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Pandemic has highlighted digital gaps, property lawyers say

Quirke: More data-driven processes and automation

Commercial property lawyers believe the pandemic has not only hastened the adoption of new technology but highlighted gaps where it could improve the conveyancing process, a report has found.

A majority of lawyers also said the pace of innovation made it difficult for them to work out which technologies were required, while lack of finance and the need for training were less important.

Property data provider SearchFlow interviewed 42 senior commercial property lawyers for The Commercial Real Estate Lawyers of the Future [1].

Almost of all of them said the pandemic had “accelerated my law firms’ digitisation strategies and the adoption of new technologies”.

Most also believed that the pandemic had highlighted “gaps” where digitisation and new technology “could further enhance the commercial real estate transaction process”.

When asked about barriers to adoption, a majority said the fast-moving area of innovation made it “difficult to scope what is required for our business”.

The second most important barrier, by quite a long way, was the budget needed for new technology or the belief that it was too expensive.

Change management, the need for training, a “change of mindsets” and a different way of working were also cited, along with identifying experts to implement changes.

Despite the challenges, 29% of respondents were already using artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, while a further third were “reviewing solutions with a view to launch within the next 12 months”. Opinions were divided on whether increasing automation increased risk.

The top benefit of automation was that it would help to speed up transactions by having more data available up-front in the process, while the automation of administrative tasks would allow lawyers to focus on the transactions themselves and also reduce human error.

When asked which parts of commercial property transactions were the most ripe for further digitisation, legal searches and risk management in the form of ID and money laundering checks led the way.

A smaller group highlighted contract drafting and review as a priority, while some cited lease agreements, environmental due diligence and “automated search and report return”.

Dr Thomas Quirke, managing director of SearchFlow, commented: “Looking into the future, while various barriers to AI adoption have been cited and represent the clear market challenge, there is a consensus that the use of more data-driven processes and automation will play their part in enhancing the real estate transaction process.

“By 2025, a majority agree that technology adoption will lead to faster completions, overall better decision-making and a reduction in administrative steps, meaning practitioners can focus on progressing deals, removing human error and managing risk.”