Beginner's guide to document automation software


Servicing clients sometimes involves routine legal work such as drafting legal documents that follow the same pattern and logics (non-disclosure agreements, employment contracts, loan contracts, lease contracts, memorandums of association etc). To make this process more efficient, firms establish libraries of standardized legal templates.

Such libraries, if well organized and regularly updated, represent a strong foundation of the firm's legal practice. Lawyers can quickly respond to clients' urgent requests with a high-quality output. With document automation technology, law firms can further accelerate document production and even offer digital legal service to clients.

A firm that wants to make its templates part of a digital service offering, first needs to form a team for legal document automation. This team ideally includes senior and junior lawyers and automation specialists.

Senior lawyers should decide which legal templates from the firm's library deserve to be automated. The decision is usually based on how frequently templates are used in the legal practice. Those that are used more often should be automated first. Senior lawyers should then go through the templates to make sure they are free from errors and synced with the latest regulation.

Automation further requires that lawyers make place holders within the templates to be filled-in with information relevant for a particular case. Lawyers should then draft matching questions. The end user populates the template by answering these questions.

As part of the template preparation, lawyers should appropriately structure the template through if-then exercise. This means indicating how the text in the template is going to change depending on the particular answers to the questionnaire. For instance, depending on which optional clause the user selects, certain parts of the template will either appear or disappear.

Once the templates and the questions are set and the structures defined, document automation specialist will start automating the template. The end result is a digital legal template which user can easily turn into a final ready-to-use legal documents. During the automation process, automation specialist may need additional information and revision of his work by lawyers. This is where junior lawyers can step in, to test the automated templates.    

A template should be automated only once and thereafter regularly reviewed and updated to match legislative and regulatory changes and developing experience of the firm.

Once the templates are automated with the help of a document automation software, the firm can use the software for internal document production only or, if it wishes to reduce routine work without foregoing revenue from such work, it may create a new digital legal service where clients get direct access to the templates through the software.

Whichever business model lawyers choose, document automation will make their work more efficient and interesting.