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The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—document automation

REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

Verba volant, scripta manent!  A crash-course in Latin isn’t required to understand that contracts are essential to an organisation’s success (‘spoken words fly away, written words remain’, in case you were wondering). As lawyers, the importance of contracts is appreciated, as well as the effort that goes into creating them. Lawyers spend around 60 percent of their time drafting documents. That time is extremely valuable, yet, given that lawyers are expected to deliver more every day, it’s understandable that many admit to lacking the time to check their work—undermining the quality service offered by the firm and creating unnecessary risk.

Today technology is now as ubiquitous as a Latin maxim in the legal profession—and there are ways to help your firm work smarter. Adopting a document automation solution can save up to 82 percent of the time spent to manually draft a document. When time is money—a smarter approach is to liberate your lawyers to focus on tasks that that add real value, not only to the bottom line, but to service levels—as well as reducing costs and risk to your firm. It could also provide opportunities to drive new revenue streams for your firm. A good automation solution should enable you to streamline your processes and increase the capacity of your firm to deliver better service for your clients—while ensuring the quality and consistency of your all-important contracts.

At its most basic level, document automation is a software solution enabling users to create first draft documents more quickly and more accurately than manual approaches. Automating documents can be as simple as completing a questionnaire or Q&A form. Transactional data such as party names, key dates, deal amounts, and percentages can be inputted to drive the inclusion of certain clauses or paragraphs in the document.

Technological change can seem daunting, and even threatening, however document automation is about enabling lawyers to work smarter and make their lives easier—not replacing their expertise. A solution that integrates with platforms and software currently used by your firm, like Microsoft Word, helps to ensure an element of familiarity. Even better if your solution integrates with your existing workflow software, or knowledge bank, including external resources.

Remember that first impressions count. Good tech should be quick and easy to use, full stop. Many lawyers or PSLs don’t have any technical coding skills—and for a good automation solution, they really shouldn’t need to. Lawyers should to be able to create the questionnaires that go on to help draft the documents automatically without locking horns with the IT team.

In addition to the time benefits of a well-designed document automation system, clients want their law firm to be innovative and adopt modern practices. If there is tech out there that helps clients spot trends in the most negotiated clauses, or propositions of different types of document—it stands to reason that their lawyers should provide more intelligent, data-led advice. Doing so will reduce your client’s legal risks and spend and give you enormous competitive advantage.

Far from being a substitute for your lawyer’s skills, document automation should feed into and complement the expertise in your firm. Some solutions can build in approvals and workflow, enabling senior lawyers to embed their knowledge into the workflow and provide advice and guidance at each stage of the process so that junior lawyers can train at the point of need and generate high quality documents. You can further improve this process by setting up an approval workflow, so that initial work produced by a junior can be checked by a supervisor or provide them with workflow ideas as to what to do next.

Opportunities to develop new revenue streams, or business development for your firm are another benefit: some automation solutions give you the opportunity to allow your clients and other third parties to access the questionnaires themselves. Building in approvals and workflow is likely to be as important to your clients as it is for your own firm’s use. Your client may want the business to produce their own supply contracts unless certain triggers are met that would require the drafting to be passed to legal. A software solution that enables this will ensure that you can better serve your clients and help them to solve the problems and capacity issues of their in-house teams incredibly effectively.

Your client’s privacy is just as important as yours, so it’s essential that your chosen solution allows you to create sub-sites to ring-fence your client’s documents. Just like your firm’s lawyers, your clients will want a tool that is familiar to them and feels like part of their everyday IT system, and so it may be an idea to ensure your clients can brand the tool. Go a step further and co-brand it so that it is also a powerful business development tool, with your clients seeing your firm’s name and branding every day.

Ultimately, document automation delivers consistently accurate documents quickly and efficiently. and. While the bottom line will always figure heavily in any major change project—providing the best possible client service is crucial to where your firm is now—and where it aspires to be in the future. Your clients expect your lawyers to provide creative and quality solutions to their problems. Moreover, utilising state-of-the-art legal tech in your practice frees up your lawyers to spend more time on new and existing clients.

For more information about document automation, click here for law firms.

For more information about document automation, click here for in-house.

 

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