This is a guest post by Dorna Moini, CEO and founder of Documate.org.
No lawyer in their right mind would give a client a form they found online. But you have to admit, platforms like LegalZoom have changed the way legal services are delivered. Every lawyer has to use forms or templates in their practice, whether you’re modifying the first draft of a 50-page purchase agreement, creating a set of employment documents, or assembling 15 mandated court forms.
The less time you spend on routine drafting, the more value you can bring to your clients through negotiation, research, face-to-face advice, and court time. In fact, document assembly can cut drafting time on routine documents by 90%.
And gone are the days when lawyers cry “don’t cut our billable hour,” because tasks conducive to automation are already being done on a flat fee (or even for free).
For many years, lawyers had two realistic options for document automation: (1) read up on thousands of pages in the HotDocs library to code it yourself, or (2) set up a combination of four products (Adobe, Typeform, Zapier, and Webmerge) to get the desired result. That’s what led us to build Documate, a no-code platform for document automation.
Whether you’re just testing the waters or you’re ready to build your own legal tech company, here are some ideas on how to use document automation in your practice:
When I was at a law firm, we had standard, up-to-date forms for every legal area. Our intranet gave access to every lawyer in the firm. Equity grants, employee handbooks, NDAs, you name it. But you still had to edit the entire document to customize it to the client’s needs. That takes time (but not much mental capital). If you already have templates, why not automate the automation?
Firms across the world are setting up interview workflows that ask questions to capture relevant information (client name, key terms, non-standard clauses, plural/singulars). Then, that information auto-fills the output documents. A few clicks and voilà, you have your document sets. And you can be 100% sure they’re error-free.
In addition to increasing internal efficiency, you can monetize your knowledge base through online offerings (more on this in 4 and 5 below).
Intake is the gateway drug to automation. All of us know the pain of sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, filling out form after form with your name. “Didn’t they already ask me whether I have high blood pressure on page 5?”
We face the same issues in legal intake.
You send your client your intake form. They have to download it, use Adobe to fill it out. Print. Sign. Scan. Upload. Email. Phew.
What if you could send them a link they can fill out on their phone or iPad, and you could use your dashboard to see everyone who has started and completed your intake? You can. And with that intake, you can also auto-generate all the first documents you’ll need in a case.
The snapshot below shows an employment law firm who sends an intake interview to all clients. The clients’ answers to the intake are returned to the attorney along with court cover sheets, an initial draft complaint, and the first set of basic discovery based on the type of case.
I told you it was a gateway drug. Here comes your downward (upward?) spiral into automating every document you see!
Paralegals and secretaries can make your job much easier, particularly if you give them the right tools. Instead of giving your assistant written or verbal instructions on what documents to prepare for each type and phrase of a case, set up failproof workflows with complex logic that leads them down the right path.
For example, one intellectual property firm we spoke to has set up a multi-step interview that the paralegal uses to generate correspondence to the Secretary of State and initial filing paperwork. The workflow guides the paralegal through basic questions, branching out to ask a different set of questions for a trademark application versus a patent registration.
When you bill by the hour, you’re losing out on a whole segment of the population who can’t afford your fees. Use document automation to provide flat fee legal solutions online. That way, clients who wouldn’t have been able to afford you can still get the basic help they need through TurboTax-like apps on your website. And if they need more complicated help, you’ll be the first one they contact.
For the entrepreneurial lawyer, you can market your services to create a technology company without ever hiring an engineer. Market your services to the public, and you’ll be generating revenue while you’re sleeping, or on the beach in Hawaii.
Take a look at two law firms on Documate’s platform, and how they were able to scale their business by offering online legal services. All of this increase was within the first two months!
Many larger firms don’t want to get into the business of legal tech. They want to stick to their bread and butter: bet-the-business litigation and corporate deals. These firms have started offering standard document packets online for free.
CooleyGo is a great example of this. They have automated incorporation packages, equity financing documents, and convertible notes. They don’t charge for these documents, but it has been a successful marketing play. Companies find quality documents on their website, and they return to Cooley when they need representation for an acquisition, IPO, or litigation. Document generators can drive traffic to your website and increase your business (just like Costco samples forced me to buy a membership).
Law firms and companies can also increase their pro bono footprint through technology. For example, with the legalization of marijuana, many companies in the cannabis industry are building software to help erase the racially disparate effects of historical laws. In 2018, Documate built one such tool to help the millions of Californians with marijuana-related criminal records get reclassification or resentencing under California’s Proposition 64.
To learn more about how you can automate your practice, visit Documate.org. Readers of this blog are on the forefront of legal innovation, always open to trying technology that may enhance their practice. But for those who think they’re too busy for document automation, I leave you with this:
Documate, started in December 2017 with a mission to automate legal services for low- and moderate-income Americans and shifted from a consumer-based model to a software platform. They serve lawyers, legal aid organizations, the federal court system, and other non-legal companies and organizations.
Smith.ai customers can get their first month free (new customers only) by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorna founded Documate (formerly HelpSelf Legal) to help bring quality legal services to people of all income levels. Initially a self-help platform for domestic violence survivors, Documate now empowers any lawyer to create custom legal apps for any area of law. Try it at www.documate.org. Prior to Documate, Dorna was a litigator at Sidley Austin. She has a J.D. from USC Gould School of Law, and a B.A. magna cum laude from New York University. You can reach Dorna at email@example.com, on Twitter @dorna_moini, or connect with her on LinkedIn.