Legal professionals know that lawyering often involves tedious paperwork. That’s where document automation (also known as document assembly) comes in. Document automation allows lawyers to save time—in particular, time spent on creating documents—by using information already collected about your client’s case to populate letters and forms. This can include information such as the name and address of your client, details about the opposing party, and key dates. Once a document is created, it’s saved and stored in a document management system. This way, the document is easily accessible, well organized, and secured for future access, edits, and sharing.
Document automation is essential for improving and optimizing the way lawyers run their practice. This is because document automation streamlines the monotonous task of creating form letters, agreements, motions, pleadings, and more. Meanwhile, document management ensures those letters and forms are stored safely and conveniently.
What is the best type of document automation and management system?
There are many different document automation and management systems available to lawyers and legal professionals. There are two main types of software when it comes to document automation for lawyers: standalone document automation software and legal practice management software with built-in document automation and management features.
Legal practice management software with built-in document automation and management features
When choosing the right legal practice management software for your firm, it’s important to consider how it will incorporate your document automation and management tools. Ideally, lawyers need to be able to easily originate, edit, and share documents from one location, like Clio Manage. This means having a “one-stop-shop” for all your document automation and management needs. For routine tasks like document creation and document assembly, the last thing you want to do is have to waste time switching between different software.
Standalone, third-party document software
For example, there are many standalone software available that lets you merge letters using prompts to input the information as you go. One issue with this is it doesn’t allow you to pull information from a database where the data is already stored.
Other examples include pulling information from a Microsoft Word document or Excel file, but this can be extremely complicated to set up and managing matters within excel sheets is not ideal. By storing documents in a standalone, third-party document management software, you cannot tag and easily associate those documents, letters, or forms with the matter that they belong to.
How to choose the right document automation software for your law firm
Determine your needs
There are four things to keep in mind if you’re a lawyer looking for the right software, for document automation for lawyers at your firm:
An important consideration with any decision is cost. When deciding on software for document automation for lawyers, keep in mind the other benefits that should be included with the cost. Is the software bundled with any other features? For example, is the document automation management software coupled with a document management system? You’ll save on cost by pursuing a system that incorporates different features, like Clio does.
2. The cost of switching to the new software
The cost of switching to the new software is the overall amount of time spent switching between different software or applications. If the document automation software you’re considering doesn’t integrate directly with your document management system or your legal practice management software, then you might lose time changing back and forth from each application.
3. Time and effort involved with the setup
Time is money, and lawyers understand this sentiment better than most. That’s why lawyers need to select a document automation system that is easy and intuitive to set up.
Consider the following questions as you explore different software for document management for lawyers at your firm:
- How much time are you willing to commit to setting up the document automation software?
- How much do you have to be involved in this process?
- Will you need to hire someone to set this up for you, or can you or someone in your office handle this?
- If you need to hire someone, what will that additional cost be?
4. How the document management system fits with your existing workflow
Lawyers with existing applications, operational processes, tasks, deadlines, and procedures in place need to examine how well a particular document automation software will mesh with their existing workflow. Software that fits well with your existing setup is necessary to keep your practice running smoothly.
Core features of good document automation software for law firms
Finding the right document automation software for lawyers can help you grow your firm—by streamlining the process of originating many different kinds of letters, forms, and other legal documents. Some core deciding features of a good document automation software should include the following:
Store an unlimited amount of legal documents
Lawyers have a lot on their minds as it is, the last thing they need is the lingering thought of a data limit and the concern of potentially running out of space. Many document automation software and document management systems available today charge by the amount of space used. This can become very expensive, very quickly. The right document automation software should offer unlimited storage and provide you with the peace of mind that comes with it.
Find files quickly
Attorneys need to be able to search for documents with ease and speed—this is a must-have feature of any software meant for document automation for lawyers. Apart from searching folders and titles, a good document management system should be able to search text within the documents themselves. It should also be able to find text or phrases within any PDF or Word document quickly and easily.
Lets you use electronic signatures
Connecting and communicating with clients remotely is becoming the norm. Collecting signatures without needing to send physical documents or being in the same room as the client is essential. The perfect complement to document automation for lawyers and a key feature of any good document management software is the ability to quickly and easily send out newly created documents for signature collection.
