Some document assembly required
Technology providers have solved many of the pain points to produce solutions that no longer rely on IT specialists to deconstruct and automate legal templates, writes Christopher Jeffrey
For some time, word processing programs such as Microsoft Word have featured simple routines like mail merge, which add data into documents. However,
none of these tools have the sophistication or intelligence
to build more complex, rules-based documents such
as legal agreements.
With their complex permutations of clauses and the names, dates, and values within those clauses, legal agreements can quickly become very long and complicated documents
that require time, specialist knowledge, and great care
and expense to draft.
A disadvantage of the document assembly solutions lawyers may have encountered in the past is that they required IT specialists to automate templates. This is a difficult and time-consuming maintenance process that requires re-engaging the players involved in the initial implementation for each update (which can be frequent). In these circumstances, it has often been easier to abandon the system and draft the new document from a 'flat' template than to generate one using the outdated system and apply the planned updates manually. This obstacle to template maintenance significantly undermines the long-term viability and return on investment of document assembly projects.Advances in document automation software mean users are now abstracted from the underlying legal language of a document template and are instead presented with a questionnaire that collects data and guides them through the document creation process.
A questionnaire might ask, for example, who is the counterparty, what is the effective date, and so on. Based on the input provided by the users, the appropriate data and clauses from the template are then automatically inserted into the document, which is generated by the system and then returned to them. In addition to building the required text, the system will also apply the appropriate document styles and numbering to give a perfectly formatted product.
A principal benefit to document automation is efficiency. It offers the prospect of delegating less complex work by using technology to automate repetitive tasks. With document automation, more work can be completed in less time.
While this is an enticing prospect, firms will want to look closely at the business case before deciding on which document automation technology is right for them.
Using document assembly software enables quicker first-draft generation and the option to create a suite of documents from only one questionnaire. This increases productivity and saves both time and the human resource required to generate the first draft of a document. Streamlining the document creation process in this way makes better use of fee earner time by removing the more laborious aspects of contract drafting. This in turn frees up lawyer time to dedicate to higher-value work.
Ensuring first-draft consistency and accuracy is an obvious benefit to using document automation. It secures documents' quality across practice areas and allows firms to set the level of excellence for their documents, ensuring consistent style and protecting the firm's brand image. In addition, it can harness the expertise of the firm's lawyers in document assembly templates, helping retain knowledge and protect the firm against the vulnerability of lateral moves.
As already highlighted, previous generations of document assembly often failed to take off because they were just too cumbersome. Lawyers and staff will not embrace technology that is complicated or requires extensive training. Ease of use therefore plays a vital role in driving the adoption of the technology within a firm.
Equally important is the ease of use for the author of the automated template. If this can be done first-hand by a lawyer with an understanding of how the document would be used 'in anger', and without the need for programming specialists, then even better.
In addition to being easy
to use, the software should
be easy to deploy and simple
to scale. These factors are important for firms that expect the technology to support their future growth and allow them to take on more work in an efficient and ultimately more profitable way.
For firms without a complete bank of precedents ready to automate, consideration should be given to whether your technology provider can also provide a trusted suite of standard documents, complete with automation mark-up as a starting point, ready for the firm to make their own.If you are looking to make
the move to document automation, then choosing the right technology partner is clearly an important consideration. So, shop around and seek recommendations from colleagues when deciding on the technology to support your business.