Department

Technology - Probate

Technology—Probate Editor: Jason E. Havens, 4400 E. Highway 20, Suite 211, Niceville, FL 32578, jasonhavens@abanet.org.

Technology—Probate provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the probate and estate planning areas. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

 

More Results from the Membership Survey on Technology Use in Drafting

Why should you care about the technology that other RPTE membersuse?

This is the second part of the technology editors’ two-part series reporting the results of the survey on technology use in the document drafting process. The purpose of this and future surveys is to assist Section members in using technology to improve their practices. This editor now turns to the completion of this survey’s results and an analysis of how members use various drafting systems and approaches. (Please note that some questions from the survey are not addressed in chronological order because of the logical flow of this column.)

Reasons Why Automated Templates Are Being Used

This editor is a strong proponent of using templates, as illustrated by the November/December 2004 issue of this column. Most of you seem to agree that templates greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of a law practice. Of the survey respondents who use automated templates, 309 (or 39%) use them to reduce drafting time. A significant 234 (or approximately 30%) of the same respondents use automated templates to enhance the quality of their documents. These are clearly two of the most compelling reasons to use automated templates.

Nevertheless, other factors dictate the use of automated templates as well. Another 135 (or 17%) of those respondents use automated templates as a knowledge management tool. Lastly, 90 respondents (or 12%) use automated templates as part of an expert system.

Some of the “other” responses could have been classified with the primary categories above. For example, three of those “other” respondents cited time savings as their primary reason for using automated templates, which is essentially the same reason as the first primary category of reducing drafting time (which, after all, translates into decreasing cost and increasing profit). Another three of those “other” respondents cited consistency in their documents as the primary reason for implementing automated templates, which could be classified in the second primary category of enhancing document quality.

It is somewhat surprising that more members do not place a high value on using an expert system to assist them in their drafting. Few law firms of which this editor is aware perform regular updates of their automated templates and/or their drafting systems (if they have automated templates and/or a drafting system in place). Updating also requires programming and related tasks that are generally an inefficient use of a lawyer’s time. For those who like tasks of this kind (as this technologically eccentric editor does), such an expert system might not be necessary. On the other hand, an expert system that is the collective result of numerous lawyers’ creating and updating is obviously valuable. An expert system is at least something to consider in evaluating a drafting system and approach and also in creating or purchasing automated templates.

Speaking of who creates the automated templates, the strong majority of the template-using respondents (254 or 68%) prepare their own templates in-house. Only 118 of such respondents (or 32%) use templates prepared by third parties.

By an overwhelming margin, in-house templates are prepared by lawyers (164 or 49%). Paralegals (52 or approximately 15%) and IT personnel (45 or approximately 15%) prepare most of the remaining automated templates. Document automation specialists prepare only 8% (28 out of 336 respondents) of automated templates.

This editor has historically used expert systems to draft estate planning documents. Some of those drafting systems make the creation of automated templates much easier than other systems. How automated templates are created in a drafting system and the ability to update or change those templates should be seriously considered before committing to a particular drafting system or approach.

Returning to an earlier question in the survey regarding particular drafting systems or approaches, most respondents (162 or 32%) use the internal tools of their word processing application to automate their documents. A substantial number of respondents (122 or 24%) use HotDocs ® as their stand-alone system to automate their documents using templates. The “other” response to this question indicates that many other respondents also use HotDocs ® with their automated templates.

Most contemporary word processing applications boast robust document automation capabilities. Even so, drafting systems tend to (1) increase a drafter’s efficiency, (2) enhance the quality of a drafter’s documents, and (3) decrease maintenance and related technology efforts. These benefits almost inevitably result from the use of an expert system.

Reasons for Not Using Automated Templates

Of the respondents not using automated templates, most do not use them because (1) they are not familiar with automated templates (150 or 23%), (2) automated templates are not available in the respective respondent’s office (186 or 29%), or (3) they do not have time or think that it would be too costly to set up automated templates (166 or 26%). A much smaller number of respondents (1) think that their drafting quality will decline if they use automated templates (100 or approximately 15%) or (2) do not see any benefit in using them (45 or 7%).

The validity of some of these responses is questionable. First, an abundance of information exists to assist lawyers in learning about automated templates and drafting systems. Second, if automated templates and drafting systems can provide the advantages outlined above, as taken from this survey’s results, every law firm should seriously consider adopting automated templates and a computerized drafting system of some sort to gain those benefits. Third, in this editor’s estimate, most automated templates and drafting systems consume far less time to implement than lawyers realize. Actually, implementing these tools probably saves more time in a month than lawyers would have previously spent “finding and replacing,” “cutting and pasting,” correcting mistakes introduced by preventable human errors, and the like. Further, drafting systems and their automated templates have made huge strides in the past few years and often require an insignificant “learning curve” to begin using them.

As for the other responses, this editor is perplexed that lawyers think that their drafting will actually decline by using automated templates. How many times have you missed a pronoun or the replacement of a (prior) name when using a “traditional” drafting approach? Have you ever omitted a provision that should have been included in a document (and would have been if the inherent logic of a computerized drafting system based on your automated templates had been used)? These and countless other questions would plague this editor without the assistance of a computerized drafting system and automated templates to use in that system.

Lastly, the benefits outlined in this column and the results of this survey should clarify the substantial benefits of using automated templates and a computerized drafting system. If you are honest about your evaluation of your drafting abilities, you must concede that a computer can indeed help you. In fact, a computer can help any lawyer. Usually, though, lawyers need help to use computers in the most efficient, effective way, which is where publications of the American Bar Association, other publications, discussion lists, and even consultants can make the process much less painful.

Would Non-users Be Open to Using Automated Templates?

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of respondents would use automated templates if (1) they improved the respondents’ efficiency (304 or approximately 84%) and (2) they improved the quality of the respondents’ drafting (307 or approximately 85%). It is hoped that this column has summarized the useful contributions automated templates can make to achieving efficiency and effectiveness (that is, better quality) in your drafting. Numerous other resources tout the advantages of automated templates and computerized drafting systems, as discussed in the November/December 2004 issue of this column and numerous other publications.

Conclusion

As noted in that November/December column, selecting an effective drafting system (and approach) is an important first step in an estate planning (and indeed most any) lawyer’s effort to become more efficient. But the additional step of creating and using automated templates within that drafting system will take the estate planning lawyer to the “next level” of productivity and generally quality in his or her services. Numerous solutions exist. Law firms should consider one of the various expert systems that can be purchased or licensed and that are updated periodically by distinguished practitioners (which you can still usually modify easily). With some research (and potentially the assistance of a consultant), some effort, and most importantly commitment to a consistent drafting approach, real property and estate planning lawyers can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their practices—and probably prevent most simple mistakes, which all professional liability insurance carriers will appreciate.

 

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