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Client facing document assembly: can you afford not to?

Sarah Wilson

26 Apr 2017

We have come along way with regards to the use of document automation by law firms to produce legal and non-legal documentation. Here at Pinsent Masons, I feel we’ve definitely won that battle. Whilst there are still pockets of resistance to change, my view is that Geoffrey A. Moore’s famous chasm has been crossed, and we are in the realms of the “late majority conservatives” – only the most stubborn hold-outs are still resisting technology that is perhaps no longer even state-of-the-art.

However, the same cannot be said with regard to law firms enabling clients to benefit from document automation directly, by providing legal and coding expertise and a sublicense to use automation software. We can call this Client Facing Document Assembly (CFDA). We’re still very much in the territory of the “early adopters and visionaries,” with the chasm still to be crossed. Why is that the case? Common arguments that I have heard include:

  • We’ll never make any money out of this.” Clients regard CFDA as a value add, or are prepared to pay very little for it.
  • If clients can produce documents themselves and, in the process, see how straightforward some of the work we do is, then they won’t need us or be prepared to pay as much.” By offering clients CFDA we are taking bread from our own mouths.

These arguments can be challenged in the same way that the horror stories of how internal use of document automation could damage our young lawyers never came to fruition. Have we really ended up with our junior lawyers being unable to draft, or are we seeing a new generation of lawyers coming through who think creatively about how we can undertake work in the most efficient manner, and in doing so, provide quality analytics and management information? My experience is that it is the latter.

It is for us legal technologists to challenge the resistance to CFDA. I believe we can do this by turning the arguments above on their head. We should encourage our lawyers to see CFDA for what it is – a bundle of opportunities that we can’t afford not to invest in. Here’s why:

  1. The burning bridge: if we don’t do this then someone else will. In fact, they already are. Is it not better to have an annual income from a licence fee rather than that income go to another law firm, tech company, ABS or knowhow provider? The number and type of entities that compete with law firms has increased and we need to respond.
  2. CFDA helps to build and support relationships with clients: it can increase the ‘stickiness of the relationship’. The logical conclusion of the argument that clients see CFDA as a value add and are not prepared to pay is that clients are expecting their law firms to provide CFDA. By not providing it we may lose clients to other firms and miss the opportunity to strengthen the relationship. It may not be the deciding factor, but surely it will be relevant when law firms are totting up the value add services at the end of each year. In addition, the analytics and management information that can be generated by document automation and other technologies also helps to increase this stickiness.
  3. CFDA presents opportunities to generate legal and non-legal fees: there are fees for the CFDA itself which, in our experience, clients are prepared to pay for. There might also be legal reviews needed before documents can be automated. Finally, there may be the more complex work coming out of a matter for which the client produced the initial documentation themselves. We can support matters that escalate and are at the forefront of the client’s mind when they are making that decision. The process of instructing us is slicker as the information the client has filled into their online questionnaire can be seamlessly mapped to our own automated documents.

It seems clear that CFDA presents not only a return on investment, but a way to mitigate risks that will arrive whether we want them to or not. Rather than looking at CFDA as taking bread from our own mouths we should view it as an opportunity to access more of the goodies within the bakery.

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