With limited time in the day and more and more work piling up, law firms of all sizes, corporate legal teams, and government agencies are looking for better ways to maximize their efforts. Their answer? Automation.
While it’s true that automation can help you streamline workflows, saving time and money, it can be intimidating to take the first step in adopting this new technology when you need to maintain your current day-to-day operations and workload. And with so many different types of automation technology on the market, developing a clear understanding of what automation could actually look like for your legal practice or agency can be difficult. Where should you start?
Because so much of legal work begins and ends with documents, the best way to immediately benefit from workflow automation is through legal document automation. By automating your document processes, you’ll not only receive significant benefits with the least amount of disruption to your current operations, but also create a solid foundation for bigger workflow automation upgrades in the future.
Why Legal Document Automation is Important
Regardless of your practice area, legal work requires a lot of repetitive processes to create a high volume of documents, such as contracts, agreements, pleadings, wills, and many more, which must all be compliant, consistent, and accurate.
Unfortunately, the all-too-common practice of reusing a base template or searching for an old document and utilizing “find and replace” to manually tailor each document for a specific purpose can lead to errors and important details missed. This is a tedious manual process that takes up valuable lawyer time that could otherwise be spent doing higher-value client work, and the likelihood of human error can create additional approval cycles and costly delays, as well as erode client confidence.
By automating the production of legal documents through smart templates and apps, legal teams can increase their efficiency, reduce errors, and eliminate the need to manually fill out the same information across multiple documents and formats.
How to Optimize Operations with Document Automation
Here are some specific examples of how document automation can help law firms of all sizes, corporate legal teams, and the public sector optimize their operations:
Small, Midsize, and Boutique Law Firms
- New Client Intake: With the amount of competition between small firms, your level of efficiency and communication can mean all the difference when it comes to winning new business. Automating client intake and engagement letters that can be passed to clients for electronic signature can save administrative time and effort as well as show prospective clients that your firm is fast, attentive, accurate, and technologically modern.
- Document Generation: Especially useful for boutique firms — such as estate planning, family law, or bankruptcy practices — that offer fixed rates for legal packages rather than charging hourly, the ability to save time creating documents is critical to keeping hourly work within the scope of your pricing structure. Automation can help firms gather the needed information and automatically generate most, if not all, of the documents included in a fixed-price package, which saves time and frees up specialized consultative time with clients.
Large Law Firms
- Mergers and Acquisitions Term Sheet Intake and Deal Document Generation: With time-sensitive legal work, such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A) — where the timeliness and success of large deals going through will impact a lot of people — any time-saving opportunities are especially useful, which is where automation can help. Automating the process to create a term sheet intake and automatically populating standard M&A documents allows your team to get a head start on the process as well as eliminate the risk of potential errors that can cost valuable time and approval cycles to rectify.
- Be Better Equipped to Serve Corporate Legal Departments: For outside counsel that provide either partial or full-service support to large corporations, there is increased pressure to stay current on the most innovative practices in order to remain competitive. This means finding more efficient ways to service your clients and manage your workload, from reducing high-volume repetition to simplifying more complex tasks to offering bespoke self-service solutions so that lawyer expertise can be freed up to focus on more high-risk, specialized matters.
Corporate Legal Teams
- Request Intake: Corporate legal departments spend a significant amount of time managing requests for issue evaluation, document review or creation, and numerous other tasks that are coming in a steady stream via email. Automation technology helps reign in this chaos by streamlining the intake process. Things like simple employment agreements or non-disclosure agreements can be set up as self-service with department oversight only as needed. Getting out from under these types of requests allows your legal department to better manage internal requests, simultaneously creating order while freeing up valuable lawyer and paralegal time. This way, your team spends less time managing and organizing documentation and more time meeting the needs of the business.
- Case Intake: Ordinarily, when corporate lawyers are served with lawsuits, they would have to manually generate responsive pleadings to ensure the case is handled properly. Automating the intake process ensures that no steps are missed, responsive pleading templates are automatically generated, and all relevant information is exactly where it should be. This frees up legal staff to spend more time responding to a lawsuit and less time on administrative work.
