Today, almost every law firm or business uses some form of document automation – either as a stand-alone solution, or as part of a case management, CRM, or accounting system. Although it is widely acknowledged that document automation software is the most effective way to increase productivity and efficiency, some firms aren’t getting the return on investment they anticipated.
Firms need to consider the following important aspects when implementing document automation to ensure they maximize their return on investment.
It’s All About Integration
One of the main benefits of document automation software is the re-use of information.
While re-using a document template is also ‘re-using information’, to get the best return on investment from your document automation software you need to integrate with other data sources. This includes re-using standard clauses from a central source, which makes clauses easier to maintain. Or importing staff information from an Excel spreadsheet, and using customer information from an accounting or CRM system. Most of the high-end document automation systems offer data-source integration.
You can even use information from outside the organisation, such as company records and you can share information from one template with other templates in the organisation, provided your field names are standardised across your templates.
Some of the more advanced document automation systems offer an application programming interface (API). If your firm has a software development capability, you can use the API to create custom integrations with your firm’s website, or with other in-house software.
If you use document automation in your firm, but you aren’t seeing enough return on investment, chances are that you aren’t integrating with enough data sources.
Treat Document Automation Seriously for Best Return
Ever since document automation software was invented, the real challenge has been with the creation of templates.
Some firms simply expect the software to do magic out of the box, and in these situations, the software always fails to generate any meaningful return on investment. Another problem is that management sometimes doesn’t truly understand the power of document automation, so they fail to allocate the staff it needs to truly make a difference.
But some firms get it. For larger firms, that might mean having a team of document automation coders, and for medium-sized firms it might mean having one or two dedicated document automation specialists. For small firms and single practitioners it is more difficult, because invariably the lawyer needs to create their own templates. Unfortunately, only a few lawyers ever succeed at this.
Easy to use
Today, most document automation systems are relatively easy to use, provided the lawyer spends a few hours (or days, depending on their ability) learning the system. Most unfortunately do not have the time. That’s usually because they are too busy drafting contracts manually to learn how to draft more efficiently, or they might feel that the document automation system is too complex, and they give up after a few minutes, intending to get back to it when they have time.
But some single practitioners and small firm lawyers do succeed, and they go on to create a library of their most often used agreements, contracts and forms – completely revolutionizing their productivity and efficiency forever. The more time you put in, the more time you’ll save, it’s that simple.
Manage Adoption by Users
There are firms that do take document automation seriously. They appoint a dedicated template coding team, the team creates a library of templates across practice groups, but no-one uses the templates.
The first reason this happens is because lawyers invariably believe their own agreements are the best, so they don’t trust templates created by other lawyers in the firm. They also don’t like change. The best way to get around this is to include as many lawyers as possible in the template creation process. Of course, that’s not easy, because invariably they are too busy practising law to help with the process. In those situations, management needs to get involved to compel lawyers to co-operate with the template development team.
One managing partner at a large firm called a meeting of all of the practice group heads, and instructed them to identify five often-used agreements in their department that would bring the best and quickest return on investment for the department within one week. ‘If you don’t do that, don’t ask why you didn’t get a bonus check at the end of the year’, he said.
The templates department might also need to force the issue, scheduling a meeting with the lawyer who will review the contract design. But that is only possible if the firm’s management truly buys into document automation, or the lawyer will simply fob the template coders off because they are ‘too busy’. Without management’s buy-in and drive, document automation will invariably fail to launch.
Some firms allow their lawyers, paralegals, and senior secretaries to create their own departmental templates. Typically, these templates are saved locally, and not in the firm’s centralised template library. The advantage of allowing decentralised template creation is that these users understand their requirements best, and they feel the pain most. So, they have a very real motivation to automate. All it takes is a training course of a few hours to get them started. Ideally, they will have an expert available to help them to get the most out of document automation. It is also likely that these users won’t use standardised field names or auto name their completed documents, and that’s okay – because they will still get a huge gain in efficiency.
Templates also need to be maintained so that they are up to date with the latest changes in the law, or users will lose faith in them. That’s not easy, because it needs someone who knows the law, and who will know when a template needs updating. If there are enough users using the templates, then someone invariably notices that an update is necessary and advises the templates department. But if templates aren’t being used regularly, keeping them updated can be a challenge.
Another way to ensure a template is kept updated is to assign it to a specific lawyer, so that they are forced to take responsibility for it. This extends to centralised clauses. For single practitioners and small firms this isn’t a problem because invariably the lawyer who is using the template is also the person that created it.
Measure users and usage
Modern document automation systems provide usage reporting, so the firm’s management can see which departments and users are using the system. It is also possible to see which templates are most popular, and which templates are not worth maintaining.
Usage reporting is essential to properly manage adoption since users will often claim to be using the system even though they are not. One way of ensuring adoption is to link usage to the end of year performance bonus. This ensures that users will request changes if something in the templates is wrong, or if the template can be more useful.