Lets you access your documents remotely
Oftentimes, lawyers need to access their documents remotely and at any time. If your legal documents are stored on your computer at the office, or on local servers within your firm, it can be very difficult—or impossible—to access these files remotely. Finding a cloud-based software that allows you to access your documents remotely while at your home office or in court is an exceedingly important feature of any document automation or document management program.
Lets you prepare common/routine legal documents in seconds
This is an often-overlooked requirement of any good document automation software: The ability to quickly merge and populate a letter or form and export that information into a PDF or Word document within seconds.
File documents directly from the source
To get the most out of your document automation software, it’s best to find a solution that incorporates both automation and management under the same hood. This creates less work for lawyers by automatically filing documents in the correct place after they have been created.
Capture billable time from any document
By syncing your document automation and management software with your legal practice management software, you can easily bill time for a document. A good document automation software should be able to quickly bill time to any matter or client for any document associated with that matter or client.
Sync, share, and track documents easily
Lawyers should be able to easily send documents and track their use in a secure place. A feature that every document automation software should include is the ability to share letters and forms with clients and co-counsel, and sync any changes made along the way.
What is the best document automation software for law firms?
The best document automation software for law firms is one that includes the core features listed above. It should be able to store an unlimited amount of legal documents, find files quickly, let you use electronic signatures, access your documents remotely, file documents directly from the source, capture billable time from any document, and sync, share and track documents easily. This suite of core components makes the software much more powerful when combined with other features. Clio is a legal practice management software that does just that; it’s for this reason that makes it the best document automation software available to law firms today.
Document automation tools
Standalone document automation software such as Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Law Cloud have their strengths and weaknesses. These systems share the benefit of automating legal letters on a granular level. One example includes customizing pronouns when referring to a male or female client. However, this hyper-detailed amount of customization can become a hindrance to the setup and usage process as it can be very complicated.
Document management systems
Due to their popularity and widespread use among legal professionals, document management systems such as Google Drive, OneDrive, and Netdocs integrate with many other systems. When paired with third-party programs, they can provide a host of additional features as an extension of their software. This makes them much more as a powerful document management system than if they were to remain a standalone product.
However, many of these programs operate by charging for the amount of space you use. This can become expensive for lawyers with a lot of documents and files. Furthermore, when a standalone software is just linked to a third-party program, you can lose the ability to tag and easily associate documents and files with the matter of their origin.
Workflow automation tools
With workflow automation tools such as Zapier and PieSync, two separate programs can “talk to each other”—even if they don’t natively “talk” to each other. These programs help make up for the shortcomings or missing features of any cloud software. Zapier and PieSync do this by linking up with another software that is capable of handling those specific missing features. If configured correctly, these tools can help lawyers create some amazing automated processes. When they don’t work correctly, or if the link stops working, they can become a headache. This is especially true of software syncs that you rely on on a daily basis. When they stop working, your workflow can grind to a halt.
Tools like InfoTrack, NextChapter, and Alt Legal can help simplify the e-filing process for lawyers. When integrated with document automation and management systems, these applications can expedite the court filing process by easily sending and receiving documents from one place. The drawbacks to these applications are the added cost to your existing legal practice management or document management budget.
Practice management tools
Clio Grow is a client intake-oriented legal practice management software that helps lawyers track, organize, and manage clients. Coupled with Clio Manage, the companion software that handles the case as it moves to a matter or litigation, this suite effortlessly handles the life of a case from cradle to grave while offering an abundance of industry-leading features.
Implement the right legal document automation software for a more efficient law firm
Document automation for lawyers may seem like a routine task. But lawyers looking to improve their practice need to consider the importance of automated legal documents. By implementing the right software for law firm document automation, lawyers can automate and significantly improve the process of creating documents, and more. A good document automation and management software includes the following:
- Store an unlimited amount of legal documents
- Find files quickly
- Lets you use electronic signatures
- Lets you access your documents remotely
- Lets you prepare common/routine legal documents in seconds
- File documents directly from the source
- Capture billable time from any document
- Sync, share, and track documents easily
The best document automation software should offer the core suite of features mentioned above. When choosing the best document automation software for your law firm, consider how it integrates with your legal workflows. From document automation tools and document management systems to workflow automation and e-filing tools, Your chosen software should make running your firm easier, by being a “one-stop-shop” for all your document automation, management, and legal practice management needs.
Note: The information in this article applies only to US practices. This post is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, business, or accounting advice.
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