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Document automation

Pushing the boundaries with advanced automation

Image Credit: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Whilst law firms who adopt document automation benefit from having simple to replicate, but easily customisable legal documents, there’s more to the technology than just automated templates. Once the basics are mastered, what’s next? In the second episode of our Document Automation Webinar Series, panellists examined what’s on the horizon with advanced automation.

Beyond traditional use cases

Advanced automation involves more than just dropping data into documents. It’s about moving the document into bigger legal operational processes. By documenting legal knowledge and skill, firms can fight associate and partner transience and maintain firm expertise.

“Not only is it about codifying that domain intelligence, but it’s also about integration with other systems, complex formulas, and then moving from a document level to more of a process level”, explains Geoffrey Goldberg, Manager of Contract Express Service and Support at Thomson Reuters. That’s where document automation moves beyond the transactional and starts to become advanced.

Trojan horse model

Document automation can also be a gateway to introducing other new technologies—a ‘Trojan horse’ to make users more comfortable with innovation. “It starts to open your mind to the possibilities of where other legal tech can be brought in to improve the processes”, said Jennifer Walton, business legal services operations manager at Irwin Mitchel. This includes automated workflows and process mapping legal matters. But first, firms have to figure out exactly what it is they want to do.

“I think we need to make sure that the business case is really there”, noted Sandra Smythe, Knowledge Solutions Manager at Mischon de Reya. That’s where your domain expert comes into play. Advanced automation involves both a lawyer or someone skilled in a particular practice area and a technician who can teach the domain expert about the technologies. Instead of merely handing down automated templates, it’s a ‘teach the person to fish’ philosophy. Firms need to know what to do and how to do it.

Cultural considerations

While it’s easy to tout the benefits of advanced automation, some lawyers may see it as a threat. However, this perception is unfounded. Rather than solely being a ministerial task, “automation really can be the highest form of practicing law”, said Goldberg. That’s why it’s important to make the user feel part of the process and keep the technological solution easy and simple to use.

The practice of law will not cease being centred on knowledge and discretion. And we see this in the recent uptick in automated litigation documents. “You don’t necessarily have to use automation to generate a document or set of documents that is absolutely perfect at the end”, Goldberg added. There’s a spectrum of automation. The real value is that it does 80 percent of the work. It creates solid first drafts of documents, allowing attorneys to focus more on the bespoke information that brings the document to life.

Tips to advance automation

The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for change. Whether it was out of necessity or convenience, many firms accelerated their adoption of certain technologies. With automation, however, firms need to be careful not to do too much. “There’s no reason that you have to automate a document 100 percent to deal with every situation”, said Goldberg. “If you find the right tool, you’ll see that it’s really quite intuitive, and you don’t have to go crazy and you can still get a lot of benefit out of it.”

Smythe suggests embracing the flexibility: “You can use it to do what you need it to do at that point in time and build on it”. The key is getting people who are enthusiastic involved in the process.

Many firms will start small with form filling. But deployment of modern document automation provides the skills and thought processes that can be applied in other, more sophisticated, areas of the legal processes and solutions. Firms just have to “keep pushing the boundaries”, advised Walton.

Learn more about Innovative Approaches to Legal Technology.

 

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