For years, the issue of phone etiquette created tension between estate agents and the legal profession, the former claiming lawyers won’t talk to them and the latter saying agents call too much. Email was hailed as the answer, but has what was once seen as a solution created its own problems? Industry expert and Head of Property at Dutton Gregory Solicitors, Paul Sams, thinks so.
In a world where people are preferring to conduct business through the efficiency, accountability and mobility of electronic communications, what happens if there is a hitch in the process? Are email, WhatsApp and social media messages the best way to resolve issues in property purchase?
In my opinion, no.
I am a huge advocate of technology and estate agents have been years ahead of the legal profession when it comes to its use. It makes things easier and more efficient so that we can all spend more time on what matters - helping clients complete transactions, move home and everyone being paid for their contribution to the process.
But when the wheels come off, I do not believe that the keyboard is the best way to get things back on track (and, for those who think that the keyboard is an antiquated reference, feel free to swap it for text, WhatsApp, Messenger, etc)
A long, typed conversation is not only time-consuming, but devoid of any nuance, tact, sensitivity and, ultimately, respect. It is also worth bearing in mind that reporting squabbles over lengthy correspondence never impresses a client of either side.
I know that it has been a strange couple of years with restrictions and isolation, but I believe we need to get back into the habit of picking up the phone or meeting in person to discuss a situation. Communication needs to be seen as a toolbox of methods that can be applied to a particular situation.
With technology set to take away a lot of what legal firms undertake in the next decade, I believe that those still treating property law like a cottage industry are doomed to fail in the 21st century, but change, especially in communication, needs to be purposeful, flexible and considered for all parties.
I receive well over 200 emails a day, the majority flagged by the sender as ‘urgent’, so it can be hard to prioritise. I also see the same amount of correspondence pile up in my text messages and apps (don’t get me started on those that use both to convey the same message!) I find a phone call, or voicemail asking me to call back, cuts through the noise of my inbox, is a quicker way of getting to the root of a problem and, helps establish or strengthen my working relationships.
I am aware that this is my experience, but good communication is the same as teamwork – if we can establish the most effective way to reach out to others, it will make for a much more efficient problem-solving.
Now I do know there is nothing lawyers love more than to “show off” by finding a problem. To be fair it is our job, but there are those in my profession, keen to prove their worth, who see it as an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, experience and value. Even more insecure individuals can go on to write extensive correspondence filled with elaborate explanation and legal jargon, but I do believe that, these days, they are in the minority.
A good lawyer should be able to communicate any issue clearly, concisely and, crucially, offer a solution. If agents find themselves dealing with a lawyer who doesn’t, or won’t answer the phone, or still uses the word ‘fax’, ditch them. There are plenty of others who have kept up with the times.
Technology has evolved as life has become more complicated, but the problems that fall outside a technological process still need simple, effective, one-to-one communication, and I fear that this essential skill is being lost.
*Paul Sams is Head of Property at Dutton Gregory Solicitors