The most important change the real estate practice has seen in recent years is the advance of technology. However, I think it is underused by lawyers to their own and their clients’ detriment. Most technologies are already available on the lawyer’s desktop but like many telephone users, the full gambit of features is not being utilised.

Technology allows for faster, more efficient client and file management. This likely means a more profitable file for the lawyer and a better experience for the client. Satisfied clients pay their lawyers; return with other work; and provide referrals to family and friends.

Minimizing risk in your office
An emerging risk management issue is the need to be compliant on matters of cyber security, privacy and confidentiality. Lenders are facing increasing compliance regulations and are requiring their suppliers (i.e. real estate lawyers) to meet the same standards. In the very near future, not only will we need to be compliant but we will need to demonstrate and confirm that compliance to lenders.
Interestingly, most of the features which would provide the benefits mentioned above are in programs lawyers already have.

Document generation software is a good example. Since the registration process was digitized and automated it has been necessary for real estate lawyers to adopt and adapt to this new environment. An equally important part involves the preparation of all the other documents. From the initial letter to clients, authorizations and directions for searches and procedures, to the reporting letter – all can be automated with the appropriate software. No need to rely on preparing manual Word or WordPerfect precedents. As well, your notes and procedures are easily captured in case evidence of discussions and a client’s instruction is required.

Administrative advantages
Automated data intake processes where clients provide the information required for the file are becoming more prevalent. Many lawyers now send a word processing file by email to the clients and ask them to enter their information so the lawyer can cut and paste it into his or her system. In fact, Adobe Acrobat permits a fill-in form with error checking capabilities which can automate the transfer of the information into the lawyer’s system. Today, there are web and cloud based services that facilitate clients inputting their own data, monitoring the progress of their file, getting crucial and timely information and answering questions to provide the lawyer with authorisations and direction. Once set up, these services require little manual input by the lawyer and provide better information to the client.

On the lookout for fraud
A number of tools can help you avoid fraud. The satellite view on Google maps shows the property and adjoining lands, while street view allows you to see the property as if standing on the curb. Seeing the property allows you to confirm the type of property, whether there is a shared driveway and other details. Also, you can search the names of parties to the transaction against some known fraud scenarios on the AvoidAClaim blog. Municipalities are increasingly making building compliance and zoning information available online so you can confirm information the clients provide or request. In the near future, tax and other municipal and agency information, important to our clients and the due diligence required in the transaction, will likely become available at the click of a mouse.
Working with lenders and clients

Many lenders are now instructing electronically. Are you signed up to receive your instructions in this fashion? If not, why not? Data can transfer into your system, efficiently, profitably and with less risk of error.

Electronic agreements of purchase and sale are now legal in Ontario. Is this any different than receiving a faxed copy? Well, at least documents will be more legible than multi-copied and faxed versions and, more importantly, you can take advantage of digitally transferring the information into your client and file management systems.

Teranet has promised a new cloud-based version of Teraview software. What other innovations will be possible once this new version is available? Better data integration? Most assuredly better online security.

All in all, technology, if adopted and used to its fullest can make client and file management easier, more efficient and less cumbersome than the manual systems we grew up with. The client experience and service level will be improved since more time is available for answering questions and personal advice. The risk management of the transaction becomes a by-product of better efficiency and a better client experience.

We must remember that we are a service industry. Clients are generally willing to pay for better service. Why not distinguish yourself by your service. A more mobile and tech-savvy public is embracing technology and expecting the same from you. As technology becomes better, cheaper and easier to use, we should adopt and adapt to provide the public with the smoothest experience we can.

This article by Ray Leclair (VP, Public Affairs at LAWPRO) originally appeared in the April 22, 2016 issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

Categories: Real Estate, Technology