Document automation is the process of creating documents from a set of rules. If you can identify rules for the templates you draft using "if this" - "then that" statements, it will help generate error-free documents in a fraction of the time.
As a baseline, document automation is software that allows you to collect data and generate documents automatically, based on rules that you set up in the software for those documents.
It is much more than just mail-merge (sometimes referred to as "document assembly"). It can handle complex logic, pull and push data from different sources, integrate across your software suite, and even act like a client portal.
Where do the data inputs come from? It depends on your software. In Documate, you can type them in yourself, send out a web form for your clients to answer the questions (like a client intake form), or you can use an external data source (e.g., an integration with your practice management system).
1. Data collection or client intake. It could be you, your colleagues, or your clients entering the data that is relevant to the end-documents. You can build web forms that allow you to send a mobile-friendly client intake for your clients to enter all their data (while you gain back some extra time). Depending on the robustness of the system, the intake can be built with complex logic, and it can hide questions to show only those relevant to the user.
2. Document generation. Generate documents exactly as you want them. If you can verbally describe a rule for how they should be populated with the data, then your document can be automated - no matter how complex. All formatting will also be respected. Document automation can generate Word, PDF, and .docx documents, along with inputs from spreadsheets like Excel or CSVs.
3. Guided forms. Add logic and guidance to your web forms. You can even add images, videos, help text, or default responses along the way to help your user. An example of this is how TurboTax guides a user to automatically create their tax documents.
4. Data Management. Collect, store, and analyze data that you capture. Then, reuse it as you generate other documents for the same clients (no more reinventing the wheel for every project).
5. Client portal and user management. Have a hundreds or even thousands of questions for your end-user to answer? No problem. They can create user profiles, store their information, and edit responses over time. You'll be able to see their responses and communicate with them.
1. Your documents generate in a fraction of the time (this Documate study here shows a 90% reduction in drafting time).
2. Your documents are error proof, and all of the formatting comes out perfect every time based on your rules. You no longer need to replace [bracketed and highlighted] portions of documents manually, or look through the rules embedded in footnotes of documents to determine what portions of a document to add or remove. Using “CTRL + F” to find the previous client’s name in your form? Not anymore.
3. Third parties (like your staff or clients) can participate in the generation of documents, enabling a more seamless digital experience that everyone is happier with.
4. Legal productization. See our guide on building legal products (or legal apps) here. Legal apps have numerous benefits, like increasing the public’s access to legal services, creating passive income for attorneys, and lead generation. Take a look at our case studies to see the legal tools that our users have built.
Companies like LegalZoom, TurboTax, and RocketLawyer offer automated document production for individuals and small businesses in specific areas (e.g., business formation, tax, and others). There are many document automation solutions that are built for one area of law and require you to use their forms without allowing you to customize them to your practice (e.g., WealthCounsel and ElderCounsel).
Meanwhile, document automation platforms like Documate allow any lawyer or professional to create their own LegalZoom (in any area of law). You could even build a lawyer-facing tool that competes with the likes of WealthCounsel.
You can build your own legal product by:
1. Customizing the questions that the user is asked,
2. Guiding the user down different decision trees based on their answers,
3. Dictating where those answers are populated in the documents, and
4. Deciding what documents are issued at the end of the process.
92% of legal needs are unmet in the US, and there will never be enough pro bono attorneys or legal aid attorneys to serve this need.
Legal aid organizations and courts across the world have used document automation through tough times to scale their delivery of legal services with a limited numbers of lawyers.
Similarly, for-profit law firms have the same ability to scale their legal services and reduce the overall cost, while serving more people.
It has been estimated that 90% of legal services will be delivered online in the next 10 years to a much larger legal consumer market than currently exists. The attorneys who start providing online legal services early will have an advantage over their competitors, while also increasing the public’s access to legal guidance.
While document automation software is used primarily in the legal, financial services, and risk management industries, it can be used by any knowledge worker, or in any industry that creates transaction-based documents.
For example, in law firms and corporate legal departments, document automation software enables clients to generate legal documents through an online interview or decision tree, adding complex logic, automatic calculations, and special formatting. Some of these documents can contain hundreds or thousands of pages, with hundreds of optional paragraphs, nested logic, and data elements. Automation software has the ability to automatically fill in the correct document variables based on the transaction data. This allows companies to minimize data entry, reduce the time spent proof-reading, and reduce the risks associated with human error.
Want to dive deeper into document automation in the legal industry? We have a whole guide on law firm document automation here.
Are you considering document automation for your company? Voted the easiest to use automation platform, Documate is a powerful, but no-code platform for created automation workflows. Visit www.documate.org to learn more about the legal app builder.
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