Document Automation Tips

Managing a Law Firm

Document automation has become a cornerstone of most modern law firms. The ability to use law practice management software to assemble legal documents has revolutionized the way law firms service clients and created a level of efficiency that few could imagine 50 years ago.

In this eBook we will take a deeper look at document assembly, automation, and management, and examine how they impact a law firm’s way of doing business.

What Is Document Automation?

The practice of law requires tons of documents. When law firms put together contracts, motions, letters, and other documents, it can easily take up much of their billable hours if done manually. Document automation provides “plug and play” capabilities for document creation that simply hasn’t existed in the past. Lawyers can enter client data into a software program and that application will generate the right kinds of documents without a need to manually customize each document for each new client. In its basic form, document automation utilizes templates and data fields to quickly generate customized legal documents specific to each client’s needs.

History of Document Automation

Document creation has for a long time taken up a lot of billable hours for law firms of all sizes. But in the 1970s the first legal document creation software systems began to emerge offering to help automate the document creation process. Most of the first document automation systems were in-house creations, developed by individual law firms, but eventually businesses sprung up to provide out-the-box software solutions. Today, there are legal document software systems available with content for specific practice areas. This innovation has made it easier for law firms to quickly assemble legal documents for clients, saving both time and money.

How Document Automation Works 

Document automation software starts with your basic legal documents that you draft often. Using data fields such as client name, address, etc., the system can automatically populate the legal document without you doing it manually. As a matter of fact, law firms can simply input standard data into their practice management system, and that data will automatically feed into the legal document so that document creation requires only the most minimal input from the lawyer.

Document automation differs slightly from another term that is often used interchangeably, document “assembly”. This difference is important to note when looking for practice management software. Document “assembly” differs in that it builds documents from pre-formatted text. For example, if you need certain contract terms in a new contract, a document assembly program will give you a library of text to choose from. Document automation in contrast is tailored by the end user. Thus, automation utilizes text put into a database by the firm controlling it.

Smokeball practice management software ensures the best of both document automation and assembly are available through smart documents utilizing the user’s own text, and assembling based on particular matter facts.

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Document Automation Benefits

Document automation is one of the most powerfully disruptive and sustaining technologies available to law firms today. The benefits produce both short-term and long-term results that can be measured in a law firm’s productivity and profits. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of document automation.

  • Condensed workflows. Document automation removes many tedious steps in the document creation process by automating basic data inputs. Lawyers no longer have to hunt and peck through each document to make sure a client’s name is in the right place. Now the document automation system will automatically put client data into the right places in a document every time with just the click of a button. Not only that, superior document automation programs will ensure that pronouns and other often-missed document particulars change according to database inputs.
  • Fewer errors. As noted above, the old way of copy and pasting old documents when you need to create legal documents for a client left a lot of room for error. If you wanted to use client A’s legal document as a template for client B, you might overlook a spot where you needed to replace client A’s data. Since each document receives data automatically, this type of error is completely eliminated.
  • Fast creation time. Once you have entered client information into the system, that data can be almost instantly used in a document automation system, creating a legal document immediately. This means that lawyers can cut down the time needed to create legal documents by 50% or more. The faster you can create documents for clients, the happier those clients will be.
  • More lawyer time. If your document assembly system is manual or if you’re using an outdated document automation system, you could be wasting valuable hours. When you’re using the most modern document automation system, you can significantly reduce your time spent on document assembly. Imagine what you could do that that extra time. Take on more clients? Make more money by using that time for other billable tasks? The time saved with document automation can add up exponentially and create a handsome profit for your law firm.
  • Train new associates. Using document automation, you can safely hand off document creation to junior associates. This is a win/win arrangement because it gives junior associates experience creating documents while safely allowing you to hand off that work to a new lawyer knowing that your document automation system will ensure that data is entered correctly. The key to document automation in this context is quality control: the same document is going out the door no matter who creates it.
  • Easily update documents. Document automation allows law firms to easily update their templates when needed without having to hunt and peck for specific sections or for dozens of individual documents. Even if you need to update already-assembled documents, you can edit the master template and simply create new, updated versions of the assembled documents as needed. This can be done in a fraction of the time it would take to do it manually.
  • Peace of mind. At the end of the day, document automation offers law firms peace of mind. No more worrying about the accuracy of documents that have been assembled using a cut and paste update system. Now you know that the client data entered is the data that will populate in the appropriate fields of your legal documents. You also have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can easily automate documents and update legal document templates whenever needed. By using a powerful document automation system, you can put document assembly on auto-pilot and spend your energy doing what really matters in your law firm.

