SPOILER ALERT: AI has got lost along the way

Why AI is very good at some things, and not so good at others

AI is going to change the world. Of course it is. It just has to.

Won’t it? 🤷

In this blog post, I want to look at some of the myths around AI, and how we’ve navigated them at Avail. As a risk averse group, lawyers have a difficult relationship with AI, and to be honest, it’s pretty clear why!

A recent book from a prominent practitioner of AI, Erik J Larson, claims that AI cannot become what we (really really) want it to be, because of the way it is designed. It’s inherently flawed. Hmm 😟, that’s a worrying starting point.

The problem with AI ‘changing the world’

The key problem is that AI is simply a narrow definition of ‘intelligence’. It’s a product of super computers applying logic, deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning to large datasets, but crucially missing out abductive reasoning. Let’s break these down:

  • Deductive Reasoning – 2️⃣ ➕ 2️⃣ 🟰 4️⃣
  • Inductive Reasoning – Yesterday I was fed (🥓 🥞) at 9am, so tomorrow should be the same
  • Abductive Reasoning – This could also be called intuition: you don’t objectively know why the student didn’t do their homework, but you are pretty sure the dog didn’t eat it

AI was not meant to be this way when you think about it! This is why grand predictions about AI regularly fall short. For example, Elon Musk has promised self-driving cars ‘next year’ every year since 2014. He says they’re coming next year, which they feasibly could 🔮 But what does your gut tell you…? 

We may be waiting awhile. But, you know who isn’t waiting about…? The police, who get better at giving speeding tickets every single year. No wonder really, because there can only ever be one Jeremy Clarkson, driving an orange supercar with a personalised ‘POWER’ numberplate and power ballads on the radio.

So, this is our starting point – AI is not magic, AI cannot replicate the human brain, and no matter how hard someone tries to persuade you otherwise, it needs to be used with caution! AI works when there is a narrow objective, or a limited number of variables.

The reality of AI

On every training session for Avail we give, we make a point of saying that “AI is very good at some things, and not so good at others”. Working with a defined, consistent dataset you can build a product that is incredibly accurate and best-in-class. At Avail, we are 9️⃣7️⃣-9️⃣9️⃣% accurate because we apply our AI to ask an objective question only, like “Is there a charge registered against this title? If so, what does it say?”.

Avail does not go beyond this brief, and by doing so avoids the problem in asking AI to use abductive reasoning. To go deeper and opine on commercial risk as well as legal risk would mean trying to replicate the intuition of an experienced real estate fee earner. There’s a reason why clients pay lawyers – commercial risk analysis involves a vortex of variables and ill-defined information.

At the end of the day, in law in particular, commercial issues are not always purely technical points. They often involve judgement based on personal risk matrices and appetite. You are dealing with people: their vested interests, emotional ties and, sometimes, irrationality.

This could be best expressed by the famous Mike Tyson quote “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. 👊⁉️

So, where does this leave us?

In a standard real estate transaction, there is quite simply no substitute for practical experience when it comes to understanding what a client is willing to accept, or what risks they consider to be red flag commercial risks. No machine or programming can replicate that experience. AI should be used to help on transactions, but in its current form, should never be expected to replace.

And that’s what we do! Avail is an efficiency tool that uses AI to help real estate fee earners surface risk faster, identify red flags on day 1️⃣ rather than day 5️⃣0️⃣, and ultimately supercharge their final report on title 🚀. It remains objective in identifying possible legal risk and never pre-supposes commercial risk.

Nothing more, nothing less. 😌


Needs of the many, not the few – why “per user” licensing in legaltech sucks

Why Avail offers access to EVERY fee earner in your real estate team

Information is often touted as power, and for software-as-a-service (SAAS) products, access is also power. Adoption is key, it’s what makes the difference between success or failure.

So it’s a bit weird that it’s common for legaltech products to offer law firms a pricing model based on how many users have access to it. This is known as “per user” licensing – the more fee earners want to use the tech, the more you pay.

