Anyone who has ever bought a house knows that it can be a long and drawn out process, often taking as much as 6 to 8 weeks on average.
The sometimes, quite complex legal process that sits at heart of the transaction goes back decades.
Law firms, either partnering with or competing with technology companies, are finding themselves being driven towards automation of services due to a frustrated millennial market who don’t always want to sit down with a solicitor over a coffee. Instead, a secure online directory to store documents, an automated case tracker, and ‘notifications’ that something has been issued or needs to be signed, has been heralded as the way forward.
PLS Solicitors, a nationwide law firm with offices in Manchester and London, first trialled their online portal a year ago after looking into the technology at the beginning of 2016. Over the last 12-months, they have fine-tuned the internal processes while re-branding their online portal and working on two new apps that are due to be launched shortly.
How does the technology benefit the customer?
One of the first steps in buying or selling a house is the relevant ID and anti-money laundering checks a client will need to go through. This can become a longer, more drawn out, and less secure process if using post or email. Giving clients access to a secure portal also provides them with full transparency of their case. They can see when documents have been sent and received.
PLS clients can upload documents to the portal (and soon to the app) whether these are screenshots or pictures taken on a mobile phone. In real terms, this could shave days off the completion time with no more documents sitting in solicitors’ post rooms waiting to be actioned. Instead, the PLS legal teams will be notified each time something arrives and this will automatically be placed in the corresponding case file with a prompt for the relevant team to deal with it straight away.
And while the teams are still available on the phone or by email, customers will be relieved to know that they don’t need to be inconvenienced by a phone call or a visit to the office to see where they are in the process, as all documents and key milestones will be available to view on the portal.
This instant online platform has become extremely popular since its soft launch over a year ago, and now the branding has been aligned to complement the ‘Say Yes PLS’ campaign that was rolled out by PLS in September.
One consideration to bear in mind is that, while PLS is looking to save time in the process, not all solicitors have the same technology. Where there are conveyancing chains, there could still be delays while waiting for other solicitors to finalise things at their end. But at least PLS will have done their bit for their own clients and will be sitting ready and waiting to go once the other parties are ready.
“This is now proving to be a bit of a challenge” says Dan Hickey, Ops Director, PLS. “We are quite often ready before the other parties in the transaction and we then have to manage our own clients’ expectations until the other parties in the chain are ready to move. But it allows our clients to relax a little, safe in the knowledge that their legal bit has been dealt with, leaving them to concentrate only on the practical side of moving house.”
History of the concept
For Dan, the idea came about by looking at how customers now acquire products. Dan and the team at PLS believed that technology was opening up a new market, and they wanted to be a part of it.
He said: “These days, when we buy something online we can track its progress and get instant notifications as to its status. That’s exactly how it should be with buying or selling property. From a safe place to upload and store all your legal documents, to a notification when something has been done or needs to be actioned. Even if buying a house is the most valuable transaction in their lifetime, today’s generation still want it done with speed and comfort, and at the touch of buttons, whether they’re sitting on a train or about to watch Netflix. PLS, unlike a lot of legal firms, is happy to recognise that and, even though we are we are a traditional law firm in many ways, we are really keen to be living in the future and embracing modern technology.”
Although launched in some teams over a year ago, PLS has taken consumer feedback to make the portal more intuitive, moving some features around and giving it a brand new look. “A portal is a window into the legal team’s case file” adds Dan. “So, as we have updated our processes and systems to make things easier, the portal – and the apps – have become easier to use also.”
Indeed, the company has just won four ESTAS (a customer service award for conveyancers presented by Grand Designs Phil Spencer), including winner of Best in County (Cheshire), Bronze for the London Region and North West (South) and Best National Group .
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