- Opinion Letters: For Attorney General’s offices and government agencies receiving requests for opinion letters via mail or email requesting clarification of laws under certain jurisdictions are commonplace. However, each correspondence requires setup, assignment, research, and a response within a specific time period. Automation technology can gather the initial intake data to generate an intake response to the requestor and also create responsive template documents as a starting point for your team. Here automation makes this repetitive process faster and error-free, maintaining and even improving the agency’s reputation with the public.
- FOIA Responses: Attorneys and legal professionals working within state and federal government entities can easily get overwhelmed with the frequent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from citizens and journalists, which they may receive by mail, email, and even fax. Automation tools can streamline and modernize this intake process through online intake forms and templatized documents. This can significantly reduce repetition and chance for error, easing lawyer workload while maintaining a good relationship with the public.
- Self-Service for Common Legal Documents: Agencies or their legal departments can publish a library of online forms (e.g., employment agreement, HR forms, or intake forms) that allow employees or external parties to input information and instantly generate the routine documents they need. Or to get a process started by gathering information and then escalating more complex matters to staff as part of a workflow.
How to Choose the Right Document Automation Technology
While there are many great automation tools out there, not all of them are suited to handle the sheer volume of document creation, sophisticated level of logic, or level of security legal teams need. Here are some important features to look for when selecting your automation tools:
- High-Volume Capabilities: Seeking out solutions designed specifically with the needs of lawyers in mind ensures it can handle rapid and high-volume document creation.
- Robust Logic: Generating legal documents frequently requires many sophisticated logic functions to be included in the automation. Ensure that your chosen solution is capable of supporting your unique processes and workflows but is not too complicated to set up.
- Secure and Compliant: Legal teams, highly regulated industries, and the public sector require higher security standards than most businesses. Robust security features not only keep documents safe from external threats but also maintain ethical walls and keep privileged information limited to only those who should have access.
- Works With Your Existing Document Management: Document creation without a method to store the finished product can create an even bigger problem where you’re having to move multiple documents to the proper storage location. Make sure your document automation tool connects seamlessly with your existing document management system (DMS) for a fully efficient workflow.
About PatternBuilder, Document Automation by NetDocuments
As the leading cloud-based document and email management solution trusted by legal professionals worldwide, NetDocuments has introduced PatternBuilder, a legal document automation solution that provides all of the automation benefits listed above and more.
NetDocuments is designed to support high volumes of document creation and management while maintaining strict security and compliance regulations required by law firms and government entities. Natively integrated into the NetDocuments DMS platform, PatternBuilder:
- Can already be built into the way you manage your documents with NetDocuments.
- Inherits the award-winning security and compliance capabilities already present in the NetDocuments platform.
- Enables you to build and maintain automations and documents easily through no-code, cloud-native technology.
- Helps you easily create and manage documents through an intuitive, user-friendly interface.
Here’s how PatternBuilder can help legal professionals streamline and optimize their day-to-day work:
- Accuracy: Information is entered one time and is correctly populated in all the right places, creating consistency in your work product, and helping you maintain a positive reputation.
- App Builder and Document Automation: PatternBuilder makes connecting online forms to your document templates easy with the App Builder. You can also take those forms and share them how you want, whether it’s running them inside NetDocuments, sharing them via a secure link with clients, webhooks, or posting them on your website or intranet.
- Word and PDF Document Templates: While most automation tools specialize in only one document format or another, PatternBuilder lets you automate forms and documents in both Microsoft Word and PDF formats. In addition, PatternBuilder lets you choose to either use a web interface or work directly in Word to easily create automations and work with tools and processes your teams are already familiar with.
- Calculations: With its best-in-class logic engine, PatternBuilder makes it easy to take user inputs and perform advanced calculations, such as applying tax regulations, calculating income eligibility, issuing stock options, computing risk scores, and more.
- Lists and Loops: For legal work that requires collecting lists of items to draft documents, such as children, assets, properties, etc., PatternBuilder makes it easier than ever to collect this data by looping in inputs and then automatically and accurately outputting it into documents to populate clauses and details.
- Advanced Legal Document Automation: PatternBuilder supports even the most complex legal logic by letting you dynamically insert and format not only single words or phrases but entire clauses. You can even nest conditional clauses within conditional clauses to automate even the most complex of legal documents.
Take those mundane, repetitive tasks — and automate them. PatternBuilder can help you save significant amounts of time by incorporating secure legal document automation into your practice. Contact NetDocuments or request a demo to learn more.