A pre-contract enquiries platform created by a law firm founder and already used by 230 lawyers, aims to cut “weeks not days” from conveyancing transaction times.
Peter Ambrose, chief executive of Legalito, said “a lot of the hold-ups” in transactions were caused by “lawyers catching up with themselves”, rather than external factors.
Mr Ambrose, who is chief executive of Surrey conveyancing firm The Partnership, said “horrible administration” was responsible for the bulk of the time wasted in conveyancing, rather than difficulties with managing agents or searches.
He said pre-contract enquiries were the biggest source both of delays and of claims by professional indemnity insurers. “Nobody has a standard set of enquiries or way of handling them.”
Enquiries were often sent to sellers by email, with replies given within the email, perhaps in different colours, but with nobody “having a handle” on what questions were asked or what happened to them.
Under the Legalito ‘smart enquiries’ system, the buyer’s lawyer chooses enquiries from a set of questions tailored to match the property. They can change questions and add their own. The seller’s lawyer has a secure log-in and can offer replies used for similar property types.
Both sides can see then everything and the buyers can decide if they are satisfied by the responses.
Estate agents can also be given access to the system, and updated every time there is a change.
Mr Ambrose said Legalito had been used by 230 lawyers in over 1,000 matters since its launch in June.
After 20 years in the software business, he set up The Partnership, which is regulated by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, in 2007. The firm, based in Guildford, has 85 staff. He is joint owner of Legalito with an IT colleague, and said he was funding the startup himself.
The service is currently free to use, with plans to introduce a matter fee of £7.50 plus VAT, but “no fixed date” for doing this, the priority being adoption.
Mr Ambrose said there were various ways Legalito could be expanded. It could be introducing, in the second or third quarter of next year, two new services already being used by The Partnership – ‘smart checklists’ and ‘smart matters’.
‘Smart checklists’ aim to ensure important conveyancing tasks are not overlooked, while ‘smart matters’ allocates work to lawyers based on how busy they are.
A further idea was a “really good client portal”, because lawyers said they needed it.
Mr Ambrose said none of Legalito’s software, which is cloud-based, used artificial intelligence. “We don’t believe the time is right for lawyers. The tech is not ready.”
He said Legalito made the pre-contract enquiry process “radically faster”, with people responding “within hours, rather than weeks”.
Mr Ambrose estimated it could reduce transaction times by up to three to five weeks: “It definitely saves weeks, not days.”
He said Legalito had been developing the software for 18 months before launching it quietly, in June this year, with three other law firms.
“We have only been able to develop this because we are lawyers. Software solutions that tackle problems that are not important or were not designed by people who know how things work are a source of great frustration for lawyers. We know what works.”