Document Automation
Presentation about automation as an innovation improving productivity, reliability and repeatability in systems or processes

Another technology idea that will help your law firm is reusing information and that comes down to our intelligent documents that I spoke about earlier on.

Most large firms have worked out a long time ago that by having a precedent library of contracts and reusing them again and again, saves time and in effect creates hours. But for the life of me, I cannot understand why people don’t use document templates. They really are simple. They’re more accurate because most of the document template is boilerplate text, so it doesn’t change, only the variable information changes. So from a proofreading point of view you just need to check the variable information, you don’t need to check the standard text.

Your senior lawyers create the ideal agreement of lease or agreement of sale or whatever it may be. Then your junior lawyers who are coming into the profession thick and fast, can use those agreements and benefit from the senior lawyers knowledge and expertise. That is reuse of information.

What a managing partner in a firm in Canada did, he went to each of the heads of department on a Monday morning and asked that by that Friday, each department was to give him the 5 most used documents and he then used those documents to automate the process in the firm. This gave them a real gain in productivity.

So things like a MOI in South Africa. I’m sure you all have MOI presidents or boilerplates that you actually call up and edit and change. But that kind of stuff should be automated as a document template. ANCs should be automated so you can use it them as document templates. So popularly used documents should be automated.

I often say it’s a way to create time and fees. The truth of it is you’re supposed to charge for the amount of work you put into something but when running a document template which takes a minute or two, how do you ethically charge enough?

I always joke about the one minute ANC. To generate an ANC document should not take longer than a minute if you do it as a document template. But you’re not going to charge for a minute, that’s ridiculous. You’ve studied for years. You’ve had to build your knowledge. You’ve had to build the template. You had to negotiate the template. So you will charge a fair fee for the document you supply.

What else can you do? The legal profession is a profession but you’re also a business that sells legal services and the principles of the way you operate your practices are just plain business. So you can look at what’s happened in commerce and take lessons from there – how not to give a discount for example.

One of the other important documents is an engagement letter when you take on a new client. To lay out how you expect to be paid. When you expect to be paid. What happens if you don’t get paid. They want to know what you’ll be charging and what work you’re going to do for this case and what you’re not going to do. So there’s a very clear relationship that sets out the terms of what you’re going to do.

The rest of the world is ahead of us here. They’ve already had to handle this fixed fee dilemma that we got coming at us. On the internet you will find plenty of research talking about how to handle fixed fees properly and what your options are. Talk to colleagues and share ideas.

You are all lawyers and yes you all do compete for business but you don’t all compete across the same client base. I’m amazed lawyers don’t talk to other lawyers to compare notes and set up user groups to discuss how they should go forward. I wanted to say to all the men in the audience today that actually asking for help is a strength not a weakness. It’s like asking for directions, it’s something we don’t do because that’s a weakness right? Yet it saves so much time if you can ask someone for directions and one of these days I’m going to learn how to do that too.

So as I said to you, law is never going to be the same again. It’s a new way of working and you are going to have to adapt.

I often get told by older lawyers, “…well thank goodness I’m two years away from retirement, I don’t have to worry about this stuff now.” If you are not retiring in two years, you’re going to need to adapt and adapt quickly. To start, use technology better. Lawyers and technology don’t easily go together, we know that. Computers and technology are your salvation.

It is not impossible to make this change. Some firms have already done it. I don’t think that the profession is going to die. There’s still going to be a legal profession at the end of this. But one thing I can tell you is it’s going to be very different to the profession that we have here today.

An extract from Chris Pearson’s presentation at the Bootcamp for Small and Medium Law Firms of South Africa 2019.
Chris Pearson is the Sales and Marketing Director at XpressDox.

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