How to Automate Client Documentation
We all have the same problem: How do you keep up with the avalanche of correspondence and documents that need to be drafted while at the same time ensuring quality work product? Automation is a way to ensure consistency, quality and avoid errors.
Example: Fee agreements
Before automation, I used to take a Word document for a fee agreement I previously used and find and replace the last client’s name with the current client’s name, modify the scope of services and scan to include or exclude provisions that may not be appropriate (e.g., conflict waiver for married couple if client is unmarried). Of course, this “save as” method risks that I potentially overwrite the prior document, forget to replace some things (like the client’s name in a header or footer) and use language that is not standardized or vetted across similar documents. This manual approach also takes much more time.
After automation, the information the client inputted into the online form I used to capture them as a lead gets inputted into a template fee agreement. I choose if and when the potential client gets emailed the fee agreement. The template fee agreement has fill in the blanks that get completed automatically with the information the client inputted. This allows me to use best practices once to create the template fee agreement and then reuse it again and again. As a bonus, my new process emails the fee agreement to the client so he or she can sign it electronically. After the client has signed the agreement, I am notified by email, I countersign it and both I and the client are emailed fully executed copies of the fee agreement.
In short, before automation I used to do the work. After automation, the client (and the automation I’ve designed) does the work for me.
The good news is you don’t have to hire a freelance programmer to hack together a solution for you (like I did), wait weeks for the finished product and spend thousands of dollars in the process. Nowadays, there are many affordable off-the-shelf options available, including document automation available from directly within law practice management software such as Clio or online assembly platforms such as WebMerge. And with RightSignature, you can get signatures electronically.
The American Bar Association has published Blueprint, a free tool that helps solo and small firm lawyers find software and services they need to run their firm. Also, the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center has a good, general introduction to document automation available here.