Document automation is one of those legal tech perennials. Software that enhances the drafting of documents has been around for almost forty years – longer, indeed, than the careers of most of today’s legal technology professionals. Despite its longevity, however, it remains only partially exploited by law firms. A segment that was once dominated by a single product, HotDocs, has recently become much more diverse and has seen a wave of development, investment and innovation. It is back on the radar.
On 25th February Richard Newton and Mark Ford of legal tech consultancy echo.legal discussed developments with IT Directors from 25 European law firms at ILTA Europe’s monthly roundtable.
Mark, former CKO at Baker McKenzie has a wealth of experience having rolled out global automation projects at that firm and previously at Clifford Chance. He spoke about the challenges that law firms face in implementing document automation programmes and shared his views on the best ways to address these.
Building a business case for automation can prove difficult given the inherent lack of incentives for efficiency improvements in a law firm environment. Even once that hurdle has been overcome, many firms struggle to find the right starting-point for their automation plans and often need help in identifying good candidate documents for automation. Projects tend to be driven by a single enthusiast, which is great for getting things off the ground initially, but firms that rely on a reactive approach to implementing an automation tool are unlikely to achieve significant scale.
Finding time and resource to carry out the initial automation work necessary to turn a flat, manual document into an automated template can also be a barrier. This could either come from an internal resource such as a lawyer or PSL, or from an external source, such as echo.legal.
Mark also warned that firms underestimate the change management challenges of implementing a tool like this at their peril, stressing the importance of explaining the benefits to lawyers from their perspective in order to get good engagement and maximise the chances of a successful roll-out.
Richard, founder and MD of echo.legal reviewed the platform and deployment options for law firms, noting the wider choice of solutions available to law firms. Ease of use, through ‘no-code’ techniques is developing fast and undoubtedly brings value. However, the issue of ‘no-time’, i.e. the scarcity of subject matter expertise on the document content remains a significant operational obstacle for firms seeking to automate at scale. Given that the true cost of ownership of document automation is heavily weighted to implementation, initial licence fees should not be a buyer’s sole consideration.
Four platforms – Avvoka, Clarilis, Contract Express and Green Meadow’s Document Drafter – were discussed. Each has law firms using their platform , but they take different approaches to implementation and the pros and cons were debated.
The conversation concluded with a discussion of what could be considered best in class in today’s market. Firms with a clear strategic goal and strong management support, often focussed on client innovation, have achieved scale through their own internal teams. Scale was defined as high hundreds or even thousands of automated document templates. For many who are interested in document automation as an internal efficiency tool only, on a practice by practice basis, the business case is harder. For these firms a managed service on an open platform, delivering automation incrementally, document by document, at predictable cost through an outsourced specialist may be the ideal solution.
For more information on the topic, please view this video: https://video.wixstatic.com/video/7b6608_2ab16b9039da4707b631aee609907eac/720p/mp4/file.mp4
Author: Richard Newton, Managing Director, Echo Legal