Brightleaf is a cloud-based SaaS system that labels itself a “legal document automation platform.” The easiest entry point might be to consider the Brightleaf system as HotDocs for legal; and, though it’s tempting to seek for a simple comparison like that, Brightleaf is a decently sophisticated product in its own right, and features workflow options specifically designed to integrate within the practicing attorney’s environment.
How Does It Work?
Brightleaf is a template creation and assembly program for legal documents. Step one is to create Brightleaf versions of your existing legal template documents. Step two is to assemble those documents tailored to the specific needs of your clients. Step three is to rinse and repeat.
Brightleaf is all about effective choices, and meaningful options; that’s what’s inherent in every phase of the platform, from the initial setup through continuing use. The staging platform for Brightleaf involves the addition of template documents. Users must have at least some (at least one) template documents in place before Brightleaf’s editing features can be actualized. And, here is where paths begin to diverge: Brightleaf users have a few options (plus some combinations thereof) for investing the system with templates. You can (a) start with some simplistic existing templates that Brightleaf loads onto the platform; and/or (b) build your own templates using Brightleaf’s assembly protocol (for premier level users); and/or (c) submit your documents to Brightleaf, so that its staff can map your documents and build for you templates that will work within the system. Not surprisingly, the brightest leaves (and bulk of users) choose letter (c) for template creation, for a couple of clear reasons: (1) the users don’t have to do anything (beyond submitting their template documents) aside from providing their ongoing input and making a final approval of submitted documents converted for use in Brightleaf; and, (2) it’s a flat fee versus a per-template charge. That Brightleaf is willing to upload templates (a labor-intensive, core program process) for a flat fee offers cost control to users. Brightleaf’s reasoning is that a flat fee encourages users to add more templates to the platform, to make it more likely that they’ll use the program more often, and more effectively, thus improving their return on investment. The system is priced out per month, per user (at two levels), with additional charges (on a per hour basis) for template revisions after initial creation and loading.
When templates have been mapped and are loaded into the platform, Brightleaf is ready for use. In addition to your Template Library, you’ll also have access to a Clause Library, from which you can draw extracted segments of text, to add those to the client documents that you create. Client documents are constructed in Brightleaf by providing answers to a series of questions. Following the document mapping that lies intricately beneath each of Brightleaf’s templates, the answers to questions fill in the specific information that converts each of the templates into unique client matter. Because the number of questions tends to grow given the higher complexity of a document, Brightleaf has added filtering features, including for delineating unanswered/unprocessed questions. The Brightleaf control panel appears in the left sidebar, and that’s where you’ll answer questions to fill in your templates with client-specific information, adding, among other things, elements (simpler, and repetitive information, like dates and client information) and those clauses (the sections of text). (For adding information from, and generally for pulling inputs from your existing, internal systems, Brightleaf utilizes its Connector Factory technology to make its system talk with yours, in order to fill in those document specifics that are drawn from your client, and related, records.) An edit pencil available within Brightleaf allows you to change the existing document map, to add questions, or prompts you to submit elements. In addition to the Brightleaf editing tools, users also have the ability to edit in Microsoft Word. In fact, the central pane within Brightleaf is your raw (and building) document, as it would appear in Word; Brightleaf, then, looks and acts very much like a gargantuan toolbar overarching Word, or a Word document. (Brightleaf is compatible with Word 2003, 2007, and 2010.) In addition to editing template documents via Brightleaf’s question-and-answer and insert processes, users are also able to edit (and save) their documents (in Word/to their folders/server), by means of the central Word pane. In addition to these systemic and on-the-fly editing capabilities, Brightleaf offers some other helpful features, including internal folders, shareable with and viewable/editable by those with access to the Brightleaf system/your account (including, potentially, clients). (Brightleaf allows administrators to set user- and role-based permissions.) It offers tabbing organization across the top, similar to the display in most recent versions of most web browsers. Finally, it features one-to-many document creation functionality, i.e., clauses drop out based on jurisdiction triggers and so forth. Brightleaf’s most recent release is version 3.5, which includes updates for ease of use with regard to assembly options, role assignments, date entries, and one-to-many document creation.
