A Decade Of Digital Transformation In The Property Law Industry

9th October 2023

October marks Search Acumen’s 10-year anniversary, providing an opportune moment to reflect on the remarkable evolution we have seen in the property law industry, driven by digital transformation.

Accelerated during the pandemic thanks to remote working, we’ve seen an incredible technological step change in the last few years alone as the traditional processes that many professionals have relied on for decades have become quickly redundant. Now, following the launch of Chat GPT, we’re entering a new era marked by generative AI which promises to reshape the landscape once again. What is clear for the future of the real estate sector is that innovation is our best solution to enhance productivity and ensure commercial longevity in a world defined by significant economic and social change, combined with a business environment where speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness are paramount to competitiveness. But digital transformation is not something that can be ‘completed’, its an ongoing journey which requires commitment, collaboration and investment. It’s a challenge, especially for established organisations with deeply ingrained processes, and a long-term investment can feel daunting versus a more familiar status-quo.

As we reflect on our ten years, the question for us, therefore, is how far have we come, and where are we going next?

Starting where we began, the foundation of our proposition has always been our mission to make critical property datasets more readily available digitally. In this area alone there has been incredible progress.  We now provide over 500 digital data layers to help firms make better decisions and we’re not alone. Industry is increasingly using more digital data, while crucial partners like Land Registry are making great strides in digitising their own platforms.

Continuing this theme, the availability of data, research and advanced analytics will be a key component of developing a competitive edge for property and legal firms in the next decade. Access to data equips companies to better understand how their properties and processes are performing and determine how to set strategies to drive success. Right now, this is especially vital for companies trying to determine a route forward despite shifting economic sands, tightening environmental regulations and changes in the political and policy landscape.

We understand how critical data is in tackling some of the significant challenges the sector faces in 2023 and beyond. We’re therefore focussed, not just on providing data, but helping the sector understand how it can turn raw data into actionable insights that add value. Our most recent research, for example, has shown that the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for commercial properties introduced earlier this year could impact over 19,000 commercial rental properties with non-compliant ratings. If not upgraded, this could cost the sector over £1bn annually. This highlights a crucial problem around trying to decarbonise the urban environment, but also shows how data allows real estate owners and their advisors to make better decisions because of the depth of insight available to them.

We’ve also made it our mission to continuously innovate, placing ourselves in property lawyers’ shoes to understand their pain points and eliminate them through digitisation of the archaic processes and physical datasets. Through applications like our illustrative maps, Data Snapshot, and ForeSite Mapping tools, we’ve cut down the amount of time lawyers spend manually trawling through paper records, drastically reducing transaction times and giving lawyers more bandwidth to focus on what they do best.

Beyond the data, we’ve made significant strides in supporting the sector navigate its technological journey, helping firms maximise the efficiencies brought by new tech, while ensuring new processes can be effectively integrated alongside legacy systems. As an early adopter of AI, we’ve seen the rise of Artificial Intelligence over the last ten years, from theoretical concept to a fundamental feature of all markets. We launched our AI assistant, ‘Robbie the Robot,’ half a decade ago. Robbie has been instrumental in efficiently managing mailboxes, liberating valuable time for our team to concentrate on crucial tasks. Now, we’re taking those AI learnings and bringing them directly to our customers. This year we became the first in the property law industry to integrate a natural language processing model into our own intuitive data platform. Our Search Acumen ‘Real Estate Intelligence’, or REI, is the first generative AI platform designed to fast-track the property transaction. And, harnessing external innovations, like ChatGPT which we’ve successfully integrated into our REI platform, we’ve been able to fast-track REI’s production by 12-18 months, showcasing our agility to benefit our clients.

Another defining feature of the last decade has been the importance of partnerships between the property and legal sectors, and technology experts. As firms seek to navigate a rapidly evolving technological landscape, we firmly believe that journey is more successful in partnership with a technology specialist. That spirit of partnership means we have been able to think like lawyers to design technological solutions that tackle the most frustrating parts of the transaction process. But, it also means we can use our technological expertise to smooth the pathway for technology integration, and bear the responsibility of keeping up with rapid innovation on our customers’ behalf. That partnership approach allows those we work with to stay at the cutting edge of technological change, while focussing on what they do best day to day.

Partnerships between specialist technology companies and law firms have been vital, but so too have partnerships between technologists to keep up the pace of innovation. One example is our work with Coadjute, a property blockchain network that improves the ability of a range of parties to collaborate on transactions. We recognised that our data could play a vital role in the Coadjute platform sitting alongside blockchain, another technology that could revolutionise how we transact if adopted at scale, and we continue to be actively involved in a whole host of partnerships and collaborations to improve how we buy and sell real estate for everyone from real estate lawyers, to property investors and homeowners. Over the years, another of the most important partnerships we’ve developed has been with Land Registry, and this continues to be the case. Working together with a shared goal of providing open data to inform the real estate sector, this collaboration has allowed us to integrate Land Registry’s systems with our platform, making it that much easier for lawyers to access the data they need.

To truly affect change in the industry and maximise the potential of game-changing tech like AI, we need much broader investment and collaboration. The relationship between the private and public sector here is important and, if everyone plays their part, we could revolutionise the entire property life-cycle, from building more homes to improving how we buy and sell property.

For example, in 2017, the UK government released its Housing White Paper, which set ambitious goals for comprehensive land registration by 2030. The availability of big data with Land Registry is starting to transform the way we look at the property market and how we shape communities through development. Access will help SME housebuilders and affordable housing providers understand where the opportunities to develop land are, which will in turn will boost the supply of housing – a victory for the principle of open data.

In more recent developments, the Chancellor’s Spring Budget allocated £900 million to establish a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Resource, underlining the UK’s aspiration to become a tech superpower. As increased investment drives innovation in AI particularly, it is even more essential that businesses stay on top of technological change and make the most of these new technologies. Again, this emphasises the importance of close collaborations between technology companies and traditional industries, with tech experts being well placed to ensure companies make best use of technology to navigate the challenges of a changing world.

As we entire our second decade, we have seen the industry change significantly and have been a leading advocate for a better more technologically enabled real estate sector. Our commitment is to maintaining that momentum, whether that’s maximising generative AI, continuing to find digital solutions to transaction pain-points, driving forward digitisation of critical datasets, or forging new, deeper partnership across the sector to push forward innovation. As we set our sights on the next decade, we remain committed to spearheading the digital transformation of the property law industry and, in so doing, securing the place of current and future clients in tomorrow’s market.



We Promised & Delivered A Digital Revolution

Over a decade ago, we set out to shape the way PropTech works for commercial real estate firms. We’ve been turning that vision into a reality ever since, not just as a tech provider, but as a trusted partner too.

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Having used Search Acumen since the very beginning we have never considered moving elsewhere for our searches.  Not only is the communication fabulous, we love the format of the searches and the online ordering platform is very clear and user friendly. Whenever we have had queries or questions they’ve been dealt with and answered swiftly and everyone at Search Acumen is a pleasure to deal with.  Myself and my co-Director have personally introduced them to a number of different firms we have worked for/with over the last decade and I’ve always heard positive reports. Here’s to another successful 10 years- congratulations!
Francesca Gill , Simeous Law

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