This kind of process leads to minor errors, which can create big headaches for filings or give clients the wrong impression. Some lawyers seek out a solution to cumbersome legal document creation. This leads many to find the tech category of “document automation.” But this brings another struggle — finding the right provider.
A new process is necessary, but choosing the wrong solution equals wasted time and ultimately paying for something you won’t use at your law firm. Then, it’s back to the previous “save as” system, where you started.
There are a number of automation tools. Some of these tools are specific to the legal field and others serve a broader spectrum of industries. Understanding which is best for your law firm comes down to a clear review of features and how they translate to the legal field.
This guide covers all critical features law firms need to mitigate errors, speed up document creation and improve document creation processes in your practice.
7 Specific Document Automation Features for Legal Professionals
1. Store Client Information
Document automation software allows users to create a smooth workflow and creation process for electronic documents. That’s the standard function of this type of technology. As a lawyer, nearly every document includes client or matter details.
Your solution should include the ability to store the client information so that you can re-use it quickly and easily. This feature allows you to pull up your chosen court form or document template, choose the client whose details will be inserted, and the software pulls the contact data into the proper spot in the doc.
Some document automation solutions allow client data to be stored, while others don’t include this feature. There are many uses for tools that don’t store data, but for lawyers who work with clients over multi-year relationships, the value of being able to drop in previously used information creates meaningful time savings. This data should be kept alongside the templates and forms you utilize most often.
2. Federally Compliant E-sign
If you’re currently using an old-school document workflow, it’s possible you also have trouble gathering signatures in a fast and efficient manner. In a world that quickly moved away from in-person meetings due to the pandemic, getting clients to sign documents requires a solid process and useful technology.
Current patchwork solutions include:
- Requiring clients to have(or obtain) software to edit PDFs and sign
- Emailing a document and asking the client to print, sign, scan and return it
The more a client has to do to get docs back in your hands, the longer the process takes. If you’re using either of the above methods, you probably understand communication delays and the time-consuming process of obtaining client signatures.
There are document automation solutions that have built-in, federally-compliant e-signature which enables both drawn and typed signatures (allowable e-sign formats vary by court, so always be aware of local requirements for e-signatures).
3. No-code Template Building
Aside from fear of choosing the wrong solution, many law firms are also concerned about implementing new software. Even if the process you’re using isn’t the most efficient, it’s getting the job done. When you hear “create templates” or “set up workflows” it sounds overwhelming. To be honest, some automation solutions are a bit more “hands on” when it comes to setup.
Choose a document workflow tool that includes the ability to easily build templates and assemble documents without requiring writing any code. Ease of use is becoming more common for modern document automation solutions, but not all tools are created equal either.
4. Conditional Logic
When a couple is getting divorced, whether or not they have children has a big impact on the subsequent legal documents. That doesn't just mean dropping certain clauses, but subject/verb agreement and other potential issues.
A document automation platform that includes “conditional logic” assembles necessary clauses (and/or skips unnecessary clauses) based on the inputs and client data you give. This automated process saves the time to manually find unneeded clauses.
When you’re considering a document solution, first you should ask whether conditional logic is something that you need. Some firms require it to quickly and easily assemble complex packets of documents quickly, but it’s not something every user needs. It’s one feature whose availability and capabilities vary widely among document automation solutions today.
5. Template Sets
Many legal practices need to assemble packets of documents that they use together for similar types of matters. Being able to assemble sets of templates and save them as a group that is populated with client and matter data in just a few clicks saves valuable time for key staff at a firm.
Example: An estate planning practice includes templates for a fee agreement letter, a will, power of attorney, and health care directives for its estate planning clients. Rather than manually editing each document, all of the necessary documents are updated and formatting is maintained throughout.
There are many potential applications for different practice areas to quickly and easily assemble packets with a document automation solution.
6. Assign Multiple Roles (to a Single Contact)
The ability to assign multiple roles in a particular document template (or template set) is a functionality that’s specifically valuable for law firms (compared to solutions that cater to multiple industries.
There are frequent instances where a client might have multiple roles in a matter.
- A person is client, spouse and plaintiff in one set of documents
- Or someone's child is next of kin, beneficiary, and power of attorney
If a document automation solution requires a unique contact for each role, it can create headaches in some legal-specific uses.
When people talk about technology integrations, that’s simply the ability to connect one application to another. These connections have benefits, like simplifying the syncing of data from one app to the other without needing to enter information into both programs.
When evaluating technology, it’s important to understand how integrations will impact your ease of use. This can influence whether or not a tool is the best solution for your firm.
Choose the Best Document Automation Platform for Your Legal Firm
Hopefully, by reading this guide you:
- Are convinced there is a solution to break the copy/paste and manual edit process of document creation
- Have a detailed list of features to include in your search for the best solution
- Would consider a closer look at how Clio Draft helps solo, small and mid-size law firms save time, avoid errors and increase profitability with intelligent document automation
Clio Draft has helped thousands of firms create more than a million documents. If you’re ready, find out more about our intelligent document platform and request access today.