For real estate law, nothing beats the human touch

"We're like that awesome restaurant in your neighbourhood you would wait an hour for a table"

For real estate law, nothing beats the human touch

This article was produced in partnership with Top Law Firm, Barristers & Solicitors.

Desmond Devoy, of Canadian Mortgage Professional, sat down with Abraham Top, founder of Top Law Firm, to talk about how firms like his stack up compared with the new, big box online real estate law firms.

For lawyer Abraham Top (pictured), the Uber model is great for ride sharing or delivering your burgers and fries.

But does a similar online/app-based model work for real estate law services?

He’s still not fully sold.

In fact, his advice for people looking to sell or buy a house or looking to get a mortgage? Top says you should speak to a lawyer.

He likens it to buying a car.

“People should speak to a mechanic before they buy a car,” he said. “Ask the mechanic: ‘Which cars do you never see?’” Which cars seldom need servicing.

So if you are looking to buy, sell, or refinance, a real estate lawyer would know the score.

“Go talk to this guy,” a mortgage broker he knows. “This person you can trust.”

He’s not anti-technology, to be clear.

“There is a time and a place for that kind of service,” he said of the new real estate law websites.

“It does work. We see it working. If you’re tech savvy, that is a great place. That is the Uber of real estate law. Fast. Convenient.”

But he has his concerns.

“I question the quality,” he said. “I know what is involved.”

He has ordered food from delivery apps, and “they haven’t always got the order right. It hasn’t always been on time.”

If his French fries are missing from his order, “I can live with it.”

But if something is missing from the proceedings of a real estate transaction, well, that could prove to be of great consequence.

If a legal problem arises with paperwork on moving day, who is there to deal with it at an online firm?

“I’d love to do the Pepsi challenge on this,” he said with a laugh, pitting a real estate law firm, like his, against an online firm. “I’m sceptical to see the retention rate,” of the online firms.

There’s also the problem of websites getting hacked – something he admits can happen to a law firm too.

Many hands make light work

“You can’t just have one set of eyes,” he said. “One clerk on a file with one lawyer, you can’t do that anymore. And I get that there’s software out there that can help detect fraud and that’s an added barrier, which is great. But in our office, I’m a firm believer that the more eyes on the file, the better and that’s what we do here.”

He noted that the online sites were shifting some of the problem onto clients, and “shifting liability. The liability is back on to the client,” which can be a problem if a client uploads, say, the wrong documents.

“We take the extra care to make sure your deal is done right,” he said.

If doing business with a numbered company, if the deal falls through, who can you, as a buyer, sue? A lawyer, according to Top, should make sure it does not come to that.

His firm is keeping up with the technological times though.

“We send out a link to a client. It’s not on our website,” he said. “Anyone can go in when they have the link, can upload their documents to us securely, or we can do it via email.”

But he likes to balance “old school” with the new.

“A lot of clients still like to come in,” he said. “Some lenders, some of our corporate clients or lender clients, they want wet ink on their paper. We have a commissioner (who can) go out to those people’s homes and sign with them in person.”

He still remembers “the old days where you’d have to wait for documents to be faxed to your or mailed to you,” he said. “But you have to be careful of this new tech is like a weapon. This new tool we have is also very dangerous.”

Legal perceptions

When it comes to misconceptions about lawyers, he wants readers to know that our lawyers are on their side.

“The idea of the lawyer is to help, just like a doctor,” he explained. “We’re here to help you get through the transaction. We’re here to help you grow and get you into a better place than where you started.”

He jokes that Keanu Reeves or Tom Cruise, who played lawyers in the past, will never star in a movie about real estate lawyers, because of the perception that it is “boring.”

But to those involved in it, “it’s interesting to see the deal come together, finalized. Where it is very rewarding to see is when you’re working with a new client, on a new purchase. Or a new company who is lending money or a new broker. You see them grow over time.”

He has seen some companies grow on the lender side, seeing them go from “little seedlings growing into this big oak.”

He’s proud of his operation and staff and, once more, makes another comparison.

“We’re like that awesome restaurant in your neighbourhood you would wait an hour for a table!” he said. “The best pizza. And you will wait like an hour for a table just to go and eat there. Because it is worth the wait.”

The big pizza chains “have their place.”

But so do firms like his.

Top Law Firm, Barristers & Solicitors, focuses on real estate law.