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Digital property settlements accelerated by pandemic

Digital property settlements accelerated by pandemic

By Karin Derkley

COVID-19 Technology 


COVID-19 was the instigator of a mindset shift in which property lawyers had to embrace digital solutions for property settlements, the legal tech session at the Property Law Conference heard last week.

Dye & Durham Australia director and GlobalX former CEO Peter Maloney said he would never forget the night of 25 March 2020, when the Prime Minister said there would no more auctions as of the following midnight. “The collective hearts of everyone fell instantly because it was at that point that reality sunk in.”

That was followed by the image of people carrying their laptops and screens down Collin Street and into the work from home environment, “and we’re still dealing with that today”, he said.

But that circumstance forced an overdue transformation in the way lawyers had to work, Lawpath co-founder and CEO Dominic Woolrych told the conference.

“Australia was one of the first countries to legalise electronic signatures almost 20 years ago.” But adoption of the technology by the legal sector had nevertheless been slow, “and it wasn't until COVID hit us at the beginning of last year that a lot of lawyers were really forced to change the way that they work,” he said.

“COVID really pushed the laggards over the edge. And now with most firms, especially smaller firms, we're finally seeing the use of electronic signatures.”

The transformation was also helped by the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Regulations which allowed for electronic signing of legal documents, remote witnessing of legal documents by audiovisual link, and creation of deeds and mortgages in electronic form.

Those measures gave people confidence in the security of digital solutions, said Barhead Solutions engagement manager Amanda Fajerman, who moderated the session. “It meant we could use digital technology for the exchange and signing of contracts in the knowledge that it's regulated and legal.”

The move to digital witnessing and transactions was also enabled by readily available technologies, Mr Woolrych pointed out. “Previously people were very concerned that (witnessing) had to be in person and were worried about fraud . . . but very quickly it became apparent that there was a lot of technology out there that could remove a lot of those concerns.”

Among those is the ability to record everything, track IP addresses, upload documents and use verification measures that make things “very safe and secure”, he said.

That has created a great opportunity within the sector, Mr Maloney said. “This is a sector that has been long awaiting a digital revolution, and now it is absolutely never going to go away. We’ve seen the birth of a whole range of digital solutions and a whole range of technology companies react very quickly to support their customer bases.”

The increased use of electronic signatures, digital witnessing software by firms, especially small firms, has opened up potential business for smaller firms, Mr Woolrych pointed out. “You're not needing to just work within your local suburbs – it's opened up your market to the entire state or even interstate.”

Mr Woolrych said that Australia is a booming space for legal technology and solutions. That means it could be overwhelming for small firms. He recommends practitioners take advantage of “demo days” allowing them to trial software to see whether it works for their firm, and especially how well it will integrate.

Mr Maloney said one of the keys to deciding on technology is to check whether it uses already available technology. “We start from the point of what solutions are already part of consumers’ everyday lives. And if you can integrate those into the firm, into the practice, what you’re doing is providing a really easy solution for your end user.

“For instance, everyone's got a selfie on their phone. So, when we built verification of identity, we built the technology to biometrically match that selfie with some identity documents, like a passport, or a driver's licence.”

Gaining an understanding of the different types of technology and the different trends available in the legal technology market is essential for property lawyers today, Ms Fajerman said. "We're now expecting that if you are of a particular standard, you have to offer these solutions. . .in order to stay at the cutting edge."

"These sorts of skills and knowledge should be an essential core, almost CPD, part of your yearly training."



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