Main concerns with document automation in law firms
Lawyers sceptical of document automation have several questions.
The first one concerns efficiency. Lawyers wonder whether they should strive to change a business model where they charge hourly rates while paying fixed salaries to juniors and trainees who are involved in document production processes. There are several answers to this challenge, the first one being that profitable business can be more profitable. Furthermore, lawyers are in fact unlikely to be able to charge hourly rates for all legal services. Clients increasingly demand fixed fees. Finally, hourly rate model is not always the most profitable one. For instance, the value of a well drafted template that the client can develop into a final document with a software, may be greater than the value of the lawyer's time put into the adaptation of the template for a specific client.
The second challenge states that having a software tell you how to draft a document from a template deprives young lawyers from a learning experience. This objection is likely based on a misconception that document automation works independently of humans. On the contrary, document automation software can truly improve your document drafting process only in conjunction with the human factor. It requires to be fed with well drafted templates and meaningful legal instructions, which have to be kept up-to-date. These are quintessentially lawyer's responsibilities. In a well-organized process, the tasks the software takes away from the lawyers are not worth lawyers’ precious time. Talented young lawyers who learn not only from their own but also from experience of others, do not want to spend two years of their apprenticeship performing predominantly routine tasks. After 6 months to one year of good and intensive practice, they expect to take over intellectually demanding legal work.
The third concern is the time required to be invested into document automation before one can reap the benefits. This concern should not be underestimated. Document automation technology cannot be used "of the shelf". It requires preparation of quality templates, document automation skill and internal processes that ensure that the automated know-how will be kept afresh and properly used. Continuous cooperation with your vendor is key. The law firm needs to establish, based on its own baseline, the areas of its work which are best fit for document automation (be it employment, corporate, data protection etc). It then has to form teams which will prepare the templates for automation, with the help of document automation specialists. The automation exercise, while easy to learn, can also be outsourced to the software vendor or other providers of document automation service. The law firm’s management has to put the processes in place, just like it should with every other aspect of its business.
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