We think this is a HUGE mistake 👎, so that’s why Avail’s subscription model is not based on this 👍. We only ever open up Avail to everyone in a firm’s real estate team through one dedicated link they can share around, so that everyone wins, not just a select few. For Avail, we save save fee earners 10/20 minutes per title register analysed (at a minimum), so why would we restrict this to only those who the firm “wanted” to have access?!

But really, what are the benefits of doing it this way versus a “per user” route? 🤷

Faster and simpler onboarding

Gone is the magical merry-go-round of forgetting passwords, trying to reset them, getting locked out and having to call your PSL for help. Avail is an efficiency tool, so spending 2️⃣ or even 3️⃣ minutes ‘just signing onto the b****y thing’ is no good for anyone! 

We give every law firm a dedicated SSO link that fee earners can click on to login automatically to Avail. One click, and everyone in the team can access our platform.

“Can’t you use SSO with just a few people?” some of you might cry! Well yes, but this also involves adding and removing people from the relevant SSO group (⚠️ techy chat ⚠️), which in itself is an administrative burden that someone has to shoulder.

Maintain YOUR working practices

You never quite know who’s going to use a legaltech product in a transaction – is it the fee earner? Do they ask their secretaries to use these types of products? Do they like to use document support teams? Maybe a team partner asks his juniors to do certain things for them?

If we used a “per user” model, suddenly you have a product which is asking fee earners to change the way they normally work to suit licence restrictions… 🐌

If we remove this barrier to entry, adoption increases. Fee earners can work the way they normally work. With access for entire teams, we see adoption rates of above 60% at some law firm clients, clients who just happen have the largest real estate legal teams in the UK.

A stronger business case

The more fee earners that use a piece of tech, the stronger the business case or return is for a law firm. It’s that simple really. By increasing the number of the team who can use a product, you increase the number of people who will use a product . Easy maths.

Avoid the 2022 brain drain

If COVID and recent market movements have taught us anything, it’s that lateral movement between real estate teams is on the cards for many, many associates. Limited roll outs of products means that if one of your “key users” leaves the firm, you then have to onboard and train someone new to take their place. You waste time, your firm wastes time, and your business case for that legaltech platform is affected… 😟

So what does this mean…

To create real change when it comes to using legaltech products, law firms have to hit material adoption within a team. But when software providers create a licensing model where only certain users have access, this makes a difficult task almost impossible.

Remember that with most tech, little and often is the way to go. If a fee earner saves ten minutes per title, across a team of a hundred real estate lawyers, that equals BIG savings. 🚀 This is why Avail is one of the fastest growing B2B legaltech companies in the UK 🚀


Angry Birds vs LegalTech – why user interface is critical

User interface (UI) – a term which many will understand, but also a term which gets sidelined by most people not in the tech world as ‘techy speak’. The actual definition is “the means by which the user and a computer system interact, in particular the use of input devices and software” but really what it means it HOW EASY IS THIS THING TO USE.

My experience of LegalTech products, especially in the real estate space, is that good UI (and UX, the experience of the user) is rare. And I just don’t understand it.

UI has taken great strides over the years across many different industries. One area which has excelled is computer games. They’ve nailed UI/UX so well that we even refer to ‘gamification’ in design, the way in which a product can be designed to hook their users in by clever UI/UX tricks.

Take Angry Birds, one of the most successful games of all time.

Pin on [Game Art / UI] Angry Bird / Angry Bird Stella

Even the menu is clear. Each button clearly refers to what action it will unlock, and the big call to action in the middle of the screen calls it as it is = tap here to PLAY.

Let’s now take a typical CRM platform. This doesn’t look too dislike a number of ‘very successful’ LegalTech platforms I’ve had the pleasure of trying:

A table application with a modal covering important information

Umm. 🤔 Where do you even begin? How many buttons? How many boxes?

