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Technology helping lawyers see the way the land lies

Technology helping lawyers see the way the land lies

 

Anyone who has ever been involved in a property purchase  - whether as buyer, seller, lawyers, or any one of the seemingly endless number of professionals who get involved in the process – will know that the land search is one of the most time-consuming parts of the conveyancing process.

An essential aspect of any property transaction, it enables buyers to undertake a survey of the local area for any issues that are likely to affect the value of the property. This might include the dreaded HS2 construction, environmental factors such as pollutants and drainage problems, and any impact from commercial and industrial endeavours such as coal mining and water company works.

In the olden days – which in some cases is likely to be as recent as ‘last week’ – conveyancing solicitors would send a form detailing the property in question to the relevant local authority. There would then be a long (and, for the anxious buyer, potentially agonising) wait, as council officials undertook a comprehensive survey in order to compile a report. The consequences of failing to undertake the search effectively are fairly obvious: most recently, the press has focused on those who purchased properties on land which subsequently turned out to be vulnerable to flooding, which had evidently not been sufficiently noted in the land search process.

These days, as part of the general trend for making use of IT to speed up laborious and time-consuming aspects of legal business, firms are increasingly turning to personal search companies to speed up the process. This has been made possible by the creation of the National Land Information Service (NLIS), which has been created in partnership with all the LAs in England and Wales, together with the Land Registry and various other relevant authorities. It is now possible to make a search query via a central hub, interrogating large quantities of information kept regularly updated. What once took weeks can now be achieved in a 24 hour turnaround – and thanks to various IT platforms, the information can be accessed in a number of formats, including via a central login system, electronic communications with attached documents, or even (for the confirmed Luddite) in hard copy. Other tech tools that may be made available include virtual mapping tools, and search notifications.

Initially, there was some understandable reluctance on the part of firms to outsource such an essential part of the conveyancing process to third parties – but in recent years, personal search firms have become properly regulated (by the Council of Property Search Organisations and the Property Codes Compliance Board), with a consequent increase in their use. The SRA, of course, regulated outsourced activities as part of its regulatory role, and firms using personal search companies must ensure they comply with SRA requirements regarding client confidentiality, and the probity and quality of the service provider.

At Legastat, we understand the transformative power of legal tech, and our professional litigation support service places a strong focus on ensuring firms and chambers exploit the latest IT developments in order to offer the best possible service to clients. If you are looking to ensure your practice is truly twenty-first century, and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, contact us now.

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