In our last post, “Why should associates care about boosting efficiency?” we suggested you take a critical look at how you produce documents. To help you get started, we’ll outline your options, and explain the pros and cons of each solution. You may be surprised to learn you already own some of these.
How efficient is your current document drafting process? You probably spend more time than you’d like on quality control. After all, a single error in a legal document can have costly consequences for your client and firm. As you move toward a more automated approach, you’ll be spending less time reinventing your documents, and on the tedious work of double and triple proofreading, and more time practicing law.
Copy and Paste
Let’s start with the most basic approach. You already have dozens, if not hundreds, of paragraphs from previous documents that can be reused. You can simply copy and paste these into your new document. This approach is quick, but introduces the possibility of errors when required edits are overlooked, grammar is not corrected for the new matter, or important portions of the text are omitted in the copying process. Back to proofreading.
Standardize and Reuse
One step up from copy and paste is a feature in Microsoft Word (2007 version or later), called Quick Parts. Lawyers can store reusable paragraphs in the Quick Parts library, select the desired paragraph from a drop-down list, and insert it into the document with a single mouse click. This is certainly faster than copy and paste, but requires some up-front work and carries with it the potential for errors, as described above.
Automate and Integrate
A big step forward are document assembly systems, such as GhostDraft, HotDocs, and Pathagoras. These systems allow you to build templates for various types of legal documents. When integrated with your case management software, they can pull client-specific data directly into your documents based on rules that you specify. These systems are much more powerful and accurate than copy and paste, but they require an investment in time to build the documents and configure the system.
Content + Process
At the top end of the spectrum are application-specific document assembly systems such as Automated Civil Litigation (ACL) from Korbitec. Not only do these systems automate the assembly of standardized and case-specific content, but they also include all of the forms and documents you will need across the various steps of a case. Your investment in setup time is much lower and the standardized process for completing the forms ensures that nothing is overlooked, and content is always accurate. ACL even corrects for gender, tense and grammar.
So there you have the full document assembly spectrum. Any one of these options is far better than a typewriter, but before you settle on one, carefully consider the trade-offs. The lowest cost or fastest to implement will not always produce the greatest benefits for your legal practice in the long run.
About Michael Sauber
Michael Sauber leads the marketing program for Korbitec, producer of Automated Civil Litigation Software (ACL). He has worked with document production technologies and professional services for over 30 years and is a frequent blogger on these topics.