Joseph Schieffer

Area of law

Joseph is a Documater and founder of A2J Tech Store, a social enterprise that builds technology to improve access to justice. Joseph is a zealous believer in the power of document automation to make the legal system more accessible and affordable. Joseph enjoys the craft of using a human-centered design approach to developing automated forms.

Legal Experience
Estate Planning
Integrations
Styling and CSS
Web Development
Family Law

Joseph is a Documator and founder of A2J Tech Store, a social enterprise that builds technology to improve access to justice. Joseph is a zealous believer in the power of document automation to make the legal system more accessible and affordable. Joseph enjoys the craft of using a human-centered design approach to developing automated forms.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m the founder of A2J Tech Store. We provide technology services to the legal industry, with a focus on projects that meaningfully improve access to justice. As both a project manager and a programmer, I’m able to efficiently design and implement technology projects. I’ve presented on document automation at the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Innovations in Technology Conference and for the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

I’ve earned the Project Management Professional designation from the Project Management Institute and the Certified ScrumMaster designation from Scrum Alliance. I have a Master's of Science in Business Administration from the University of Florida and a Bachelor's of Science from the United States Air Force Academy.

What is your document automation experience?

I’ve worked on two large document automation projects for Florida Name Change and Turning 18, as well as several smaller projects. On the large projects, we designed websites to help people understand the legal processes as well as fill out automated forms. We also often work on automations that happen after the user fills out the form, such as storing the form information in a database, emailing forms or notifications, and sending text messages.

What areas of law or documents do you have experience building workflows or legal apps in?  

I’ve worked on small document automation projects (a single form) to large projects that include 40+ forms. I’ve worked on automating court forms as well as online intake forms and general purpose forms (i.e., expense report). 

Can you describe your process for how you build a document automation workflow?  How do you start crafting the questions you'd like to ask?  What interactions do you have with the client throughout that process?

I could write a book on this subject, maybe I’ll do that! I have a presentation on document automation that goes through the development process. To summarize:

  • Communicate frequently with stakeholders and the client throughout the project process.
  • Develop a plan (scope, budget, timeline). You can see how project management principles are infused into all of our work :)
  • Review a sample output and make notes for things to consider when developing the automation.
  • Meet with subject matter experts to discuss the document and ask questions.
  • Create a visual flowchart of the entire user experience; starting with how a person will find the form and ending with what they will do with the form once it is completed. We use a human-centered design approach.
  • Write the questions that will be presented to the user. Since forms can be confusing, we ask questions in plain English so that anyone can understand them.
  • Connect the questions with the logic based on the user responses.
  • Connect the user’s answers to the form.
  • Test all questions, logic, and the output. Make improvements based on testing.
  • Test the form with subject matter experts. Make improvements based on testing.
  • Test the form with the intended users of the form. Make improvements based on testing.
  • Have a small group of people use the form in their regular work. Make improvements based on results.
  • Evaluate performance of the form (usage, how long it takes to fill out, completion rate, etc.). Make improvements based on performance.
  • Launch form to all users.
  • Evaluate performance and make continuous improvements.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a document automation specialist to have when working with a client to automate their templates and forms?

Document automation takes several skillsets - logic, writing, technology, human-centered design, communication, and others. Here are the qualities that we value the most in our document automation work:

  • Training. The best document automation developers continually hone their craft and learn new tools and techniques.
  • Empathy. I put myself in the user’s shoes and try to build the form from their viewpoint. We want people to enjoy filling out the forms we build.
  • Communication. Successful document automation projects are a result of communication between many parties--project manager, developer, client, subject matter expert, form testers, beta group, and users of the form.

What is your favorite project A2J store has worked on? 

My favorite project is the development of Florida Name Change. I worked with a great team at Southern Legal Counsel and a long-time colleague. I wrote a long blog post about it on Makerpad.

According to Florida’s court records, there were approximately 40 name change petitions in 2016, the year before I began working on the project. My thought was that building the platform should be able to double this number. I was way off. The usage of the platform has been significantly greater than I ever imagined. I took a snapshot in December 2018, which was about nine months since we launched the application. Here are some of the stats:

  • 11,000 unique visitors to the site
  • Over 5,000 forms assembled
  • 650 people completed all of the forms to petition the court for a name change

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy coaching my kids’ youth sports, watching movies with my wife, and exercising.

Want to hire Joseph as a document automation developer?  Send us a message at hello@documate.org, or book a time for a call on the calendar here.

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