- Create legal documents and fill forms more profitably and accurately using document assembly applications.
Your document assembly application is a real power tool in your legal technology toolbox. Reduce the repetitive, time-consuming aspects of creating legal documents and forms with document automation software and Web applications.
This column covers the leading desktop software and Web-based applications (Software as a Service or “SaaS”) now available to produce documents more profitably and accurately.
Here we cover:
- Why bother automating documents and forms?
- How Does Document Assembly Work?
- Desktop Applications: HotDocs, Pathagoras, West Form Builder, XpressDox
- Document Assembly in Practice Management Apps: PracticeMaster, ProLaw, Time Matters
- Web Applications: DirectLaw, HotDocs Server, WhichDraft, XpressDox
You can improve accuracy, reduce tedious work and increase profitability by automating the creation of legal documents and forms. This column covers some of the chief reasons for why you should bother to automate and a sampling of the desktop software and Web-based applications now available.
Why Bother Automating Documents and Forms?
Document automation software and Web services reduce the repetitive, time-consuming aspects of reusing legal documents and forms. You can sharply increase your profitability by charging some per-document or per-engagement flat fees.
By automating your documents you minimize the risks caused by the time-honored approach of reusing an old client document to create a new one for another client. Common and embarrassing problems can arise from opening an old document from another client and using “Save As” to make a similar document.
Following the old “Save As” approach you may:
- Fail to delete information that identifies the other client;
- Fail to insert the current client’s name where it should be;
- Run into trouble with Search and Replace, replacing too little or too much;
- Overlook choices or provisions that are needed for your current client;
- Leave in provisions that don’t fit your current client.
An automated document template cannot guarantee a perfect result. But it can seriously reduce these risks. It can make the task less time-consuming, more accurate and less draining.
How Does Document Assembly Work?
You can assemble a new client document in seconds. Typically you go through these steps:
- Select a document template and a client or matter;
- Go through Interview windows entering information and making choices;
- Review and edit the assembled MS Word or WordPerfect document.
It is best to use a document assembly application that pulls client information from the contact and matter records in a practice management application.
The link between these applications spares you from re-entering information you already have such as names, addresses, birth dates, and more. Longer documents will require that you to supply additional information, so they may take minutes instead or seconds to produce.
Even if you cannot link to your practice management application, you can use document assembly to save client-specific data in a file. When you assemble future documents for the same client, you save time and improve consistency. But this is a second-best choice since you end up with the same client information in two unconnected places.
Desktop Document Assembly Software
HotDocs: Most Familiar, Established Software
HotDocs is the best known document automation product. It has long been a product leader in the solo and small firm market. You will find HotDocs mentioned in most presentations and coverage of law office automation.
With a change in management, HotDocs Corporation now depends on its resellers and partners to sell into and support the small firm market. An independent consultant network serves those currently using HotDocs or interested in using it.
The company now focuses most development efforts on HotDocs Server, which runs as a web-service for considerably higher prices and targets larger firms and corporations.
HotDocs offers two approaches to creating templates. The Document Modeler gives you a simple method for inserting fields using square brackets markup in a Word document. For power, more options and a longer learning curve, you can create reusable component files containing variables, scripted dialogs, computations and more.
We would like to see an easier-to-learn edition offered at lower prices. That would make HotDocs more attractive and competitive for smaller offices.
HotDocs Developer Lite ($500) or HotDocs Developer ($800) is required to create document templates. Other users in the office who just need to assemble documents need only the HotDocs User license ($300).
Pathagoras: Multiple Document Automation Tools
Pathagoras takes some wonderfully innovative, multi-pronged approaches to automating the production of documents. In addition to the familiar Questions and Answer dialogs, Pathagoras has an efficient clause library feature and a powerful, easy Typing Expander. The product reflects the developer’s devotion to responding to user requests, offering a variety of refined options for working with documents.
Pathagoras responds to the many ways that lawyers think about and work with documents. It simplifies the process of inserting variables into document templates and working with phrases, clauses and paragraphs.
For example, a big barrier to successfully producing a good-sized collection of automated documents is burn-out. The lawyer or paralegal gets only so far with the project and then finds it hard to find time for the next round of automating legal contracts, estate planning instruments, or the like.
But with Pathagoras, you can choose to master a few of its many, many features and find that it is not so hard to get back into your automation project. On the other hand, if you try to learn and use too many of its features, you may be deterred by the amount of relearning you need to do to pick up where you left off.
Pathagoras has a generous 90-day free trial - that is three times longer than the typical trial. So you really can learn the product when your schedule allows before making the decision to commit to using it for automating your practice.
Pricing for Pathagoras is $379 for the first user and $250 for added users.
Westlaw Form Builder works inside of MS Word like most other document assembly programs, but it differs significantly from them.
Westlaw Form Builder delivers:
- A library of templates specifically tailored to different practice areas, including state-specific versions
- Form documents drafted by well-known authors and sources
- Secure storage of client data in the Cloud
- Access to free WestlawNext links from any citation within a document
The capability to create your own document templates will be added later this year. For the Form Builder service the buyer pays a monthly fee based on the forms collection and the number of users.
