Legal Technology Expert Shares His List of Features to Consider When Selecting Document Automation Software
Documents are the lifeblood of law practice. The preparation of motions, appeals, forms, agreements, contracts, probate forms, civil litigation filings and thousands of other legal documents exact countless hours of effort on the part of attorneys and legal staff each year.
Law teams constantly draft and change matter-specific documents, often starting with a similar document from another client file and using a copy/edit process to alter pertinent details to match the case at hand. This approach is still in use by many firms.
If you enjoy the uniquely painful experience of the copy/paste/edit method of creating agreements, contracts and documents read no further. You may find comfort in our blog post I Love Drafting Legal Documents (said nobody, ever).
If, on the other hand, you would like to regain those hours to spend on client relationships and more interesting legal work, consider using HotDocs document automation software.
HotDocs document automation is proven technology that thousands of law firms are using daily. The benefits are many:
- Improve compliance with version-controlled templates that generate standardized, accurate documents that meet internal policies.
- Enhance productivity by speeding up the document creation process through automating repetitive work.
- Improve efficiency by reducing time spent by staff manually creating first drafts of standard legal documents.
- Save time. A manually produced document that takes 10 minutes would take just a minute with HotDocs.
HotDocs is easy to implement and use. Often an attorney or legal assistant can create document templates. However, we understand that not every firm has the resource or the time to develop their own templates. In that case you can choose to work with a knowledgeable consultant who can develop a document automation system, build templates and offer training for your firm.
We talked with Barron Henley of Affinity Consulting, a respected legal technology expert and HotDocs by CARET partner. Henley offers a list of tips and criteria for consideration as you evaluate a document automation solution.
Static or Dynamic Questionnaire
One of the considerations when evaluating a DA program is whether it uses a static or dynamic questionnaire. A static questionnaire presents a fixed set of questions that cannot be changed or concealed, even if a question is irrelevant based on how previous questions were answered. This can be problematic for complex documents where the decision tree involved is intricate. A dynamic questionnaire automatically updates itself based on how prior questions were answered.
Ability to Store and Reuse Questionnaire Answers
During a case or engagement, multiple documents may need to be generated from many different templates. It is not acceptable to have to reenter the same information each time. Therefore, it is important that a DA program allows you to save your responses to the questions in the questionnaire for future use.
Ability to Pull Information from Databases into the Questionnaire or Document
Some DA programs may provide the ability to connect to an external database and pull previously entered information into your questionnaire. This can be a matter management system, Outlook, an Access or SQL database or something else.
Ability to Add Help Text in the Questionnaire
If you intend to use your DA system as a teaching tool or simply want the ability to present users with additional details or factors to consider when responding to a question, then you need the ability to provide question-specific help text. This feature is highly recommended, especially for those new to DA.
Ability to Generate Multiple Documents from One Questionnaire
The need to generate a set of documents that use the same information in various ways is common. You may want the result to be one word processor file comprised of each component document in succession or each component document to be generated and saved as a separate word processor file. A good DA program should be able to generate multiple documents at once, and the result should be your preferred arrangement.
Flexibility Regarding Types of Questions (Data Types) Presented
When gathering the information necessary to generate a document, a system should offer options for the following types of inputs: true/false, multiple choice, text, date and number. True/false questions present yes or no options. Multiple choice questions should allow options for selecting only one option or all that apply.
Ability to Calculate Results
The ability to calculate results is a crucial feature in a DA platform, as it allows the automation of complex documents with a minimal error margin. With this feature, the platform can calculate text, dates or numbers based on previous inputs. For instance, if a questionnaire identifies a party as male, it can automatically calculate and insert he/his/him pronouns without separately asking those questions.
Sophisticated DA platforms can calculate almost anything based on inputs, making the assembly of complex documents faster and more efficient.
Ability to Handle Conditional Logic
Another essential feature of DA platforms is the ability to handle conditional logic, which enables the inclusion or exclusion of text based on business rules. This feature is required for automating complicated documents.
Furthermore, the ability to handle nested logic is essential, especially for complex documents. Nested logic refers to sublogic contained within larger, optional segments of the document. For example, you may have conditional logic surrounding a guardianship provision in a will. If it is included, then you may have versions of the language for sole guardians or co-guardians that need to be conditionally included based on the number of initial guardians entered.
Ability to Gather and Process Lists/Repeats
All legal documents have parties and, in most cases, more than one party. Lists or repeats provide the platform the ability to allow a user to enter an unlimited number of records. Additionally, the platform should be able to calculate things based on the number of records entered. For instance, when automating an estate planning document, the platform should be able to handle lists of children, executors/PRs, beneficiaries, guardians and trustees.
Law firms seeking to improve productivity and do more with fewer resources should consider using HotDocs document automation. The criteria above can help inform your considerations when planning for and selecting a document automation tool – and you will likely conclude that HotDocs offers all these features and more.
Ready to learn more? Read the review of HotDocs in Legaltech News: HotDocs Advance, Just Like HotDocs Only Better.
Get a closer look here: Register for a HotDocs Demo.
Questions? The HotDocs Team is here to help. Contact the HotDocs Team.