These document assembly tools will keep your law firm on track
There’s no getting around it. The practice of law is document intensive and can often be tedious. Don’t get me wrong. Some parts of practicing law are exciting, but the reality is that the grunt work of law—the constant document drafting and review, combined with the monotony of repetitive tasks—can take its toll over time.
Fortunately, there are steps your firm can take to reduce the repetition and automate the more mundane aspects document creation. These tools are built into law practice management software, but you can also use stand-alone software if you’re seeking a more robust feature set.
The good news is that no matter how you go about it, by streamlining your firm’s document drafting processes using readily available technology, you’ll have more time to focus on the aspects of lawyering that you enjoy the most.
Document assembly tools have been around for years, and they make it easy to create templates for frequently used documents, such as intake forms, retainer agreements, pleadings and more. This type of software typically requires a bit of work upfront to create a document template, but it’s time well spent.
Once you’ve created document templates, your document automation software will do the rest by autopopulating 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 and 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 that 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 document automation tools available to law firms today.
For solo and small-firm lawyers who have practices that aren’t particularly document-intensive, the document-management features built into most law practice management systems, such as Rocket Matter, Clio or MyCase (note that I am the legal technology evangelist with MyCase) will often be sufficient and more cost-effective than using both law practice management software and document assembly software.
Most law practice management software programs include document automation and assembly features, with some offering a more robust feature set than others. So, if document assembly features are an important feature for your firm, ensure that you thoroughly understand how the document automation tools built into the law practice management software work. Smokeball is a good bet if your firm is seeking the ability to easily access court and jurisdictional forms, since it provides forms from a number of different jurisdictions.
If your firm isn’t prepared to commit to using a full-fledged law practice management system or is already using one but would prefer stand-alone document automation software, you have a number of options. What follows is not an all-inclusive list. Instead, these are some of the different document assembly programs, one of which is sure to suit your firm’s needs. It’s important to carefully review the specific features offered by each program since the feature sets vary. And make sure to test drive the software to ensure that it’s a good fit before locking your firm into a long-term contract.
HotDocs is one of the most familiar document automation tools used by lawyers. HotDocs 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. Note that HotDocs was acquired by AbacusNext in November 2017. The effects of that acquisition have yet to be seen, so that’s something to keep in mind if HotDocs is on your list of considerations.
TheFormTool is another option to consider. This company offers a number of different document assembly tools that you download to your computer or law firm server: TheFormTool Free (free), TheFormTool Pro ($89 for a lifetime license), Doxserá ($129 per computer per year), and Doxserá DB (author version $279 per computer per year or DB User $179 per computer per year). The different programs provide varying feature sets, with TheFormTool options being more appropriate for most solo and small firm lawyers. These tools are intended to work using Microsoft Word for Windows.
Finally, Pathagoras is another document automation tool for lawyers. This document automation tool is only compatible with PCs using a Windows operating system and Microsoft Word (including Office 365). It offers a 90-day free trial, and pricing starts at $379 per year for a single user and $250 per year for each additional seat. A networking bundle for three users is offered at $799 per year, along with a subscription option that costs $25 per month or $120 per six months for a single user.
So those are some of your options when it comes to document automation software. Are you using any of these document automation in your law firm yet? If not, why not? Start automating your firm’s document creation today, and get rid of the tedium of law practice for good!
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].