Use External Interviews for Onboarding
Firms have recently started sending questionnaires to their new clients and external users via email, for onboarding. This saves time because the client does the take-on data capture themselves. A lot of time can be lost when someone from the firm collects information from the client ‘manually’. The process where the client captures their own information is also more effective because it gives the client time to properly consider their answers in an unpressured environment.
While external questionnaires are a great way to improve efficiency, the system needs to provide some oversight to the process. For example, the sender needs to be able to see if the client has viewed the questionnaire, and if it has been completed. Where personal information is captured, the information needs to be secure, and in some cases multi-factor authentication (a password or PIN) might be required where the information is sensitive.
The design of the questionnaire is important, and the answers need to be automatically saved into the firm’s database for re-use in other templates such as an engagement letter. Some systems allow for collaboration, where internal users might know some of the information in advance before sharing the questionnaire with the client, and clients might need to forward the questionnaire on to other people in their firm, such as an accountant, for completion.
External questionnaires are still new to the profession, although some firms have published onboarding interviews on their firm’s website which achieves the same purpose as the emailed interviews. But in all cases, the captured data needs to be re-usable in other templates, or the internal user needs to re-capture the data from scratch, which is a waste of time.
Retention of corporate clients is another great way in which firms are getting more value from document automation. Firms create a cloud-hosted account for their corporate clients which contains some regularly used (and useful) document templates. In some cases, the corporate clients pay for these services, but depending on the revenue the client brings to the firm, the creation and hosting of these templates might be provided as a free service to retain their client’s business.
These solutions are usually hosted in the Cloud with a service provider like Azure or Amazon Web services. The account is themed with the client’s corporate image so it looks like their own website, and the law firm can decide whether to be notified when templates are run in the corporate’s system.
Law firms of all sizes are scrambling to find innovative ways to hold onto their clients. External interviews are a great way to achieve this, and this functionality is so affordable that firms of all sizes can benefit from it.
Auto-save documents into your DMS
Many firms have invested a substantial amount of money in a document management system (DMS), but they never get around to automatically saving completed documents and datasets into the DMS, probably because they don’t know this is possible. Typically, documents that are created are manually named, and then saved into the DMS by the user, which is a slow and error-prone process. Sometimes the documents are saved to a local disk and not backed up, which is not only risky, but usually poorly protected which is a security risk.
A good document automation system should be able to save completed documents into the DMS after assembly, and to name them automatically based on information captured during the interview process. Users can then re-use answers which were previously saved in the DMS for other templates, reducing data-capture time and increasing accuracy.
By automatically saving completed documents and answers into the document management system, firms ensure that all correspondence is securely saved in the right place and will be easy to locate if it is required for re-use at a later stage.
Train Coders Fully for Maximum Benefit
Many firms purchase a document automation system but stop short of comprehensively training their template coders. As a result, they simply don’t benefit from the full power that the document automation software has to offer. Training is the best way that firms can boost productivity, and yet many firms don’t invest in it.
Training for document automation extends to advanced Microsoft Word training. Template coders who do not understand Word features such as Styles, Paragraph Numbering, etc, often battle to create document templates that will be usable across the firm.
It simply doesn’t make sense to spend a substantial amount of money on document automation software, and then to balk at the relatively inexpensive cost of training.
Use Digital Signatures to Save Time
Many firms have been slow to embrace digital signatures, yet this can save a lot of time, especially where there are a number of (sequential) signatories. The cost of scanning, saving, emailing, printing and re-scanning the manually signed document is highly inefficient, and by adding digital signatures to document automation, firms can save time and create the impression of being ‘cutting-edge’ with their clients.
The problem with the adoption of the digital signature functionality is much the same as it is for document automation. Lawyers are simply too busy to allocate a few hours to learn how to use products like DocuSign, HelloSign or Adobe. This is another great example of where law firms/lawyers need to take time to ‘sharpen their axe’.
Choose Software With Enough Power For Your Future Needs
Finally, if you want to get the best return on investment from document automation you need to ensure that you choose a product which will be powerful and flexible enough for your needs, both now and into the future.
That might mean a system which has a powerful and well-established command set, with integrations to other systems that you already have in your office – like iManage, NetDocuments, SharePoint, Excel, etc. If you are a larger firm, you might also need a product which has a published API so that you can integrate with other internal and external data-sources.
The fact is that once you have implemented a document automation product, it is extremely difficult to re-develop your template library on a different product down the line. That’s why you need to choose carefully before you make your decision. With over 400 ‘document automation’ systems on the market you need to ensure that the product you choose is well established, powerful, and flexible, and offers good support. Without that, you will almost certainly experience a ‘failure to launch’.
About XpressDox Document Automation
XpressDox is the world’s most powerful and flexible document automation system – used by many of the world’s largest law firms and corporations.
XpressDox document automation easily integrates with both internal and external data sources for maximum return on investment. Using the powerful XpressDox API you can even integrate with websites and other in-house applications including SQL, Salesforce, SharePoint, iManage, NetDocuments, and HighQ.