And what does this lead to? Unsurprisingly, an adoption problem for law firms looking to adopt technology. Lawyers don’t have the time to spend hours training themselves on a new, complicated platform. Lawyers don’t want to watch a ‘two hour webinar’ to ‘change the way they review contracts’. We have clients, and targets, and billable hours to hit – why on earth would we waste our time looking at this? Good, intuitive and SIMPLE UI is key to bringing legal technology to the masses. Remember, most lawyers barely feel comfortable in Word or Outlook, let alone something like the above.

But why does this happen? Well, the law is complicated. So any platform which tries to replicate legal analysis must be equally complicated right? We don’t think so. Avail has built its entire USP around simple interfaces, constantly dumbing down the number of buttons and screens to maximise adoption. The proof is in the pudding. STOP MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED.

age of mobile gamers

Why should lawyers be any different to gamers? If gaming has nailed the psychology behind adoption through good UI and UX, why won’t this work for lawyers also? We can see that the majority of people who play mobile phone games are of adult age anyway so…draw your own conclusions 😄

So, what are the key takeaways for the industry?

  • Stop making things complicated.
  • Listen to lawyers about what they want, and then design something that fits in with their current workflow.
  • Reduce buttons, reduce screens.
  • Question every feature – if only 2% of your users use something, is it worth confusing the other 98% with it?
  • Disruption is great, until it becomes interruption. Then lawyers won’t use your product.
  • Put time and effort into your UI and UX. You won’t regret it.

Dom Conte
Head of Projects

Having run two high growth tech startups before practising as a senior real estate lawyer in the City for a number of years, Dom brings industry experience to his role heading up all artificial intelligence projects at Avail


HM Land Registry & portfolio deals – an uneasy marriage

Land registration was first introduced to England and Wales by legislation in the late 1800s. This provided only for voluntary registration of title, and few titles were registered until 1897 when = registration of title was made compulsory in dealings with land in the County of London.

Since then, HM Land Registry has become the definitive place to visit for information on land holdings in England and Wales. It’s slowly improved over time, offering more open access, until its most recent iteration – the Land Registry Portal.

As any real estate lawyer will tell you, however, the operation of the portal does not exactly reflect the way in which modern transactional lawyers operate. For one or two properties, it does the job admirably, but for any more than that, it becomes a slightly laborious process to obtain and extract all the necessary information.

By way of example, one firm we work with needed to download 1,500 title documents to review on behalf of their client. They had three options before speaking to us:

  1. Ask a team of paralegals to sit there on the portal downloading documents for a number of days;
  2. Approach HM Land Registry directly, with an unknown timescale / fee associated with this service; or
  3. Pay a well know search provider a chunky service fee to go out and carry out this exercise for them.

None of these options were cost effective or hit their client deadline, and results were required faster. This particular firm were able to use Avail to carry out this exercise in under 2 minutes from logging in to downloading the documents. They simply pasted in 1,500 title numbers, and tapped download. Avail’s direct data feed into HM Land Registry has allowed us to bypass the flaws of the portal, and give our clients something they could not achieve easily before.

But how could this uneasy marriage be improved? HM Land Registry are making great strides forwards in opening up their data, and continue to release new data sets all the time. Avail’s integration could only be achieved by the Land Registry’s API, which in itself was designed to allow third party providers to innovate around the data the Land Registry holds.

As time passes, more third party products will tap into this resource, leading to greater innovation and more ways of interrogating this data. It’s inevitable that the Land Registry portal will be updated at some point, but until then there are a range of products that can help with portfolio deals / mass document analysis.

We’re proud that we get to work so closely with HM Land Registry on this, and can hopefully smooth over the struggles that lawyers with portfolio deals have faced for a long time.

Dom Conte
Head of Projects

Having run two high growth tech startups before practising as a senior real estate lawyer in the City for a number of years, Dom brings industry experience to his role heading up all artificial intelligence projects at Avail


10 PropTech Predictions for 2020

Here are 10 PropTech predictions for 2020. We’ll see whether I’m brave enough to review these in 12 months’ time and rate myself on my Mystic Meg abilities!

