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January 25, 2024 5 minutes to read ∙ 1100 words

TAPAs: Document Automation

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Document automation is the process of using software to create legal documents based on predefined templates and data. It streamlines your workflow, increases efficiency, and reduces the likelihood of errors. If this is not already part of your practice, why not start the year off right? You can start small by choosing one aspect of your practice to automate.

Tip 1. Automation Saves You Time and Money

Document automation can save lawyers time and money by reducing the need for manual drafting, editing, and formatting of repetitive and standardized documents. Some of the benefits of document automation for lawyers are:

  • It increases efficiency and productivity by automating the creation of common legal documents such as contracts, agreements, letters, forms, and pleadings.
  • It reduces errors and risks by ensuring consistency and accuracy of the content and format of the documents.
  • It improves quality and compliance by adhering to the latest legal standards and best practices.
  • It enhances client satisfaction and retention by delivering faster and more personalized services.
  • It lowers costs and overheads by saving time, resources, and paper.

According to a study by Thomson Reuters, document automation can help lawyers save up to 82 percent of their time and 90 percent of their costs on document creation. Document automation can also generate more revenue for lawyers by allowing them to handle more cases and offer more value-added services to their clients.

It is a powerful tool that can help lawyers streamline their workflow, improve their performance, and grow their business. Document automation tools allow lawyers to create legal documents much faster than traditional manual methods. By using predefined templates and clauses, lawyers can generate accurate contracts, agreements, and other legal documents in a fraction of the time it would take to create them from scratch. By reducing the time spent on manual document creation and review, lawyers can achieve cost savings both in terms of billable hours and operational efficiency.

Tip 2. Automation Reduces the Likelihood of Errors

One common error that lawyers may make when drafting contracts is to use incorrect or outdated information, such as the names, addresses, dates, or terms of the parties involved. This can lead to confusion, disputes, or even legal consequences for the lawyers and their clients. Document automation can help prevent this error by using data sources that are verified and updated regularly, such as databases, spreadsheets, or online forms. The software can automatically populate the relevant fields in the contract template with the correct and current information, ensuring that the contract reflects the true and intended agreement of the parties.

For example, suppose a lawyer is drafting a lease agreement for a tenant and a landlord. The lawyer can use document automation to create the contract based on a standard template and a data source that contains the details of the tenant, the landlord, the property, the rent, the duration, and the conditions of the lease. The software can fill in the blanks in the template with the data from the source and generate a complete and accurate contract that the lawyer can review and finalize.

By using document automation, the lawyer can reduce the risk of using wrong or outdated information in the contract and save time and effort that would otherwise be spent on manual data entry and verification. This can also improve the quality and reliability of the contract and increase the satisfaction and trust of the clients.

Tip 3. Document Automation Helps Retain Knowledge When Staff Changes

A lot of brainpower and know-how can be lost when lawyers leave a firm. Document automation can remedy this by creating a repository of firm knowledge that can be accessed and updated by different users. Document automation allows lawyers to store their templates, data, and logic in a centralized system that can be used to generate customized documents for various cases and clients. This way, the knowledge and expertise of the lawyers are not lost when they leave the firm but rather preserved and shared with their colleagues and successors. Document automation can also help lawyers organize, search, and manage their documents more efficiently and ensure that they are consistent and compliant with the latest legal standards and best practices. Bonus: it can help speed up the onboarding of new lawyers at your firm.

Tip 4. There Are Several Document Automation Tools to Consider

Here is a list to help in your research:

  • Gavel (pricing start at $83/month). Integrates with Clio, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
  • Lawyaw (PDF Court Forms - $33/month; Microsoft Word Document Automation - $67/month; Court Form and Microsoft Word - $100/month). Integrates with Clio and Microsoft Word.
  • HotDocs (pricing starts at $33.33/month). Integrates with Microsoft Word, Salesforce, SharePoint, and Outlook.
  • Smokeball (pricing starts at $99/month). Integrates with Microsoft Word.

There are others out there to choose from, but this will get you started. When choosing a system, consider:

  • The quality and accuracy of the templates and data sources. Ensure that the templates are up to date, compliant with the relevant laws and regulations, and customized to the specific needs and preferences of the clients. The data sources should be reliable, secure, and easy to access and update.
  • The ease of use and integration of the software. Choose software that is user-friendly, intuitive, and compatible with the existing tools and systems that your firm uses. The software should also allow the lawyer to collaborate with other lawyers, clients, and third parties and to track and manage the document creation process.
  • The cost and value of the software. Compare the price and features of different document automation software and evaluate the return on investment. Whatever you choose should save time, money, and resources, improve the quality and consistency of the documents, and enhance client satisfaction and loyalty.

Tip 5. You Can Create Document Automation Tools in Microsoft Word Yourself, but It Is a Hassle

There are some basic automation tools in Microsoft Word in the form of Auto Text, but its functionality is limited. You can use Auto Text to insert predefined text or graphics into your document with a few keystrokes. There are built-in Auto Text strings provided by Word, or you can create your own custom ones. (For an overview of how to use Auto Text in Word, see this month’s “Ask Techie” column.)

If you want to create more robust fillable forms in Word, you need a comfort level with writing Macros and Visual Basic. This is where subscribing to a document automation tool can save you time and money.

Document automation is a smart and effective way for lawyers to create legal documents with speed, accuracy, and quality. It is an easy way to improve your practice and achieve your goals for the year.

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    Jeffrey Allen

    Oakland, CA

    Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Senior Technology Editor of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer (2013) and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips (2013). In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at [email protected].

    Ashley Hallene

    Houston, TX

    Ashley Hallene ([email protected]) is an attorney and land manager with Demeter Renewable in Houston, Texas, and is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo magazine, the GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, the ABA Young Lawyers Division, and the Senior Lawyers Division.

    Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 6, January 2024. © 2024 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.