Amy L. Halverson, Director of Knowledge Management, Research & Information Services, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Law firms, like other professional services organizations, are under increasing price pressure from clients who are seeking more value for their money. In response, law firms are moving away from the billable hour and using alternative fee structures such as fixed fees for defined services. To do this profitably, firms are leveraging project management techniques and technology to drive efficiencies without sacrificing the value of services provided.
The primary end-use work product delivered by lawyers continues to be legal agreements and documentation (even though today these “documents” may never be printed to physical paper format). The types of documents can range from a stand-alone non-disclosure agreement to the suite of materials needed for a Delaware incorporation. The efficient creation of documents, then, represents a significant opportunity for process efficiency gains. Document automation tools make it possible to achieve such efficiencies while also ensuring high quality work product.
An attorney with subject-matter expertise ought to be involved in the creation of the template in the automation tool, but does not necessarily need to do the programming – that can be delegated to someone who is trained on the device
Document automation models
Document automation tools are typically deployed as one of three general models.
Model One - Internal Only. The automation is used directly by the attorney to generate an initial version of the document when may then be revised to reflect negotiated terms or other needed revisions before being finalized.
Model Two - Client to Attorney. The client uses the document automation’s online interface to complete a questionnaire and enters vital facts and data points to be reflected in the document. The client “submits” the completed online form to be released to the attorney, who then uses the data in the way to populate an internal-facing document automation tool to create an initial version of the document. That version may later be revised by the attorney to incorporate additional language or clauses that are appropriate for the client, based on the lawyer’s knowledge of the client’s goals and legal issues.
Model Three - Client Only. Same as above, except the client can generate the final documents immediately, without attorney intervention.
Benefits to clients
Clients benefit from document automation both in the value of the service provided (the work product generated) and the cost. Clients want to know what they are buying. Document automation enables this. The scope of work and the corresponding fee is set up front, so there are no unpleasant surprises in the legal bill. Many clients also like to have direct input into the process, which is a crucial aspect of document automation models two and three, above.
Benefits to law firm attorneys
Effective use of document automation improves the consistency and quality of the resulting work product and facilitates predictive pricing. Document automation model three, above, also enables an economy of scale – one automation tool can be productized and the legal service purchased by an unlimited number of “clients” at any time of day, from anywhere with an internet connection, for a fixed price.
Automating repeated tasks such as drafting standard documents, can also increase attorney job satisfaction and retention of legal talent. Attorneys who leave the profession often cite burn-out as the cause and point to repetitive tasks such as drafting rote documents as taking the highest toll on their work satisfaction. Automation tools reduce the number of time lawyers has to spend on these mundane tasks, leaving them able to focus on legal strategy and analysis – the reasons they went into the profession in the first place.
A prerequisite to automation is having the approved, final forms of the documents to be automated. An attorney with subject-matter expertise ought to be involved in the creation of the template in the automation tool, but does not necessarily need to do the programming – that can be delegated to someone who is trained on the device. Once the automation is up and running, set a regular schedule for the subject-matter expert to revisit the output and make revisions if needed to reflect changes in the law.