Case Study – Real Estate Authority Improves Legal Advice and Complaints Outcomes with M-files

New Zealand’s Real Estate Authority (REA) is the independent government agency that regulates the NZ real estate industry. REA promotes public confidence and high standards of professionalism in the real estate industry while protecting the interests of buyers and sellers of property.

REA provides independent information and guidance as well as carrying out professional disciplinary, licensing and enforcement functions. It deals with complaints about agents’ behaviour and provides licences to people and companies working in the real estate industry. It also maintains a public register of real estate agents that includes information about disciplinary action taken in the last three years.

The Challenge

REA is responsible for addressing complaints about the behaviour of agents via an independent, fair, and open complaint process. Where necessary, complaints are escalated to an independent decision-maker, the Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC), which is made up of three people appointed by REA. This includes a lawyer, a real estate industry member, and a person with experience in working with consumer interests.

The CAC decides whether to inquire into the complaint, investigates complaints and, if necessary, whether to refer the complaint to the Disciplinary Tribunal. Disciplinary actions can include a fine of up to $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a company, and the potential to pay compensation to victims of up to $100,000.

Given the seriousness of the CAC’s job, it is essential to ensure that CAC members have access to the right information on which to base their decisions. These independent decision-makers need to base their findings on precedents and current legal advice provided by REA’s internal legal team. This advice or information was mostly provided via email or through training sessions which made it difficult to track and to ensure that everyone received the correct and most up-to-date information.

REA used a shared drive across the business with a separate folder for the legal team. Trying to find a previous legal position on an issue was next to impossible because of the limitations of folder structures and the ability for team members to save documents wherever made sense to them.

Alexia Reedy, Legal Projects Administrator, said, “Consistent decisions are essential for the CAC. Therefore, REA decided to create a knowledge base for CAC members to access, which would provide them with precedents and legal advice that they could use as a basis for their decision-making. It was essential to make this knowledge base searchable so that CAC members could find the relevant documents instantly, basing their decisions on the most recent piece of advice.”

In addition to providing information support to the CAC, REA needed a solution that would streamline the process of seeking legal advice from REA’s legal team. In the past, this was done exclusively via email, with limited visibility into the status of requests without extra effort or workarounds. Therefore, the business needed a solution to manage this process.

The Solution

REA was introduced to DocSmart, an M-Files partner in New Zealand, through another government organisation. DocSmart reviewed REA’s requirements and developed a proof of concept in less than a day that showed how M-Files could operate as an information vault. Based on that proof of concept, REA decided to work with DocSmart to implement M-Files for the REA legal team.

Reedy said, “DocSmart was very easy to approach and discuss REA’s requirements with. Early on, we saw that a major benefit of M-Files was its ability to shape to our needs, rather than REA needing to change processes to fit with M-Files. It’s easy to configure M-Files and, if we recognised an additional need or a nice-to-have, it was a simple matter of firing off the question to DocSmart and the team would respond not just with a yes or no, but with other solutions to questions we raised.”

The M-Files solution was configured specifically to meet the legal teams’ needs for a knowledge precedent solution and improved matter management. The REA legal team also uses M-Files to manage requests for legal advice and workflows. Users fill out an online form with dropdown menus, which captures all the relevant information required for the legal team to provide advice.

The matter is then assigned to a member of the legal team and comprehensive peer reviews and approvals are included as part of the workflow. The semi-automated workflow alerts relevant people when certain tasks have been completed so that they have full visibility into the matter’s progression, which is finalised when the legal team member sends an email with final legal advice to the person who requested it. The matter is then marked as closed. Finding the documents that were created as part of the matter is a simple matter of searching for them using any of the metadata parameters that were set in the original request. All documents relating to a matter are tagged accordingly.

Reedy said, “The M-Files system is incredibly powerful and the same functionality can be applied across REA’s business.

The REA legal team had tried using other task management tools but M-Files really met our needs perfectly.” Following a three-month pilot program, REA went forward with the go-live project based on the results already seen.

The Results

CAC members have already provided positive feedback about the initial M-Files solution, including how easy it is to understand the web portal interface and how much time and effort they’ve saved when researching for decision writing. With approximately 40 users across the CAC and legal and administration teams, M-Files has minimised complexity and created a more positive and reliable process for CAC members. This was a key priority for the REA Board so it’s a huge win to have delivered this project successfully.

Reedy said, “The team can put in a few keywords and find whatever documents are on file, easily sort through them, and quickly find out everything they need about the piece of advice. This means that the legal team have peace of mind that they’re basing their new advice to the CACs on the most recent information available, allowing CACs to make more consistent decisions. Duplicate documents and version control are automatically managed by M-Files.

“The whole legal team now knows what information CAC members have available to them in the knowledge base. This also makes it easier to peer-review the CAC’s decisions. Previously, it was difficult to know exactly what information the CAC members were basing their decisions on but now it’s clear.

“CAC members have instant access to templates that the legal team can update at a moment’s notice when law precedents change, for example. The team knows what CAC members need to know, so they can be more direct in their advice to CAC members, which is a big bonus.”

The legal advice request workflow has improved the transparency of legal advice requests. It streamlines the process for the legal team, and adoption has been strong.

Managing documents through the peer review system has been a key area of improvement since implementing M-Files. Reedy said, “For the business, being able to see at a glance where their legal requests are and whom to contact if they have questions has marked a major improvement. For the legal team, M-Files has created a better collaborative environment that facilitates peer reviews and knowledge sharing.”

The Bottom Line

• Increased access to latest legal advice for improved decision-making

• Created visibility into requests for information and workflows

• Delivered a modern, powerful automated solution

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Peter Ellyard

Having spent over 20 years immersed in the document management software industry I have found that by offering a simple to use, highly effective electronic document management solution (knowledge management software) we increase productivity dramatically. Typically by an hour per person, per day! This is not rocket science, just a simple way to streamline your day to day information needs.