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How document automation can save you thousands

Does your firm use document automation tools? If not, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted in 2013 by the International Legal Technology Association, a whopping 62% of law firms surveyed reported not using a document automation system. But when you think about how much time your team spends assembling variations of the same documents every day, automating the process is something to consider.

“On average our customers who implement document automation technology as a part of their everyday work practice save 72 percent of the time they would otherwise spend on the manual creation of repetitive documents,” says Bob Christensen, CEO of TheFormTool, LLC.

What is document automation?

Document automation traditionally refers to the process of assembling a package of related materials in their entirety, taking out irrelevant pieces, and tailoring the text appropriately for each client. For many firms, document automation is simply using templates and macros created in their word processor. And while that may be fine for some documents, there are limits.

For example, Christensen tells of a client whose most complex document is their engagement letter. “Everything goes in there. That 6,000 word document has 150 variables,” says Christensen. “And they have one for each different practice area. They couldn’t automate it because it was well beyond Word’s limits.”

How can document automation affect your bottom line?

At a presentation delivered to the Chief Information & Technology Officers forum, Roberta Gelb, President of Chelsea Office Systems, told a story of a client’s secretary who refused to use the newly installed document automation system. Instead, she continued to follow her standard practice of reusing an existing document and cutting and pasting as necessary to create a new document. Gelb timed her. It took 65 minutes for the secretary to complete the task, an hour longer than it would have taken had she used document automation.

Gelb then did the math. If all 20 secretaries in the law firm followed the same process, it added up to a potential loss of almost $800,000 per year.

And the cost of document production is becoming increasingly difficult to recover from clients. “The biggest disagreement between a lawyer and a client is the perception of the value of the documents,” says Christensen. “To the lawyer, these documents represent the largest cost of their practice. However, in the past 10 years, clients have been taught that documents have little or no value. Lawyers need to do whatever they can to decrease the costs of those documents.”

Why isn’t it standard practice?

If using document automation can help law firms compete against technology-friendly firms or even do-it-yourself legal form businesses, then why aren’t more embracing the technology?

“Lawyers tend to be resistant to change,” says Nicole Black of “They (and their staff) are used to the programs/systems they’ve always used and choosing and learning a new one takes time and money. So many lawyers just opt to stick with what they’ve got as long as it’s sort of working.”

But legal assistant Tranesia Joseph didn’t complain when her former employer brought in document automation software. “The only con was that the documents were created by the supervising paralegal so that is where human error comes in to play. Some of the documents were perfect but some of them you had to do more work to edit. Other than that … I would highly recommend it, because it made my work day easier.”

How to proceed?

That raises the question of how much work is involved to implement a system. There are many different document automation systems to choose from, and each has their own unique features and requirements. Some advanced systems require special attention. Some are fully integrated systems, combining everything from document management to billing systems. Others are Microsoft Word plug-ins, designed to work with a firm’s existing templates. “Law firms already have the best of the documents they need,” says Christensen. “They just need something more efficient that works on their documents and adds intelligence to the documents.”

If you already have a practice management system, talk to your representative and see if there’s a built-in automation system. If so, find out what it would take to roll it out to your team. Otherwise, conduct a little research online, select software that is powerful and easy to use, and download a free trial.

But, as Gelb’s story demonstrates, it’s not enough to simply download the software and expect everyone in the firm to embrace it. You need a strategy. To get your team onboard, Christensen recommends these tips:

  • Enlist the support of your firm’s heavy users of repetitive documents, such as the real estate, family law, or corporate departments. Let them experiment with the software.
  • Don’t tackle the most complex documents first. Go with the simpler ones to get your return on investment right away, while educating your staff at the same time.
  • In every firm, there are people on the lookout for better ways of doing things. Turn them loose on the software. Let them be creative. “People enjoy playing with our software,” says Christensen. “Get a segment of your staff playing and the word will spread on its own.”

Technology is having a profound effect on the legal industry and on clients’ expectations. “It’s becoming an industry increasingly difficult to stay viable in,” says Gleb, “and firms that recognize that technology will make the difference going forward will be the firms that stick around.”

When a claim’s not worth your time

The next generation of document automation contains what Christensen sees as the most important development — the system’s ability to act independently of the author and to replicate or leverage the author’s expertise and judgment without the author being further involved.

For example, one of Christensen’s clients is a firm that represents a hospital. The hospital was faced with an overwhelming number of reimbursements being declined by Medicaid. Many of these claims were low, around $200. As it would take approximately 90 minutes of a lawyer’s time to put together the materials needed to proceed, these claims were deemed too small to pursue individually.

But 100 of these little amounts daily started to add up—to the tune of $4 million per year. This was the perfect situation for TheFormTool’s latest document automation software, Doxserá. It was able to collect all of the required facts, assemble the necessary documents, analyze the materials, and cite the proper authority supporting the claim, using only five minutes of clerk time per claim.

“If the economics determine whether or not you pursue a matter, shifting the economics affects the party you’re working for and against, as well as your firm as a business,” says Christensen. “It levels the playing field.”

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