Laura Scott is a senior law clerk at Creighton Law LLP in Oshawa, Ontario. While Creighton Law LLP practices in numerous areas such as wills, estates, and family law, Laura leads the real estate team. Last summer, Laura and her team made the transition from The Conveyancer® to Unity® during their peak season. We sat down with her to hear how it went and what she thinks of Unity after nearly 20 years using The Conveyancer exclusively.
DP: Can you tell us a little about Creighton Law LLP and your role there?
LS: I’m the senior law clerk and I manage the real estate department for the firm. While we handle all different areas of practice, I am responsible for the real estate department. My team is just a part-time assistant and myself, and together we handle between 300 and 400 matters each year.
I really do enjoy real estate law with all the troubleshooting it involves, and even the stress of completing closings. It’s exciting when first time homebuyers pick up their keys or to work with someone who is relieved when a matter is settled after a long, drawn-out estate. I work well under pressure so it’s a good fit for me. Real estate is where I thrive.
DP: How’s the busy season for you with such a small team?
LS: It can be stressful. The hours are longer and you have to work some evenings and weekends to make sure that everything gets done. However during the slower times of year, we can catch up – use the time to get reports and accounts done – so we get a little bit of relief.
DP: How have things changed for your office during the COVID-19 pandemic?
LS: All of our staff are encouraged to work from home right now. We have a really fantastic employer who has been very accommodating, such as allowing some clerks with young children and no daycare options to work split shifts or different hours than usual.
Right now, I’m working remotely from my home office most of the week. With Unity, it was an easy transition from working in the office to working from home. I don’t know how other offices are surviving without Unity!
I’m trying to go to the office only once a week and do everything I need to on that one day. That includes meetings with the lawyers to get status updates as to where we are, meeting with the bookkeeper, and going over the files with other employees. We ensure social distancing is maintained throughout all of our meetings.
DP: What are some of the new challenges you’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?
LS: We’re trying to exclusively hold meetings virtually so one of the big challenges I’m having is clients who don’t have email or access to a computer. However, my mentality is that you try to meet the client where they are; whatever their situation, you try and work with them to get the deal done with the best possible client service.
For example, I just had a client who didn’t have a computer at all so we figured out a solution. They came in and we did a parking lot meeting. Everyone is masked and gloved throughout the meeting. We set the documents down, explain everything from a distance, let them sign it on a small table, and disinfect everything as we go.
For now we don’t allow any clients or third parties in the building at all, there’s no bending the rules on that. That means we’re doing credit card payments over the phone if necessary. You just have to adapt. I don’t think things are going to go back to the same old way we used to complete a real estate deal, there are a lot of new innovative ideas coming out of this situation that I think will be for the better.
Another challenge with working from home is that I don’t have access to a fax machine which many banks still require. At first, I was scanning items to the office receptionist who’d fax them, and then scan the confirmation back to me. It took too much time though so I found an online faxing platform. Thankfully Unity has the integrations with Stewart Assyst and LLC so I can access the mortgage instructions and complete documents without any trouble.
Things are changing quickly now and software programs like Unity are on the forefront. They are spearheading how real estate is going to look in the future. I think it’s exciting.
DP: How long were you a user of The Conveyancer before making the switch to Unity?
LS: I’ve used The Conveyancer at every firm I’ve worked for and that started when I graduated from college in about 2000. I’ve had a little experience with LDD and other programs in that they were sometimes on the other side of a deal, but for me The Conveyancer was the only program I liked. I used it for residential and commercial deals; I was personally impressed with the Projects module. We’ve always stuck with The Conveyancer until now.
DP: Did you find your experience with The Conveyancer translated over to Unity?
LS:For sure! I personally found it made for a smoother transition from The Conveyancer into Unity. I have tried other programs, done demos with them, and just found them clunky. The Conveyancer was a great program, and then we transitioned to Unity slowly and it went pretty smoothly for my team. Overall I’m pretty happy with the program. It’s so flexible; the way you can just log into Unity from anywhere and your information is right at your fingertips is really, really helpful.
The transition did take time; it’s not the exact same as The Conveyancer. However, it’s just like when Teraview transitioned years ago and people were quite concerned as to how that would go. Today I don’t know any real estate clerk who would want to go back to the old system that we used before.
DP: What steps did you take to make that transition as smooth as possible?
LS: Before we transitioned, we did the live webinar training. The two of us here who do real estate attended and we found it hugely helpful. It showed us how to do things like set up the administrative rights with who can access what information and it helped us set up our files. I find the ability to set access rights helpful because I can see who’s doing what.
We also watched all of the available training videos which were very helpful. In all honesty, I haven’t watched them as much now since we’ve transitioned over. We rarely hit roadblocks anymore but when we do, I’m just picking up the phone and calling DoProcess, and I’m getting answers to my questions right away so it’s not a problem.
DP: Given that you transitioned last July during peak season, it sounds like Unity helped save you a trip to the office on the weekends or after hours.
LS: Hugely! One day I was off sick but I was able to still access files if somebody needed something at the office. I could log in from my laptop at home and it was right there. Unity is so versatile for a situation like that, when you have to be off sick but you’re still managing files and need to access the information.
DP: Do you have a favourite feature in Unity?
LS: I find it a little easier to read than The Conveyancer as you are able to adjust colour and font size and I find it overall more user-friendly. I also like how new messages appear at the top of the screen immediately. If there’s a data entry mistake, it tells me right away. Opening files in general and having the database of all of the information is helpful. For example, there are times we’re putting in a jurisdiction and it’s not one that we’ve used before. With Unity we don’t have to look anything up because it’s just there already which saves time.
DP: Any advice for people waiting to transition?
LS: Make sure to watch all the training videos and play with the new program to practice with a matter. Open a dummy file right away, open documents, and get used to Unity and how it all works. I think it should go pretty smoothly.
Before you transition, I also strongly suggest making sure your master documents in The Conveyancer are up to speed. Check that they’re all correct and are the documents you want to transition over. Actually this reminds me that one of my favourite features is the master documents. I amend all of our master documents myself and it’s much easier in Unity than it was in The Conveyancer. If you go into Document Production, Manage Templates is right there at the bottom. You don’t have to go to the file icon and then find it, and then find the document; now it’s right at your fingertips. It’s just more straightforward and Unity’s navigation is so much smoother. For more experienced users who do have to change and amend documents, once you do it a couple of times, Unity is clearly easier.
DP: Is there anything else you’d like to include that we didn’t discuss?
LS: Just for people who are transitioning, get used to the program and it will be a positive experience. Also, the integrations Unity has with FCT, Stewart Title, Teraview, and others puts all the information that we need as clerks right at our fingertips.
I think both programs are great, but comparing Unity to The Conveyancer, I would choose Unity, hands down, all day every day! I love the program, I love the master documents; you can do a file so quickly if you’re using Unity. You can plug in the information and boom, you’ve got your documents (as long as your master documents are correct, that is)!