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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Sumners

Common document automation issues: I

When your lawyer wants access to the precedent...

Are you a knowledge manager in a law firm or legal team? If so, you are likely familiar with the challenges that come with managing and processing legal documents efficiently. Whilst document automation software helps you streamline workflow and improve productivity, like any technology, automation can throw up usability challenges for the knowledge team to manage.

In this series we aim to bring some of those challenges faced by knowledge managers in law firms and legal teams to light and give practical insights into how to manage them. In this short blog, we address the issue of maintaining flat precedents and automated templates.

We are getting deep under the skin of all things document automation here, so this one is for the super users!

The context: Shiny new automated precedents on the one hand...

Many law firms leading the way with document automation take a further step in their transformation journey to ensure people embrace new document workflows by removing any non-automated versions of the document (or precedents) from circulation. This ensures people are using the document automation tools that are available. It takes away the effort of maintaining both the automated and non-automated precedent versions of legal documents. By removing non-automated versions of documents from circulation, firms can eliminate confusion and ensure that everyone is using the most up-to-date and accurate templates. This reduces the chance of human error and saves time that would otherwise be spent manually updating and maintaining both automated and non-automated precedents.

..."But I want access to the precedent!" on the other hand!

Document automation tools are powerful, but for some lawyers they are an uncomfortable departure from more traditional ways of working. Some may always want access to the original precedent.

There are also legitimate reasons that a lawyer may want access to the full underlying content a legal document or precedent provides.

Why might a lawyer want access to the precedent?


There are several reasons a lawyer in your firm or legal team may want to access the precedent.

  • Document automation generally doesn’t (nor should!) account for every circumstance a client may bring. Sometimes the questionnaire does not give you the flexibility for more niche transactions or complex documents.

  • Reviewing your first draft of a legal document from your document automation tool can be made easier with access to resources containing more complete content, including the non-automated precedent. You might opt to retain guidance notes in the non-automated precedent whilst omitting them from the automated template, for example.

  • Checking a complete version of the output can help in the updating and maintenance processes of your document automation tool.

The challenge...

The problem is - automated templates usually have mark-up, code or pseudo-code and often contain many versions of the precedent in one place. Great for maintainability - not so great for accessibility. Even the "low code" solutions can be hard for a lawyer to read in their native form.

The reasons lawyers still want the access flat precedents are not the fabricated complaints of change resistors, but the real needs of everyday work. They can also be accommodated, without the rigmarole of maintaining two separate versions of your documents or undermining your change management program.

The solution: Using a single, dual purpose document template 

It is possible to use a single, dual purpose automated template to create both a slick, generated legal document on the one hand or a familiar 'no code' version of the template that is equivalent to the traditional precedent document. We’ve worked closely with many of our law firm and legal team customers to help them provide lawyers with the option to generate ‘no-code’ versions of automated documents.

Here's how:

Option 1 Full precedent: They can click on a link to immediately generate a version of the legal document with all of variations of content (in brackets where conditional) and placeholders for data points.

In this way, the user can create either i) a bespoke legal document suited to the underlying use case or ii) an easily accessible precedent. These both come from the same automated template, so will be automatically updated when you maintain that single piece content.

This approach of using a single, dual purpose document template offers tremendous flexibility and efficiency for law firms and legal teams. By providing the option to generate both a customised document and a traditional precedent from the same automated template, it allows users to cater to different needs without the hassle of maintaining multiple templates.

Option 2 Partial Precedent "version": You can even take this one step further and offer partial “precedents” from the same automated template. By offering a link with a few high-level options pre-filled you can offer the user- from a single click - a "Single corporate seller with split exchange/completion SPA", say, or perhaps a "Multiple individual seller with simultaneous completion". All other variable or optional content is visible (and bracketed) in the “no code” version of the template.

One of the significant advantages of using a single, dual purpose document template is the ease of maintenance. With a centralised template, any changes or updates made to the content will automatically reflect in both the customised transactional document and the precedent for a simpler document workflow.

How do I create a single, dual, purpose document template?

Here are three steps to creating a single, dual purpose document template.

1. Tweak the template

A different approach to (or modification to existing) automation to support the ‘no-code’ outputs being coherent.

2. Back end configuration

Changing back-end settings of the document automation solution to govern how the system should behave in the 'no-code' circumstance.

3. User input

Simply dumping all the content on a page is not what users need. Working with them to configure the outputs can lead to better and more familiar results such as whether "blobs", spaces or brackets are used to represent data point areas.

It is important to work closely with users to understand their specific requirements and customise the outputs accordingly. So gather feedback on document templates and usability of the outputs.

Partnering with as your document automation specialists:

Transitioning from traditional ways of working to document automation is a significant change for lawyers and legal professionals. Our team at are document automation specialists who have a track record in helping law firms and legal teams move towards automation. One of the ways we able to support on this is by implementing dual purpose document templates. If this is something you need support on, please contact:

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