of AI in various industries and software platforms this year has been remarkable, and its evolution in the legal domain is particularly intriguing,” he added.

“Best practice for lawyers in e-conveyancing involves implementing and maintaining robust cyber security measures throughout the firm and recognising that technology advancements primarily enhance operational efficiency, while clients still prioritise personalised legal advice and solutions.”

Cyber security, Mr Petrucci agreed, should be a “top priority” for everyone, including lawyers and law firms in e-conveyancing.

“Enormous opportunity exists in introducing better processes and mitigating risk where possible. Firms are also looking at ways to reduce the amount of sensitive data they hold,” he said.

Firms that embrace and adapt good technology will best meet their clients’ demands and expectations. Technology is no longer a “nice to have” but more so an expectation of any good business. Clients want to know that their data and personal information is in good hands and there is now higher awareness around security protocols when handling emails.”

In addition, as tech becomes more widely implemented in the profession and in the e-conveyancing space, best practice includes using VOI solutions effectively, and striving for continuous improvement in contract production and management, according to Ms Constan.

“E-conveyancing is rapidly moving towards a connected property process, via technology solutions, taking sellers and buyers on a journey from the initial enquiry/listing to purchase via an agent and then through to the borrowing finance with lawyers and conveyancers interconnected, to advise and complete the process to settlement. The increased connectedness between all the different professionals will mean that this process will become more and more seamless,” she added.

“Lawyers practising in this space need to be across the technology and opportunities to help them streamline their processes and ensure that they maintain their relevance and importance guiding people through what, for many, is the most important financial transaction of their life.”

Moreover, the combined use of technology and service solutions will alleviate regulatory exigencies and free up lawyers’ time as the e-conveyancing landscape becomes more connected than ever before.

“Practitioners are realising that they do not have to do it all to be effective in space. There are a number of very good technology solutions [that] can be implemented into their practices to remove the rote, the mundane and time-consuming regulatory compliance tasks from the process, to enable practitioners to focus on delivery of the legal advisory aspect of the transaction,” Ms Constan added.

“The e-conveyancing industry is becoming more and more connected in a fundamental way with the entire property cycle. The connectedness is bringing together real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lenders and other property professionals as they begin to share technology and work together more cohesively. The entire space is dynamic and evolving rapidly.”