Property Firms will Develop ‘Stacks’ of Proptech Solutions

There are a number of PropTech businesses now in play, each tackling different niches across the industry. As property firms try to get to grips with an ever-expanding playing field, they will start to develop their own collections of ‘stacks’ of PropTech solutions that complement each other. What this means in reality is that we will see a push towards more open technology and architecture, with the most successful PropTech solutions operating not in a silo, but in a stack of like-minded platforms to give property firms the edge.

Chief Technology Officers will become more Important

Traditional models for all property related firms do not place emphasis on the role of the chief technology officer. As firms and start-ups realise the market advantages to be gained from being heavily invested in the PropTech scene, experienced CTOs from other industries are beginning to make themselves available. Expect to see new job roles across the industry with significantly increased remuneration packets available.

Talent Brain Drain to Property Industry

As the Fintech industry and more mature tech markets reach saturation point, talented operators are looking around for industries still ripe for tech disruption. As the PropTech revolution gathers in speed, expect to see a swathe of developers and CEOs with proven backgrounds in tech disruption making their mark.

Increased Funding Available for PropTech Startups

2019 will bring continued PropTech investment growth, with more deals done and more capital deployed. Traditional real estate firms creating proprietary investment funds to deploy their digital strategy will be one to watch, and expect to see more of a focus on British and European PropTech start-ups as the year goes on.

Disruption will give way to Innovation

The real estate market remains desperate for more innovation yet tires of disruption. Expect 2019 to being more of the former. Innovation and disruption are similar. Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day, however, the best of PropTech innovates upon existing processes and practices, and works to eliminate unnecessary inefficiency. 

Collaboration and Consolidation will Increase

There are over 6,000 PropTech businesses around the world. This is unsustainable, but also an opportunity for significant industry collaboration and consolidation. Some start-ups must recognise that they don’t really have a viable business model and others will find that they don’t have the cash to compete in a ferociously competitive market. In particular, watch out for some online real estate agents beginning to align themselves or even merge completely.

5G to Drive Enhancement in Digital Connectivity

2019 will be the year of 5G, driving forward real time digital connectivity from a prediction to a reality. PropTech ventures will take advantage of this, with the industry leaning towards more connected solutions in and on buildings themselves. With arguably a limitless number of use cases, 5G will catalyse, inspire and generate a huge range of new business cases for the internet of things, inspiring a new raft of PropTech ideas and start-ups.

Smart Building Apps shift focus to Tenant Experience

As the emphasis on tenant experience and occupant comfort continues to drive increased rents and remains a competitive differentiator for commercial landlords and owners, 2019 will see a focus on smart building apps. These will aim to enhance an occupant’s journey, build community and provide new experiences inside both commercial and residential buildings.

Real Estate Asset Fracking 

Real estate fracking involves using technology to break or open up a real estate asset and monetise it in entirely new ways, whether its office spaces, conference rooms, desks or even parking spots. This will be an enormous area for growth in 2019. As more start-ups offering hot-desking, conference rooms and parking reservations emerge, it’s likely that soon, digital advertising on the front facades on building and other areas will also become commoditized.

Space-As-Service Platforms will Proliferate

The commercial real estate industry is undergoing massive structural change through a concept known as space-as-a-service. Long-term leases and skyrocketing property prices are making it increasingly difficult for young professionals to remain in metropolitan areas. This new business model, epitomised by WeWork and similar flexible office spaces, provides a suite of services that enable tenants to utilise the space efficiently, entails everything from digital connectivity to furniture, fixtures and even the staffing required to operate their businesses.

Dom Conte
Head of Projects

Having run two high growth tech startups before practising as a senior real estate lawyer in the City for a number of years, Dom brings industry experience to his role heading up all artificial intelligence projects at Avail