One of the hardest parts about change is simply breaking the habit that first time. It’s why there’s a movement called “couch to 5K” – getting off the couch is the first and toughest step for many.
For lawyers facing a mountain of work, taking the time to set yourself up for a more efficient process is daunting. It feels like a distraction, not progress.
But for those who wish they were free from the (sometimes literal) pile of paperwork, there is another way, and it starts with preparation.
Consider one real-world example: if your firm had 12,000 documents to review, and each one had 75 questions to answer, the task will take weeks to complete. Even with a sizable team working in concert, the sheer volume of work is daunting. One of those, “Where do I even start?” types of tasks others might shrink from.
But what if you started by working the process, not just digging into the work? By automating even a part of a task that large, you stand to shave hours off the time involved.
What is legal workflow automation?
Legal workflow automation is the use of software to streamline and automate the processing of legal documents and tasks. It typically involves using a specialized platform to store and manage documents, generate contracts and agreements, and automate administrative tasks such as approvals, filing, and data entry. This automated approach to legal services can save time and money for businesses, making it a popular choice for organizations of all sizes.
This process eliminates the need for lawyers to spend valuable time on repetitive tasks such as manually drafting and formatting documents, saving time and reducing the potential for errors. Automated legal documents can be customized to include the specific language and requirements of the particular situation and can be uploaded to be stored in the cloud or shared with colleagues or clients.
Legal workflow automation hosts many benefits, including greater efficiency, reduced errors and improved value for your clients.
Focus on processes, not just tasks
When faced with the opportunity to pitch a client, law firm Foot Anstey looked at not only the size of the work but the manner in which it had been performed in the past.
Instead of using manual processes and discrete spreadsheets, Foot Anstey leveraged automation and databases to create a workflow that streamlined the effort and standardized the information. That time and thought spent in preparation wound up delivering results four times faster than their previous method, and crucially, winning the firm that new business.
What legal services can be automated?
Not everything can be automated, of course. But there are some common elements of legal workflows that lend themselves to automation quite naturally. Some examples include:
- Contract drafting
- Contract review
- Document filing
- Legal research
- Legal compliance
- Due diligence
- IP protection
- Document retrieval
- Document creation
Document creation, for example, requires a large amount of repetitive work. Diving right into the work may seem like the best way to get ahead, but by taking the time to define the fields in a document, and set up corresponding variables, it’s easy for a computer to automatically create custom, accurate documents on a scale that no human can match.
For one, ten, or even a hundred documents, the ROI on setting up automation probably isn’t there. But scaled across multiple clients or within bigger deals, the numbers can easily reach into the thousands. That’s where automation shines.
Automation also benefits law firms in legal workflows. Consider just how much of your time is spent passing documents back and forth or notifying the relevant parties of their next steps. That work need not fall on you. Spend time up-front to define the triggers and actions relevant to your legal project and your subsequent work will move smoothly through the process.
Suppose you had a client who needed to review each document once a specific action was taken. In a manual world, that simple requirement could spawn dozens or hundreds of emails. Even if your firm relies on virtual data rooms or dedicated file sharing sites, there is still the act of notifying the client and confirming their receipt and response to each task.
All of that can be automated. Notifications can be triggered by a new document being added to a watched folder. Sign-offs can spur paralegals into action. And the dashboard the client wants each week can be automatically updated with real-time data around the status of each project.
Think about what’s possible
It’s time to look at the forest for the trees. Take a clear look at your overall processes and see where document automation can fit to improve your workflows.
The benefits will not only be felt by clients, but also by you. When smart lawyers are stuck doing repetitive, low-value work such as manual document creation, it can decrease their job satisfaction and lead to a problem with your firm’s ability to attract and retain top talent.
And in an uncertain economic market, your firm can’t afford to lose its competitive edge due to out-of-date workflows.