• Hannah Price-Harries

Debunking common myths around document automation through the eyes of a lawyer

Updated: Jul 28


robots in a row
No, the robots are not coming to replace us

Common misconceptions


"Document automation is complex and expensive"; "It will stop lawyers from learning"; "Our documents are too bespoke"; "Our documents will diminish in quality" and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"- these are just a few of the most common arguments used by those not convinced of the value of document automation tools.


And once upon a time, I might have been a naysayer myself.


I am a lawyer by background, having worked in transaction intense practice areas including Finance and Real Estate and exhausted the midnight oil. It seemed a perfectly acceptable modus operandi to spend hours as a junior lawyer working through several hundred pages of precedent securitisation transaction documents, converting Obligor to the plural and ensuring that verbs agreed with their subjects—and indeed, to either bill that time (or a proportion of it) to the client and/or for the supervising partner(s) to write-off a tangible amount of that time, at personal cost.


Similarly, the methodology of striking through redundant clauses and wording for real estate documents before handing over the draft lease to a secretary for multiple exchanges before the draft lease could even make it to the partner's desk for final approval, whilst tedious, was simply the 'done thing'. Invariably, fixed fee based charges were exceeded and frequently, associates would have to justify to partners (shame-faced) why very reasonably priced fixed fees had been significantly outstripped.


These are bygone times—or at least, should be. I am not sure I could countenance returning to this way of working now that I have experienced the world of document automation tools.


Document automation isn't complex


Bear in mind that as a lawyer, my Word skills were reasonable but not particularly well-honed (us lawyers had secretaries for Word trouble-shooting, after all)! Yet, having now moved into the sphere of legal technology and using my legal skills as a document automator, I have surprised myself at how easily I have been able to learn the ropes of document automation using a variety of different document automation tools. These tools range in complexity with some even offering 'no-code' solutions to document automation. Let me reassure you that if I can turn my hand to document automation, anyone can!


Document automation doesn't have to be expensive


It is true that early automation projects were I.T. intensive, requiring experts with programming skills applying sophisticated coding to automate documents. Nowadays, with appropriate automation tools, it is possible for most personnel within a legal team to automate a legal document. Of course, thought should be given to whether a particular document is used frequently enough to justify the automation effort, but you do not need to be drafting thousands of iterations of a particular document to make it worthwhile. Automation can therefore be carried out on a modest budget.


Document automation won't stop lawyers from learning


Trawling through a precedent template and manually updating it for a new transaction was (is) one of the main ways in which trainees and junior lawyers would acquaint themselves with the inner workings of a transaction. It is hard to counter the utility of this exercise in educating junior lawyers.


That said, an automated drafting tool can offer an enhanced, more efficient learning experience for junior lawyers: it takes care of the much more basic elements of the drafting, freeing up valuable time to enable the lawyer to consider the impact of the questionnaire selections on the document itself. This is because document automation tools such as Contract Express and Avvoka, to name but a few, offer a preview of the document as the user completes the questionnaire—the impact of a selection is more meaningful in legal terms if the user is able to understand how a particular choice affects the document as a whole rather than just an individual clause. Equally, insightful guidance notes within the questionnaire can provide a greater understanding of the practical context in which a particular selection might be made. Therefore, document automation will not stop lawyers from learning—on the contrary, it offers a new and efficient way of educating lawyers.


It will work for your documents


As lawyers we like to think that our legal documents are highly bespoke and complex and therefore we might deem them to be unsuitable for automation. Realistically, however, most documents will be engineered from a precedent, which will then require a degree of tailoring dependent on the particular transaction. There will ordinarily be many iterations of standard clauses within even the most bespoke of documents and document automation can take the hard graft out of a large part of this standard drafting, freeing up the lawyer to focus on aspects of bespoke drafting. This will mean that a document is partially automated to a greater or lesser degree, but we have found that wholesale automation of a document is not always the best solution in any event. There are of course exceptions, but these are less common than many believe.


Document automation can improve quality (and reduce risk!)


Contrary to the common misperception that document automation will lead to a reduction in document quality, one of the primary benefits of document automation is in fact a marked improvement in the quality of client documents. Document automation initiatives invariably cause document owners and the wider practice group or legal team to invest time in scrutinising precedent documents' 'fitness for purpose'- precedents are consequently overhauled and the outcome is often a single (or several) high quality precedent document, which is then automated. Quality output is assured every time a transaction document is produced from the automated template and any risk that a member of the legal team uses an 'out of date' or discontinued precedent is eliminated.


From the point of view of Professional Support Lawyers and other document owners, templates can be more easily maintained and updated, which reduces the more administrative demands on lawyers' valuable time and frees them up for other tasks. Partners and heads of legal teams can sleep more soundly in the knowledge team members will be transacting through the most up to date, approved templates.


Conclusions


I am fully convinced that embracing document automation tools is an obvious choice for law firms and in-house legal teams who wish to combat the inefficiencies of manual drafting and empower their legal teams to be more efficient, to focus on the drafting and other tasks that really matter and to better manage risk. The manual drafting toolkit simply does not cut it when there are sharper, slicker, document automation tools now widely available to facilitate optimal production of first drafts of legal documents. Echo.legal now offer a consultancy service for those looking to take their first steps into the realm of document automation. Please do not hesitate to get in contact to find out more information about how we can assist.

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