It’s simple really. Lawyers sell their time. So, all lawyers are faced with finding ways to create more time or save more time to enable them to bill more. And it doesn’t matter whether a matter is billed per hour or on a fixed-fee basis. Saving time is still the most important goal for lawyers. Of course, that is easier said than done. The fact is that there are VERY few ways in which lawyers can save time these days, let alone create time. This article discusses how document automation can enable lawyers to create more time by saving more time on document creation.
Time-saving tactics have changed
It was easier in the old days to save time. Firms could employ time-saving tactics like employing more juniors, demanding longer hours from staff, increasing hourly rates, recording all time spent, and assessing each timesheet before billing. Today, it’s no longer that easy, with lawyers demanding work-life balance, salaries (and costs in general) continuing to increase, clients becoming more price sensitive, and commoditisation eroding margins. But there are some opportunities available to firms to enable them to create more time if they are willing to make some changes to how they work.
One thing that the pandemic did for the legal profession is to force work from home, which has now morphed into work-from-anywhere. That is potentially a huge time saver because employees no longer need to commute from home to work and home again. But not all employees are disciplined enough to work from home, and because firms don’t yet know how to manage a distributed and remote workforce, many firms have insisted that all employees return to the office.
There is a middle ground, however, where the firm creates satellite offices closer to employees’ (and lawyers’) homes, which reduces their commute time, reduces the cost of office space, and still ensures that employees put in a full day. And that’s an example of creating time. Some firms don’t like the idea of satellite offices though, because a large head office shows prosperity. But the benefits of satellite offices far outweigh that, because the firm can attract better staff, who like the idea of working closer to home. (Which reduces costs for both the employees and the firm.) Besides, the firm can negotiate naming rights on a huge building even if they don’t occupy every floor! Glamorous offices have also become somewhat of a liability as clients resent paying for the opulence of their service providers!
Law firms can also find higher-margin work, where the hourly rate is higher, and where there is less competition or commoditisation. This increases margin, which is another way firms can create time. In previous years, where firms enjoyed a healthier margin, the answer was simply to add more fee-earners. But as margins have eroded, that approach is no longer viable. Having said that, the trend is to fixed-price arrangements, which puts even more pressure on margins – the opposite of what firms want.
But in order to remain successful or viable (choose which of these words applies to your firm), firms have to find better ways to increase margin. And as we said earlier, there are precious few ways in which to achieve that.
Intelligence Augmentation will create more time
But there is one other option available to firms if they are open-minded enough to embrace technology. Intelligence Augmentation is the foundation of automation software and will create more time for firms in a consistent and sustainable way. There is a lot of hype around Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) where computers replace lawyers, but as we know, that only applies to some areas of practice, and AI is unlikely to replace all lawyers anytime soon. But there is another less dramatic version of AI, referred to as “IA” or Intelligence Augmentation. Also called Augmented Intelligence, IA is designed to enhance how humans work, not to replace them. It is aimed at helping humans become faster and smarter at the tasks they’re performing.
A great example of automation or IA is workflow software, where the computer manages a matter or case, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks, and automating various actions. Another good example is the automation of documents, where lawyers or junior staff can generate the first draft of a document – like an agreement or contract – in a fraction of the time it would take to do this via traditional methods. And the more templates that a firm creates, the more time they save.
How does a firm create time from document automation?
Lawyers are only entitled to bill for actual time spent on a matter, so how does a firm create more time from document automation? In the case of document templates, it is not only the lawyer’s time that is being recovered. There are also the salary costs of the templates team and any software which might be used for generating documents. And because documents are generated faster, both the clients and the firm benefit, because it is still cheaper for the client, and the firm gets to increase their margin.
But if document automation is so effective in increasing efficiency and reducing costs, why doesn’t every law firm use it? The fact is that almost every firm has some form of document automation, although they might not realize it as it is often ‘hidden’ in an expert system. But the reason most firms don’t use document automation is that it takes time to learn, and templates take time to create. And lawyers are simply too busy, or simply not wired to create templates.
Fortunately, that is starting to change as younger tech-savvy lawyers become the majority of the profession, and because document automation software has now become so easy to use that anyone can create their own templates. In the past, lawyers would need to spec what they needed to a template expert, who would then code it for them. And that would slow down and complicate the process to the point where the lawyer eventually gave up.
However, the new generation of document automation software is changing all this. With their low code interfaces, easy-to-learn functionality and enhanced features this new generation software empowers any lawyer to create their own templates and automate their documents. The software is now also extremely cost-effective allowing for monthly subscription plans with no obligated contract period. While there is still a need for template coders to create complex templates, it now makes sense for lawyers to create their own templates ‘first-hand’.
To be successful in an ever-evolving and competitive market, firms must embrace Intelligence Augmentation and change how they work. A key technology grounded in IA is document automation software which is a tried and trusted way to empower lawyers to create more time. Document automation is the smartest way for firms to increase efficiency and save costs. This has several knock-on benefits for your staff and your firm. If you’re still not convinced, just consider that every large law firm on the planet uses document automation – and many firms have been doing that for decades. While this was mostly because they had the staff and the budget to create templates, now any firm can benefit from document automation.
XpressDox is a world-class document automation solution that empowers lawyers to save time, reduce costs and increase efficiencies in their firm. Download your free trial today.