Legal Document Assembly

Lawyers produce documents, lots of documents. They write letters, warnings and exhortations, briefs, reports, contracts, etc. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the first areas where law firm automation started was document assembly (also called document automation or document generation). In fact, lawyers have successfully been using document assembly for over three decades.

Document assembly is one of the four pillars of law firm management that can be automated to a large extent without the need for AI. The others are customer relation management(CRM) or contact management; the combination of billing, invoicing, and collections; as well as managing tasks and deadlines.

The principle behind document assembly is simple. You take frequently used documents, and create a template for them, that can then be used to create new documents by automatically adding the relevant data. It’s a standard feature in word processors. By using macros or elements built into the firm management software, or a combination of both, it is possible to integrate more advanced features like check lists (for which items to include), optional clauses, rules and calculations, etc.

There are many benefits to using document assembly. The most important one is that it improves productivity and efficiency. Typically, document assembly is a part of practice management software, which has access to the relevant data that have to be merged into the template. Creating a new document (or the basis for a new document) therefore takes a fraction of the time it would take to do the same thing manually. It also leads to less errors in the text than would be the case with manual input. And another way that document assembly increases productivity and efficiency is that, once the process is fine-tuned, it can easily be done by newly hired or junior staff, with minimal training.

Document assembly also helps increase revenue in other ways. By using commercially available professional templates for legal documents (or by swapping templates with other lawyers), you can widen the range of services that you offer. You could even use a client portal (like CICERO Web View) where you give your clients access to these templates. They have to fill out an online form to provide the necessary information that the system doesn’t have yet, and then they can create the new documents by themselves. You could also put some commonly used simple templates and forms online as a free service to attract new clients.

With the growing demand for Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFA), document assembly also offers a better way of controlling costs that benefits both you and your clients. With automatically assembled documents you can charge a fixed fee per document, rather than charging the client by the hour or minute. That way, both parties know exactly what they’re getting in advance.

As was illustrated above, it is possible the further improve productivity by using your standard documents in combination with online forms to capture the relevant data. If your client enters the data online, it saves you the trouble of having to do so. And don’t forget that document assembly can also be used to compose emails. By creating a set of standard templates for emails, you can further increase productivity.

Artificial Intelligence is already taking document assembly to new levels. There already is the example of an Artificial Intelligence system (Kira) that scanned documents to then extract the relevant data by itself that had to be merged into a (Hotdocs) template, generating a legal document all by itself. In other words, nobody had to look for or enter the relevant data as the Machine Learning algorithms were able to do it.

Machine Learning algorithms have also successfully discovered certain rules that are being used to combine or omit certain clauses in legal documents. And there are Artificial Intelligence solutions available that will review legal documents and point out certain problem they may have. They do it faster and generally more accurately than their human counterparts do.

Experts expect Artificial Intelligence to further disrupt how document assembly is being used. They predict that it will evolve in a way where a different approach will be needed, where more is automated, and more is tested and validated.




Productizing Legal Services

Three evolutions have put the idea of productizing legal services firmly in the spotlight. First, there is the increased demand for Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs): clients don’t like billable hours because they prefer to know in advance how much something will cost. So, lawyers started using fixed fees for certain services (e.g., a non-disclosure agreement will cost you amount X), or started offering subscription billing, e.g., as an option. With subscription billing a client pays a monthly fee, which entitles him or her to x amount of work, or, e g., to so many contracts, etc.

Another area where productizing legal services pops up is in software that analyses and automates workflows in law firms. The increased usage of AI is leading to major progress in automating workflows, which in turn allows these workflows to be productized.

But the best examples of legal services being productized are probably the services offered by robot lawyers and legal chatbots. These services have completely been automated and turned into products that offer a solution to a legal problem. There already are solutions, e.g., to create legal documents and forms, to review contracts, to appeal parking and other traffic tickets, to offer first advice on divorce, or that will submit damage claims for you with regard to flights, that assist you with requesting maternity leave or in case of landlord contract violations, etc. And the list is growing on an almost daily basis.

So, what does it mean to productize legal services? Simply put, productizing legal services means that you are turning your legal services into products. Services are normally delivered one at a time. (Which implies that there is a limit to the number of billable hours one can do over a given period of time). Products on the other hand can be produced and sold at scale. Producing more products is a matter of enhancing production capacity. And with software solutions, that is not hard to do. Now, obviously, not all legal services lend themselves to being productized. But the three evolutions described above show that many can. A study found that, at present, 23% of the work a lawyer does can be automated. With the continued progress that is being made in the field of legal Artificial Intelligence, that percentage will only rise.

