Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

As the last few weeks have highlighted the impact that technology has in conveyancing, I thought it might be interesting to share the trials and tribulations of a law firm that has bet its existence on the stuff. 

I wanted to share some of my own insight into a fast-moving world where we face daily challenges in using technology effectively and reducing risk. And boy sometimes it is painful.

First things first. I’m not a born and bred conveyancer. My background is in software and my law firm develops our own conveyancing case management software. I can confirm that no amount of technology will ever make the challenging nature of what we do completely safe.  I always knew software was key to providing service and reducing risk, but the way risks arise from the most unlikely sources is a constant challenge.

That’s why I genuinely feel for Simplify – the issues they are experiencing are not unique to them or any of us. It’s not the fault of technology but a cyber-attack is scary on so many levels and are a threat to all of us.  As I keep saying repeatedly, “there but for the grace of God go we”.  And I mean it!

As a pure coincidence, this week we’ve been sorting out how we protect the 20 million documents we hold. We’d always stored our documents on servers in both our offices – it was fast and we thought it was secure and we could control how they were backed up.  Our IT company had recommended we backup that data onto the cloud and although it was expensive, like most people we always follow their IT provider’s advice and not really thought much about it.

I guess we got too busy staying on top of the SDLT fun and games, but it was only recently that we realised the problem with storing data on the cloud was not the backup but the restore of data.  In the event of a total failure of all our servers we’d have to shut down everything for a week to restore those millions of documents.  Given that clients can get twitchy when you don’t return a call the same day, we knew we couldn’t do that.

We’d known for years that our documents really should be held with someone like Amazon or Microsoft. We’d not done it because we thought it would be too slow for our users who are used to speedy access to their documents. We never actually checked whether it was a problem – we’d just bought faster servers. However, we had reached a tipping point between risks to the business and speed, and this time we didn’t have a choice.

After a couple of month’s research and testing we settled on a provider and last week moved those precious documents out of our reliable and backed up servers, onto the cloud. We’d had to make a few changes to our system, so you can never guarantee 100% it will work. However, at 9.00am on Monday after quite a stressful weekend, all our users were accessing documents as if nothing had changed. This was vital – if our users thought it was too slow, we would have to reverse all the changes and gone through a hideously complicated reconciliation process – something that we really didn’t want to do. Ever.

It took us a day or so to implement some features that were available when the files were held locally such as merging documents and dragging and dropping onto a case, but our users were patient with us. We’d explained the importance of resilience to the business against attack, and the trade-off was this inconvenience, which they seemed happy with.

Finally, when you make the decision to host documents in the cloud, your number one worry is what happens if the provider goes down.  This actually happened to us late on Tuesday night, but everything was up and running again in 30 minutes.

Which was when we knew that we had made the right decision.

Peter Ambrose is the Managing Director of The Partnership.

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