Automating your firm’s documents is a snap with document assembly software
Since last March, I’ve been revisiting some of my past columns on legal software with an eye toward providing lawyers with the latest updates on the legal software that their firms will most likely rely on when working remotely.
My goal throughout the pandemic has been to arm lawyers with the information needed to make educated software-purchasing decisions, and thus enable efficient and effective work processes no matter where the firm’s employees happen to be.
Many lawyers have struggled to adopt the technology tools into their practices needed to ensure their firms survive and thrive despite the challenging times. Notably, document creation and document management have been particularly pronounced pain points for many firms since so many types of law practices are document-intensive.
Enter cloud-based legal software tools that are document-focused: document management software and document automation software. These types of software tools are must-haves for most law firms, and they are particularly useful when a firm has transitioned to remote work.
For that reason, I wrote about document management software last April, when many areas of the country were under mandatory quarantines. Nearly a year later, there’s no immediate end to the pandemic in sight, so I figured it was high time to focus on documents once again, this time on the automation of document creation and assembly.
You’re probably already familiar with document automaton software since these tools have been around for years. With this type of software, templates can quickly and easily be created for frequently used documents, such as intake forms, retainer agreements, pleadings and more.
This type of software typically requires a bit of up-front work to create a document template, but it’s time well spent. It used to be that serious coding skills were often needed to create the necessary templates to automate the document creation process, but no more. Instead, most of these programs are easy to use once you’ve created document templates. From there, your document automation software will do the rest by autopopulating the documents.
Depending on the types of software you’re using, relevant data, such as case numbers, client information, party names and necessary dates, may be automatically input right into the document, saving time and increasing your firm’s productivity.
Of course, it’s important to note that some of the document automation tools that will be discussed below are cloud-based; thus, all data will be housed on servers owned by a third party. And whenever you entrust your law firm’s data to a third party, you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data.
This includes ensuring you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the cloud-based document automation tools available to law firms today. Oftentimes, you’ll find that these tools are built into the law practice management software system already used by your firm, but you can also use stand-alone software if you’re seeking a more robust feature set.
Automation features in practice management software
First, there are the cloud-based law practice management software programs, many of which include document automation and assembly features. Some offer a more robust feature set than others, so it’s important to ensure you thoroughly understand how the document automation tools built into the law practice management software system work.
For lawyers who have practices that aren’t particularly document-intensive, the document management features built into most law practice management systems, such as Clio or MyCase, will often be sufficient and more cost-effective than using both law practice management software and stand-alone document assembly software.
Some systems also offer jurisdiction-specific forms, so if your firm is located in Illinois, for example, Smokeball might be a good fit. The key to choosing the right law practice management software with built-in document automation features is to make sure you fully understand and have an opportunity to test-drive the document assembly tools available in the law practice management software program your firm is considering.
Another option to consider, especially if your firm’s document assembly needs are more intensive, is stand-alone document automation software. I’ve learned about many new document automation tools since I last wrote about this type of software in 2019.
What follows is not an all-inclusive list. As always, when researching your options, it’s important to carefully review the specific features offered by each program because the feature sets vary. And don’t forget to test-drive the software to ensure it’s a good fit before locking your firm into a long-term contract.
First up, HotDocs, which was acquired by AbacusNext in November 2017. This is one of the more familiar document automation products for lawyers. It offers document assembly tools for organizations and law firms of all sizes. Some products are available in the cloud while others are premises based. Pricing is not available on the website.
Motionize is document automation software that is Microsoft-compatible and has templates and a built-in legal form library that includes legal memorandums, summary judgment motions, complaints and noncompete agreements.
With Motionize, when you upload your documents and choose an existing formatted document, the software will then automatically create template fields in the document. It has three pricing categories: $60 per month per user for five users; $80 per month per user for 10 users; and an Enterprise plan that is not priced on the website.
Next, there’s Documate, document automation software that makes it easy to create oft-used documents by turning them into workflows. To do so, you need to first create questions that will help you to gather the necessary data; then, when you upload a document, tag it so that fields correspond with interview questions.
Once that’s done, you can then run the workflow to create new documents based on the responses to the interview questions. Pricing starts at $83 per month and increases based on the number of workflows and fields generated.
Lawyah is document assembly software designed for lawyers that interfaces with Microsoft Word. You can upload Microsoft Word documents into online template sets that you’ve created. Lawyah includes over 5,000 California court forms in its database and also has built-in e-signature functionality. Pricing starts at $59 per month per user for access to just the California court forms. Document template functionality is accessible for $99 per month per user, and team pricing is also available.
Finally, there’s Knackly. At the do-it-yourself entry level of Knackly, you can create automated online client intake forms that allow clients to input their information. Document automation using Microsoft Word is available at subsequent levels, each of which requires progressively higher setup fees.
The do-it-yourself entry level costs $75 per month for three users and does not include document automation. The next three levels are $75 per month per license plus one-time setup fees for additional training and features that increase with each level. For all levels, the cost to add additional users is $25 per user per month.
Those are some of your options if your firm is in the market for document automation software. As you can see, this type of software is available at all price points and at different levels of complexity. The features and forms available vary, as does the up-front work required to create forms and set up workflows.
The good news is that no matter which system you choose or how you go about it, the end result will be to streamline your firm’s document drafting processes, saving your firm both time and money.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record; has authored hundreds of articles for other publications; and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].