Selling the on-line method…

…or why I’m very happy my dad has finally adopted a smart phone.


It’s been an exciting time in the Cruikshank house-hold. My dad, after years of holding-out, my dad has finally adopted a smartphone. I say ‘adopted’ since it’s my wee brother’s old one. A hand-me-up if you will. I didn’t think it would last. It’s much larger than the Nokia he had before, and he’s never been a fan of touch-screens (he doesn’t like the fingerprints). But just tonight, he was snapping pictures and texting sending them off. He even downloaded the BBC News app after I told him it ‘bing’s when there’s a major news story. He is now, after all but kicking and screaming, firmly pro-phone (on condition only 6 people in the world know his number). He’s even doing mobile banking! Such advancements.

I’m not a lawyer yet, but already I’m getting the impression that the legal profession, particularly Scottish Conveyancers, are very much like my dad in the Nokia days. It just doesn’t see the point of it changing a system which appears to be working perfectly well. There have been a few I’ve noticed or been told in the last few months that seem to make this clear. I’m prepared to admit that someone my age has never known a time without a computer in the classroom, but I am not intrinsic “anti-paper” – I am consistently the only person in the lecture theatre taking notes on a non-prefixed pad. I just don’t get the hesitance to go on-line, particularly in the world of property conveyancing, where there is so much repetition and computer systems would help smooth the process for both solicitors and clients.

Take, for example, the ill-fated to ARTL, the on-line method for land registration. I can already hear the conveyancers wince. To me this idea seems brilliant! Who needs forms and forms of stuff that have to be written, printed and posted – why not just do it on-line? Yet, uptake on ARTL was dismal. Only 13 of 32 Local Authorities took it up, Lenders had been hesitant to fully participate; Solicitors even more so. A few of the tutors have said that ARTL was slow, clumsy and cumbersome, so was doomed from the start. ARTL will be put out of its misery later this year, and will be shut down. My issue with that is that the paper system, to me, seems just as slow clumsy and cumbersome, possibly even more so. In what other system would Form 1 not be followed by a Form 2, but instead be accompanied by a Form 4 and then lead to a Form 10. MADNESS I TELL YOU!!! All these forms, of course, asking for similar information, relying on all previous information being correctly processed in the first place. If there were major problems in the system (and I don’t doubt for a second there were), investment in the system is the way to go, not just tossing it to the side. The real issue, I think, is that a majority of the profession just didn’t want to use the system in the first place, and so found the reason not to. It’ll be interesting to see how the new on-line system of  Land Registration is received later this year.

It’s not just registration that the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 will be changing. It will introduce the possibility of conducting missives on-line. Instead of waiting for letters to be posted and received, on-line missives allows terms to be delivered there and then. Not only does this allow us to do away with fax machines (which are terrible inventions whose existence is unjustifiable in the 21st century), but if can solve all the recent questions over “what counts as delivery” most prominently raised in Park, Petitioner [2009] CSOH 122. If the profession has a chance to do business on-line, I can see no reason whatsoever why we shouldn’t take it. Even from a client service perspective, reducing waiting time and worries included in buying and selling houses must be a good thing. I fear, however, given the reception ARTL received, that up-take will be slower that hoped, and that the DX posties don’t have to be quaking in their boots quite yet.
I don’t mean to pick on conveyancers (in fact I’ve really enjoyed the subject so far), but it seems to be the best example of the legal hesitance to move away from what we know. It was only last week that I found out that Scottish conveyancers still use cheques as the go-to means for paying client costs. CHEQUES! I have had an adult bank account for 5 years and in that time sent exactly one cheque, and even then that was because internet banking was just not an option. My tutor justified them saying that it allows full control over the buying and selling process. So, for example, someone doesn’t want to have money ‘leave’ their account to buy a new house before they’ve had the money come in from selling their old one. By using cheques you can ask the other solicitor to hold of cashing until funds are available.  But with internet banking (which is incredibly secure now-a-days) you’re still able to carefully regulate when money leaves the firm’s client account and you don’t have to rely on the other solicitor’s secretary to remember not to cash the cheque yet. My tutor also said that with on-line transfers you never know exactly when money will leave the account: it might be instant, within minutes or take until the end of the business day. That’s true, and a fair point to make…but cheques can take up to 3 days to clear! I’d rather know what’s happening to the hour, and not the day. Plus, and I can’t stress this enough…cheques are on their last legs.  Sure, their 2018 death-date has been postponed due to public outcry (and I can take a guess as to the demographics of the outcriers) – but it is surely only a matter of time before they are done away with completely. My tutor mentioned that the English solicitors laugh at us for still using cheques…and I couldn’t help but think to myself “Rightly so”. But hey, we’ve been using cheques for years and there are few problems with the system, so why change?

I think that’s the nub of the problem. The way things have always been done is that missives were sent by post (and kinda by fax), were concluded in the same way, title was registered when you sent away the forms to the keeper and all the fees and prices were sorted when cheques were handed over to the other side. This system works, of course it does, and lots of people are happy enough to keep it that way. My dad was quite happy with his little Nokia, but now he realises that, while it took years of encouragement and repetition, his new phone with all its bells and whistles (quite literally) is so much better than he had thought. The Scottish legal profession has to realise soon that the Nokia system just isn’t going to cut it in the 21st century.

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