There are several benefits to productizing legal services. The first one, already hinted at above, is scalability. Not only does a robot lawyer, e.g., take seconds to review a contract, where a lawyer takes hours, but if it reaches its capacity, it’s just a matter of increasing that capacity, typically at minimal cost. A second benefit is predictability: With a product, you know in advance how much it will cost. A third benefit is a better match between offer and demand, as the client knows in advance what he or she will be receiving for his or her money. As a result of this, you gain consumer trust, which is a fourth benefit. A fifth benefit is that when you start productizing your legal services, you are really maximizing your productivity.

As the above examples illustrated, the role played by technology is crucial in productizing legal services. Only now have we reached a point where the technology is available to start productizing legal services. These technologies allow to automate the workflow and thus maximize your operational efficiency. They also allow the scalability of the solutions offered.

The way to start productizing legal services is by analysing processes and workflows, standardizing and automating them the maximum extent. If you want to launch yourself in the robot lawyer market, find a common problem, preferable in a niche that requires some expertise; analyse how much of the workflow can be automated, and if it can, offer an easy to deliver solution. Even without considering offering robot lawyer service, analysing workflows and processes at your law firm will allow you to automate them, which will benefit your firm.



OneDrive for Lawyers

You may not have noticed, but Office 365 keeps on being updated, and a lot of the subtle enhancements have to do with the ongoing integration of additional cloud services. Let’s have a closer look at Word and OneDrive.

OneDrive comes in different versions with different features. Anybody can sign up for a free account, but, as a lawyer, you are typically expected to sign up for a professional version of ‘OneDrive for Business.’ Many law firm management software providers advise to use Office 365 Business Premium. (If, for some reason, you are using a version of OneDrive that does not offer certain features, it is good to know it may well be possible to subscribe to those features separately).

In Office 365, it is possible to save documents to the cloud, which is done by saving them to OneDrive. A first advantage of having a document in OneDrive, is that it can be accessed from anywhere at any time, and on most devices. There are apps for mobile devices and tablets, and it is even possible to use Office Online, a free web version (with a limited feature set) of the most popular Office applications.

Another advantage of using OneDrive is that the copies saved by autosave are saved in the cloud, too. If your device would crash while working on a document, you can continue working from another device. Microsoft also automatically makes backups of all your OneDrive documents.

One of the biggest advantages of using OneDrive, is that you can share files and folders with other people. If you need feedback from your client, from other lawyers, or even from an external consultant, there is no need to email anybody a copy of the document, you just give them access to the document in OneDrive. And you have the option to determine for each person whether they get access to just read or to edit the texts. etc. It is also possible to insert comments into the text, where Word will keep track of who said what. What’s more, the person you want to give access to one or more documents, doesn’t even need to have Office 365 themselves. They can use the free apps, or Office online to access the documents. All you have to do is send them an email with the link.

OneDrive is specifically designed for people to cooperate on documents. It has built-in capabilities such as advanced permissions management, versioning control, eDiscovery, and records management to ensure documents are managed, controlled, archived and can be retrieved in one place with reduced overhead.

“But is it safe?” you may wonder. The short answer is that it is. Typically, professional cloud service providers have excellent security measures in place. Your data is in all likelihood more secure in the cloud than it is on your own servers. Add to that that the professional version of OneDrive allows to use two-step authentication to access documents. OneDrive also offers a more advanced permission management system, called the Advanced Security Management (ASM), which will detect abnormal usage and allow you to monitor how your documents are being accessed and used. (If your version of OneDrive doesn’t include ASM, it is possible to order it separately).

It is important to remain aware of the terms and conditions of OneDrive, especially if, as a lawyer, you store evidence on OneDrive. Microsoft has strict policies when it comes to, e.g., nudity or graphic violence. Storing such content, even if it is evidence in a case, may be a violation of Microsoft’s terms and conditions, and may lead to your account being suspended. One possible workaround, is to sign up for ‘Customer Lockbox’ which gives you greater control over what Microsoft can scan on your OneDrive, but it offers no guarantees. If Microsoft does find anything it considers a violation of their terms and conditions, your account may be suspended.

We started this article by referring to the constant updates of Office 365 and the addition of additional cloud services. For many of these cloud services, is making progress with the integration of Artificial Intelligence. You may know that within Word, e.g., you have the option to translate text in a document to different languages. Those translations have been getting better and better. Another new feature is an intelligent dictionary for acronyms, which will tell you what a certain acronym in a certain context means. Specifically interesting for lawyers are the advancements Microsoft has been making in the field of eDiscovery on OneDrive.

Needless to say that the usage of OneDrive is integrated most modern software packages for law firm management.

PS: this article was written in reply to a request for information about OneDrive for Lawyers.