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A Balanced Approach: Technology, Property & Law

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In this recent article Nathan Caley, IT Director at specialist property solicitors JB Leitch, considers recent debate on the increasing use of new technology in property management and law, and discusses the benefits that adapting to new tools and ways of working will bring to enhancing – not jeopardising - the client experience…

There is little doubt of the increasingly significant place of technology in our personal and professional lives. Mirroring this is the ongoing debate surrounding commercial or personal benefit versus the perceived fear of obsolescence for established processes, methods and human resource. Recent concerns have been raised on the extent to which technology invades and influences our personal lives – the data privacy question – exemplified by GDPR and a “big brother” society. We live in a smart world. The pandemic has reminded us how much we depend on our digital tools to live, work and socialise in adverse conditions. Businesses drive for greater efficiency. Competitive edge and cost effectiveness come hand in hand with embracing digital resources.

In the property management sector, there has been much written on the emergence of PropTech and the operational (cost saving) real-time benefits that smart building management systems can offer to property managers and landlords. Similarly, PropTech is enabling tenants to have greater visibility on, and management of, matters relating to property maintenance, security and accounts. The question has been raised on whether this will ultimately make the role of property managers redundant.

Similarly, in property management law (and the wider legal sector in general) conversation has recently turned to the impact of new technologies in case management and the automation of transactional property matters and litigation.

Both examples illustrate the concern around automation replacing the need for human input. But are the arguments fully justified? Are we losing the human touch and disassociating ourselves from the process of building client relationships built on understanding, individual context and trust? Perhaps the answer is in recognising the value, benefit and balance of both.

At JB Leitch, I have worked with colleagues on a continuous and evolving programme of technical development in recent years. From bespoke real time reporting to systems infrastructure, and networked case management to process automation, the goal has not been to make staff obsolete, on the contrary, incorporating these innovations into our working practice has been implemented to allow us to reduce the burdens of manual administration, reduce error rates when handling very high volumes of matters and to liberate team members so that their talents and expertise can be directed in managing clients more directly. In the current and increasingly competitive world, this is what our customers not only want, but expect. The role of technology is to produce information accurately, instantly and accessibly. The role of the property manager, executive or solicitor is arguably to interpret and provide this information in a meaningful way.

The Law Society’s recent “Images of the Future Worlds - Facing the Legal Profession 2020-2030” report, has sparked considerable debate on the subject, and although describing an increasingly automated legal landscape in coming years, the report does highlight that client experience and trust are still prevailing factors. From our perspective, trust is earned as part of a journey of understanding, awareness and providing informed recommendation and, of course, results. The quality and significance of personal interaction can therefore not be undervalued in fostering and growing these relationships. If using technology frees us to focus on delivering this in an increasingly effective and timely fashion, the client experience is surely enhanced. It is perhaps rejection of technical innovation outright that poses a greater threat of extinction. In conclusion, tools can help you build – but they don’t tell you what to build - or why…

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