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15 April 2014
Talk of software systems tends to elicit a yawn from the best of us; in any case, the property industry has hardly been first in line when it comes to embracing new technology.
But at a recent conference on the Property Information Systems Common Exchange Standard (Pisces) there was a certain buzz in the air, a sense that the world could actually be a better place; a place without basements full of paper documents; where lawyers no longer have to scrabble around for illusive data; a place where liquidity in real estate is an achievable goal.
For those yet to catch on, Pisces is all about getting rid of paper documents in favour of electronic documentation. In techie speak, it is an 'electronic data exchange standard', designed to give the UK property market a means for data to be transferred efficiently and seamlessly between different software systems. Like an incredibly fast, clever postman, Pisces knows exactly what you are sending, which recipients should be able to see which bits of it, and it allows them to tap it straight into their own management systems, bypassing all the repetition that normally occurs, not least among lawyers.
At least, that was the message from the speakers, which included British Land business group property director Stephen Spooner, Linklaters property associate Nicholas Bartlett and Daniel Freedman, an associate at Dundas & Wilson. The audience was lawyer-heavy, many cajoled into attending by clients that have bought into the Pisces 'vision' (their word not mine).
Alongside British Land, those behind the not-for-profit company set up to push this concept include Aberdeen Property Investors, Legal & General Investment Management, Morley Fund Management and PruPIM - a sure sign that Pisces is worth knowing about if you are a property lawyer.
Owners and managers need to be more up-to-date with their property's status than ever. Spurred on by the Government's e-conveyancing commitment, they are now pressing their lawyers to get involved and help exploit the possibilities that Pisces can offer - a logical step, given that lawyers originate much of the data in the first place and act as its quality guarantor.
At British Land, Spooner is now working with Pisces-enthused panel firms SJ Berwin, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Henderson Boyd Jackson, Herbert Smith and Nabarro Nathanson. Niche firm Maxwell Batley, a recent addition, is also making the right noises, despite the fact that the software investment can only weigh more heavily on smaller firms. Indeed, there is a certain do-or-die aura. Spooner is pretty unimpressed with a few lawyers who have failed to take Pisces seriously, even leaving his calls unreturned.
Progress is also being made by Aberdeen. Director Tim Turnbull, who works with firms that include Linklaters, Lovells and Simmons & Simmons, is moving towards Pisces-compliant pro formas, linking into Aberdeen's management systems.
Most law firms have a lot of catching up to do. Right now, Linklaters is feeling rightly smug about stealing a march on its competitors as far as Pisces is concerned. Last June it took Bartlett out of fee-earning for a year to work solely on property-related IT matters. Linklaters is now poised to roll out its first Pisces-enabled application, while other firms have yet to get their heads around the concept.
Advisers will never be appointed solely on the basis of their Pisces compatibility. But it is not an exaggeration to predict that over the next 18 months, it will become a key factor when the market's most desirable property clients are choosing their lawyers.