The Best and the Brightest
There are a number of additional points respecting the Brightleaf features alluded to above that merit mention, and some yet-to-be-addressed functionality that deserves some measure of attention. Brightleaf, through its folder sharing capabilities, allows lawyers to invite their clients into the document assembly process like never before. For the growing number of technology-savvy clients demanding more transparency from their law firms, access to their documents via Brightleaf, or systems like it, will become a sine qua non respecting hiring and retention decisions. Moreover, Brightleaf can have a positive effect on the bottom line by increasing efficiency, including in the realm of reducing the learning curve for new hires and in saving the time of senior attorneys who would otherwise have had to instruct starting lawyers in the intricacies of documents. Those intricacies are laid bare and made clear by the application, in practice, of Brightleaf’s document mapping. The ability to edit within a traditional Word environment means that those unfamiliar with Brightleaf, including clients, will find the system to be intuitive, as long as they can also follow the simple question-and-answer prompts, even if they don’t ever, or don’t ever want to, come to understand the underlying template construction. For those attorneys who and law firms that wish to most intimately connect their clients to the drafting process, the premier edition of Brightleaf offers the ability to create “Leaflets,” which are essentially restricted questionnaires for clients to complete in order to generate, in part, their own legal documents. Leaflets drive document assembly via an attractive client interface (bespeaking potential marketing opportunities), and can replace the checklists and rundowns that a number of firms maintain for acquiring basic document creation information. This saves lawyers time, and clients frustration. Leaflets are, essentially, a beta addition to Brightleaf at this time, and the future promises further additional features. The tabbing functionality within Brightleaf makes it easy to toggle back and forth between tasks within the platform, all while maintaining the anchored Brightleaf menu and static Word pane. Because this system, if applied across a firm and/or for clients’ usage, requires various levels of permissions, the ability for administrators to set user-specific and role-based access is essential.
Of course, being of human invention, Brightleaf is not a perfect creation, and there are some drawbacks to the use of the platform. For one, it runs only in Internet Explorer (7, 8, and 9). It’s not a big deal to download the browser, or to update it, if you don’t have it already; but, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari users may chafe at being forced to maneuver away from their favorite surfing spots. (However, I am told that wider browser functionality is on the way.) Although Brightleaf offers support to existing users, there is not an easily accessible, free knowledge base of the kinds that have grown up around some longer-standing products. The included Brightleaf system templates (save for certain ones built for industry groups, like the National Venture Capital Association’s model financing documents) are not recommended for use; upload your own, or have your own uploaded, instead. Finally, I don’t know that access to Template Factory (for creating your own templates) and Leaflets (pretty packages for getting your clients to do some data entry), as sole additional benefits, are worth the premium user upgrade and associated cost. (However, Leaflets, as client access/interaction tools, hold great potential, and may one day make the additional cost more worth it.)
Behind the Curtain
Before you can apply Brightleaf in your environment, you’ll need to run the “Brightleaf Analyzer,” which will check your system requirements with regard to interaction with and across the Brightleaf platform. Assuming everything checks out, Brightleaf will require your permission to run the SOAP Microsoft Plug-In (in order to allow Brightleaf to talk to Word); accept Brightleaf as a trusted website; carve out a pop-up exception for Brightleaf; accept Brightleaf’s Verisign certificate; and allow Brightleaf to run macros on Word. All fairly standard stuff, given the uses of the product. Once you’ve done all that, Brightleaf access is by https://. Brightleaf is also SA70 certified.
If you decide to buy Brightleaf, you’re looking at $125/month/user for the basic package. Premier users access the system at $250/month, which includes access to the aforementioned Template Factory and to Leaflets. (Pricing contemplates some support, including training, and general template maintenance.) Significant template updates, once original Brightleaf versions have been finalized and uploaded, are made at a consulting fee of $75–100/hour.
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A Comedic Postlude
Of course, Conan O’Brien tells it funnier than I do.
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