For example, Westlaw Form Builder Criminal Law - Texas includes more than 500 forms and costs $59.60 per month for one user. The Lipmann’s Estate Planning - National collection gives access to over 5,300 forms for all 50 states and costs $268.80 per month for one user. Forms are continually updated.
XpressDox Desktop: Newer Low-Cost Contender
XpressDox delivers all the features expected of a powerful document assembly program at a lower cost than the competition.
Highlights of XpressDox include:
- Lowest cost document assembly software: $149 per user
- Produces MS Word documents (2003, 2007, 2010)
- Produces HTML, PDF and text documents
- Merges information from Excel, Outlook, SQL Server, ODBC and more
- Deep and broad features
- Classy British-English terms scattered round about the documentation
XpressDox also has a linking client for Salesforce.com, a Software as a Service platform, that allows you to use a single record ID to merge a wealth information into your documents. Its “relevance engine” takes a lot of the guesswork out of building document assembly interviews by automatically presenting only those questions required for the interview.
If you use practice management software for client and matter information, you probably can export that information into a spreadsheet format (.csv or .xls) that XpressDox can use to reuse names, addresses and more in automated documents.
XpressDox, the new kid on the document assembly block, is quite a contender.
Document Assembly in Practice Management Software
You may already using practice management software such as PracticeMaster, Time Matters or ProLaw to record information about clients, matters and documents. If so, you already have a built-in, powerful document assembly system.
A big advantage of these applications is that you enter any new information or changes once and they are ready to use for document assembly. You do not have to enter that information a second time in document assembly interviews to produce one or more documents.
Usually the document assembly features of your practice management software work smoothly with their document management features. That saves you time and speeds learning since you use a single interface. You can produce a document, save it to the correct folder, and link it to a client and a matter all in an orderly sequence.
Time Matters from LexisNexis gives you multiple choices for pulling information from your client and matter records and inserting it into template documents.
Time Matters can produce documents with any of the following:
- Time Matters Merge Templates that integrate with MS Word and WordPerfect
- Time Matters Formattable Clipboards that use the Windows Clipboard to paste client and case information along with boilerplate text into documents and e-mails
- HotDocs templates linked to Time Matters contacts and matters
PracticeMaster Premier includes document assembly features that integrate with its document management system. It works with MS Word documents.
The document assembly capabilities include:
- Calculating amounts based on formulas you create
- Automatically creating fees and expenses in Tabs3
- Creating calendar entries in PracticeMaster and Outlook while assembling documents
- Creating a document management record after each assembly
ProLaw is a popular choice for document assembly in larger firms. Designed as a full-fledged practice management system to manage everything, ProLaw has powerful document assembly features, including:
- Easy-to-create custom forms and templates with drag and drop fields
- Automatic conversion of documents into a PDF
- Integration with Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word
- Templates assignable to practice areas or jurisdictional rules
- Links from templates to relevant task or deadline
- Mass document assembly
- Conditional text based on matter or contact information
Web-Based Document Assembly Applications
Document assembly is one of many components of DirectLaw’s all-in-one service. DirectLaw allows you to revolutionize the way you use technology to practice law. You can move from the old model of desktop legal software and networked PCs to the new model of Web-based legal applications (or Software as a Service) and Internet connections.
Describing all the services included in a DirectLaw subscription would go beyond the scope of this article, so here is a partial list and a link to more information:
- Document automation (RapiDocs)
- Document storage system
- Law firm website
- Client login page
- Secure attorney-client communications
- Calendar with reminder system
- Legal invoicing
- Credit card processing
- and many more
The document assembly system is similar to HotDocs and other similar software for creating templates with dialogs and for producing client documents from the templates.
To use the RapiDocs document assembly feature you need a $99 per month subscription. There are no additional charges for your use of templates that you create. You have the option of using templates from a library. Many are free and others cost from $4.95 to $29.95 per use.
In January, 2012, HotDocs Ltd announced HotDocs Document Services, a cloud-based subscription service priced at $99 per month for up to five users, an affordable alternative for solos and small firms. At least one desktop software license is required for the creation of document templates. The templates are uploaded to the cloud and made securely available to the HotDocs Document Services users.
Unlike other approaches to document assembly, WhichDraft collects automated document templates from its members who agree to share their forms. The WhichDraft founders, both experienced attorneys, also offer their own document templates for many practice areas.
You can create your own automated documents or use the ones available on the site. If you create your own templates, you may make them public or private. But be aware that you may grant the website owners a concurrent license to use anything that you create, whether you mark it public or private.
WhichDraft is in the midst of a transition from a free Web-based service to what may be the most affordable online document assembly application. Stay tuned for what we expect will be a great new player in the document assembly world.
XpressDox can combine the best of desktop software with the best features of Web-based document assembly. You can create templates using efficient, fast desktop software. You and others can create client documents from those templates anywhere you can access the Internet.
XpressDox Server highlights:
- Templates run in any Internet browser anywhere
- Easy deployment - nothing to install
- Automatically creates documents on an iPad
- Requires one XpressDox Desktop license ($129) to create templates
- $29/mo. up to 50 assemblies; $69/mo. up to 150 assemblies
The American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center has a good, general introduction, FYI: Document Assembly