10 ways to pick the right document automation platform for your legal business (recommendation by lawyers inside)
Internal use at your law firm
Ease of use – to automate documents
The profitability rate for your product should reach faster than expected; it should be fast and simple. Choose a platform that does not require special coding capabilities, that legal analysts or PSLs can use themselves to generate a report using themselves without any help from their IT team. Also, we would highly recommend purchasing a legal automation platform that does not require the company selling the platform themselves to do all the automation for you. We are not saying that to resource your legal automation you shouldn’t consider an outsourced model but more that you should be able to make amendments quickly and easily yourselves without having to pay for maintenance to the platform company every time you do. Choose a solution that allows you to automate the documents all from one place, ideally from Word, as that is how the documents will have first been prepared. This saves significant time compared to the software programs that require you to add the variables, make the changes, upload, and so on from elsewhere.
Appearance and user interface
The lawyers’ first impressions count when it comes to any change to their working practices. If you are going to be selling to those lawyers that this is going to be a slick legal automation platform that will make their lives easier, and to achieve maximum return on investment you need to convince those lawyers that this is the future of legal drafting and automation, it needs to look good. This point is not a ‘soft’ option that can be compromised for price. Having helped many firms who have previously experienced failed automation projects, the lawyer opinion of the tool has often been the crushing blow – regardless of the potential of the platform. These are highly intelligent people, many of whom are Gen X or Z and for them to trust a new product user interface design is key.
Ability to save the information entered by the lawyers
Several innovative law firms are now looking for ways to provide their clients with better legal management information to help them reduce their clients legal risks and ultimately legal spend. By saving the data the lawyers input into document automation questionnaires law firms can help their clients spot trends. For example, if a law firm acts for a client defending all of their Employment Tribunal Claims, by saving the information inputted when preparing defenses to claims the law firm can then report to the GC information such as what percentage of those claims are for unfair dismissal or discrimination, what parts of their businesses those claims are originating from and possibly suggest where to focus any training or improvements. Similarly, they can spot where lawyers are always selecting the same position enabling the firm to update the precedent banks and continually make them as commercial as possible. This ability enables law firms to become, as Richard Susskind puts it, “the guard rail at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance at the bottom”
Ability to ‘suite’ documents together
Consider this scenario: A real estate lawyer is instructed by a landlord client to complete a new lease for a tenant. The tenant is going to be paying a rent deposit and also carrying out some alterations. In this situation, without document automation, the lawyer is going to have to draft three documents – the lease, the rent deposit deed and the licence for alterations separately inserting the same information about parties details, premises and such like into everyone. With a legal document automation platform like Alf, that easily allows you to prepare entire suites of documents, the lawyer can prepare all three documents at once never having to repeat the same information twice.
Integration with other systems
It is likely that your law firm has many other systems with valuable information that could be useful when your lawyers are using document automation. For example, if you plan to automate your client engagement letters it will be useful if the legal automation platform you choose can pull up information from your accounts system or if you have an existing workflow platform, it will be helpful if the document automation questionnaires can be inserted into the relevant steps of the workflow ready to draft the documents when needed. It is also helpful if the system will incorporate your existing knowledge bank including external resources. Even better, look for a platform where the information inserted into the early steps of the workflow can readily be mapped to the automation questionnaires so that they are prepopulated when the lawyer opens them to draft a document.
Ability to build in approvals and workflow
think the best document automation software out there at the moment allows you to build some governance and workflow into your questionnaires. Senior lawyers can embed their knowledge into the questionnaires and workflow, adding guidance and alerts to each stage and question. This allows junior lawyers to train via “just in-time” learning whilst using document automation questionnaires and workflows. By allowing firms to pass the preparation of first drafts to a more junior level of resource they can also have the added benefit of further improving margin. A team can also set up an approval workflow so that the initial work prepared by a junior can be checked by a supervisor or give them some workflow ideas as to what to do next and move information inputted from one stage to the next.
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External use by your clients
Client-facing functionality and appropriate fee models
Often law firms want to allow their clients and third parties access to the questionnaires. Some do this as a new revenue stream, or for business development or as an added value tool. It is important to consider early on if your firm might require this functionality and to establish any additional user charges the legal automation company may charge if so and factor these into your business plan.
Customization of client sub-sites
It is essential that when your clients login to your legal automation platform offered that they have a ring-fenced area for only their documents that cannot be accessed by other clients. For this reason, ensure the legal automation platform you procure allows you to create sub-sites. You will want to customize these sites, perhaps with your client’s branding for example, to allow their in-house teams to feel like it is a part of their everyday IT system. Ideally, you will want to co-brand it so that it is also a powerful business development tool, with your clients also seeing your firm’s name and branding every day as they use this powerful tool. With Alf’s white label feature, you can use to showcase your brand to your clients.
Ability to build in approvals and workflow
This consideration is probably even more important to your clients than for your own firm’s use. Clients will want to use document automation to help with internal governance between their business and their legal team. For example, the clients may want the business to produce their own supply contracts unless certain triggers are met that would require the drafting and checking of the contract to be passed to legal – perhaps the value, the payment terms or the jurisdiction of the supplier. Choosing a software that allows workflow and approvals to be easily implemented will enable you to help your clients solve the problems and capacity issues of their in-house teams much more effectively than by simply enabling them to do legal document automation without any other features.
Ability to report to clients on their data trends
In the same way that you can save the information your lawyers are inputting, as in the Employment Tribunal example above, when you set up document automation for your clients you can ask them about information that would be useful for them to capture and look at how best to report it back to them. Could the information be easily incorporated and displayed in an online dashboard for example?
Final Recommendations from Sabine:
- Talk to your peers at other law firms
Which software did they choose and why? What lessons did they learn? What would they do differently if they were to start again?
- Ask the legal automation provider of choice whether you can run a pilot
Choose one area of your business to pilot in and take feedback from the lawyers. Look for practice areas which have either a high volume of similar transactions, for example Real Estate Asset Management, or, long highly complex documents whereby asking just a few questions you can reduce the amount of drafting dramatically, for example, Corporate SPAs or Banking Facility Agreements. Have a soft launch and a firm wide launch.
- Brand your solution with Alf
This will help to distinguish your product and service, rather than simply referring to ‘document automation’. I often hear lawyers referring to different descriptions, like ‘document assembly’, ‘document automation’ and ‘automated drafting’: by referring to one name only, your lawyers will engage more strongly with your branded solution.