As lawyers, we’ve heard a lot of stories from clients over the years. We’ve also learned that most of the time, the enormous sensationalist tale that is often theatrically presented to us when we first meet with our clients isn’t always an entirely accurate reflection of the truth.
It’s the same with anything new that makes a significant change to the way we comfortably work. It can feel intimidating, especially if we don’t know much about what it is and how it will impact us. But remember, all those stories that we hear are a bundle of part truth, part rumour and part emotional reaction to feeling insecure and uncertain about new ideas.
The fact is that document automation is bringing fundamental changes to the legal industry. It is no longer enough to work the same way we did way back when we were new graduate lawyers. You need to do what you need to do to embrace document automation as part of modern practice.
So what excuses are you relying on to hold your legal practice back? Here are the reasons those excuses are nonsense. Even if you’re not ready for any change, you still need to read this.
1. Document automation is only useful to fill in basic fields, like client details on the front page of a document.
It’s great if you and your team can produce documents quickly by only filling in the client details on one page of each document. However, it seems that the documents are generic and used for clients in different situations. How’s that working out? How much time to you and your team spend reviewing documents and making changes to suit a particular client with a specific situation? Can it be stressful?
With a well designed automated document, you and your team will be able to produce highly customisable documents within a few minutes. And without the stress.
2. There’s no point investing money into automating documents because I can’t recover the costs from the client.
And there’s no point paying yourself a salary, buying computers for you and your team to use or paying for a post office box either. Your investment into automating documents is an expense at the business level, not at the client level. If this is holding you back, you may also like to consider how your practice prices your services and manages expenses because getting over this hurdle will also help you transform your practice’s legal services into legal solutions. If you’re stuck using a billable time or fixed fee model, it might be a good idea to do a bit of research into value pricing and other pricing models.
3. My clients all need different documents. It’s just not practical to automate all of them.
Really? You and your team must be very busy all the time trying to keep track of so many different documents making sure there is consistency across your documents and how you and your team prepare them. Is it possible that most of the documents start as one of a few different documents, and then you or your team vary them for different situations?
Think about the few base documents that your practice uses and list all the ways they are varied for different situations. It’s possible to design automated documents that handle quite a few variations so you won’t need as many versions as you think you might need.
4. My precedent documents are already perfect. They can be automated exactly as they are.
Okay. We all love the precedent documents that we’ve drafted over the years that work well for us. We also probably have a few precedent documents that we’ve slapped together in a few hours that aren’t so beautiful. It will always be hard to let go.
Thinking honestly, are your documents designed so your target clients can understand and use them? How well do they fit within your solutions for your clients? Are they filled with information that’s not relevant for your target clients?
You will have some documents that will need less preparation work to automate them than others, and that’s great. However, you’ll probably find that every document will need at least some work.
5. The questions can’t possibly cover all scenarios so the document will never be accurate.
Okay. How do you and your team obtain information from a client when you meet with them for the first time? For clients that you know, how do you gather the information that you didn’t know?
You ask questions. If you ask the right questions, you’ll get the information you need. Sometimes you’ll look for the answer from other sources, but that’s still answering your question.
Whether an interview is designed for a client to complete themselves or for you or your team to complete will depend on how you plan your legal solution. Did you know that you are in control of the wording of the questions, the possible answers and how all of the questions will be structured? You can even make sure that specific questions only appear after receiving a specific response to an earlier question, so the person completing the interview only sees questions that are relevant to them.
You then control how the information gathered from the answers to the questions is used by the software to create the output document.
6. The only way to prepare a document that accommodates my client’s specific needs is to draft it myself.
Yes, we get it. It’s pretty safe to say that we’ve all been in situations where a document is just not prepared correctly, and no amount of diplomatic negotiation with the author on suggested amendments will ever fix it properly. The natural first reaction is to offer to do the work ourselves to save the headache (and heartache) later. We trust in our ability to produce the document for our client’s specific needs and don’t have the time to train someone else on how to do it.
Did you know that you can design exactly how an automated document is put together based on the information that is gathered by the software through the interview? All you need to do is trust that you’ve covered the process that you go through in your mind in the design of the automated document. Then you’ll see that you can do all that work to produce a document in minutes, not hours.
7. I don’t have the tech skills to automate any documents.
You don’t need to have excellent tech skills. If you can draft a legal document in Word, then you can create the legal content to use in an automated document. You can then either learn how to use your chosen software yourself or work with an expert to help automate your legal documents with the legal content you create.
8. Automated documents aren’t for my practice as I don’t want my clients to complete a document themselves.
You can choose how you incorporate the use of automated documents within the solutions that you offer your clients.
Some practices choose to offer their automated documents as stand-alone products to customers, where customers complete the interview online and then receive the finished document directly. Some practices want to have their clients complete the interview and the document sent to a lawyer to review and make any further changes before adding their advice and providing the final document to their client. Other practices choose to have the automated documents available only for their lawyers, even if the lawyer completes the interview when in a meeting or on a call with a client.
9. Most of the documents I work with come from the other side. I have to fix their mistakes myself.
That is very generous of you. However, fixing another practice’s document is a massive waste of time just for the sake of being traditionally nice. It doesn’t make much business sense in modern practice, so you need to think of using practical ways to to get past this barrier.
You could offer to prepare the ‘first draft’ of a document by completing the interview of an automated document yourself and making any changes that you need in the Word version. You could even send the link to the interview to the other lawyer to complete to help them prepare a ‘first draft’ quickly. You’ll then be able to work with the other lawyer to negotiate any changes in the Word version as you normally would. Hopefully, your negotiations will even take less time because there will be less mucking around with human errors, inconsistent or irrelevant content and problem-plagued formatting.
10. I can’t use automated documents because once we prepare documents, we still need to negotiate details and make other changes.
Well, you can. How you design and decide to use automated documents is entirely up to you and your team. If you’d like to use them together with your legal advice as part of a solution for your clients, then you can set them up so that the documents are sent to you or your team as soon as your client completes the interview. All documents are available to download in Word so you can negotiate details and make other changes as you normally would.
11. I work in a very specialised area of law. Important points will get missed if I automate my documents.
It doesn’t matter what your specialty is. The design of an automated document will take the drafting process from your mind to the software. The design process is an opportunity for you to review your manual drafting process and improve it. Then you’ll be able to prepare documents in minutes, not hours.
An obvious way to keep up with modern practice is to get started using automated documents. No doubt learning to incorporate the use of quality automated documents into your practice will have you and your team thinking about what else you can do to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how you work. Now that we’ve debunked 11 popular myths about automated documents, you should be ready to continue learning about what is possible.
If you’re ready to design some fantastic automated documents, check out our design service by clicking here
This article is written by Deborah Vella and was first published on the Support Legal website
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practising lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Legally Yours Pty Ltd accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.