Document assembly can be tedious and repetitive, and if not handled efficiently it can put a serious damper on your law firm’s productivity. That’s why choosing the right document automation system is critical to getting your document automation needs met and fulfilled in the most effective way possible.

Best Documents for Automation by Practice Area

Each practice area has great candidates for document automation. Here are a few great examples of what a firm should automate as part of their standard practices. Automating these boilerplate legal documents in each practice area will immensely improve workflow and allow a firm to move on to automating more complex documents.

  • General:
    Basic Letters (retainer; updates; end of case);
    Basic Motions and Orders
  • Family:
    MSAs; Parenting Agreements; Petitions
  • Real Estate:
    Modification Letters; Closing Documents
  • Estate Planning:
    Wills; Simple Trusts; Powers of Attorney
  • Personal Injury:
    Records/Bills Requests; Complaints; Settlement Statements
  • Business:
    Articles of Incorporation; Minutes; Agreements

Document Management

As law firms evolve to find the most effective ways of serving clients, document automation has continued to change. Just beyond document automation is the ability to organize your assembled documents because your job doesn’t end with the creation of legal documents.

Both document automation and document management share similar goals in that they help law firms increase efficiency, speed, and accuracy of the work they do. However, there are some key differences between document automation and law firm document management.

Document automation is a tool that helps law firms create documents quicker and more accurately while document management is a tool that works hard to effectively store those documents. Traditionally, law firms printed legal documents and stored them in file cabinets in an organized way that made it easy to retrieve and review those documents on demand. However, the paper filing system has always had its inefficiencies—paper gets damaged, lost, and filed in the wrong place. When you’re depending on human beings to organize paper, you can expect a high level of error to occur. And if you want to revise a paper legal document and then retrieve that specific revised version, your paper document management system could quickly become a paper chaos system. That’s where document management tools come to the rescue.

Good document management tools always stores your legal documents in the right place—attached to the matter they belong to. And when a document is revised by anyone in your law firm, those revisions are tracked, and the latest version of any legal document can be accessed immediately at anytime and from anywhere. That’s a long way ahead of the old paper filing system where versions get mixed up, lost, and even inadvertently destroyed due to human error.

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E-Filing For Law Firms

Once documents are automated, law firms can continue to save incredible amounts of time by e-filing with a transparent, integrated system that talks to their document automation system. The ability to electronically file court documents has revolutionized the way law firms do business. Lawyers who use e-filing no longer have to waste time running back and forth to a courthouse (or paying someone to do it), and all of their necessary documents are at their fingertips and ready to send electronically. But there are other benefits of e-filing for law firms, such as 24-hour access to documents and the ability to quickly review documents filed by opposing parties. So, instead of waiting days for paper documents to be filed and retrieved, lawyers can access filed documents almost immediately.

Are you new to e-filing? Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your law firm’s e-filing system.

  • Create a unique email address. Before you get started with e-filing, create a separate email address that will receive e-filing notices. This will make it easier for you to catch important notifications and stay organized.
  • Use your white list. Spam has become a major problem for everyone, even law firms. That’s why many spam filters have become very aggressive, snagging both legitimate junk mail and important emails you don’t want to miss. Add to your white list the email addresses for the courts and clerk offices you do business with on a regular basis. This will keep those important messages out of your spam filter.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Some lawyers may be tempted to wait until the last minute to file papers with the court because e-filing makes it so easy. But procrastinating on your court filings could put you at risk of technical issues that prevent you from filing your papers on time. Don’t wait, prepare and file early so that any technical issues can be handled without making you miss your filing deadlines.
  • Leverage your practice management software. Law firm practice management software like Smokeball, makes it easy to e-file and store all of your important documents, emails and other things related to a matter in one central (and searchable) location.

Lastly, if you want to get the most out of your e-filing opportunities, get the right software and take advantage of trainings on how to use that software. Understanding how to use the tools that make e-filing manageable and practical will give you the access you need to get the full benefits of e-filing. Plus, having a system integrated into your practice management and document automation software creates an ecosystem of less stress, more efficiency, and more success for your whole firm.

Smokeball Legal Document Automation

Smokeball has taken legal document automation and bundled it with a powerful practice management software tool that keeps your law firm lean and efficiently productive. Smokeball takes everything your law firm enters into the system — contacts, parties, every other detail — and makes it available to automatically populate your firm’s legal documents in just seconds. Smokeball’s growing library of 17,000 forms seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Word making it simple to create and edit legal documents without entering data twice. Smokeball legal documents are practice area specific and lawyers can create their own customized forms. If you need training, document automation training is available so that you can get the most out of Smokeball’s document automation tools. Smokeball’s document automation capabilities and support are second to none.

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Automation Beyond Documents

Automating your legal document creation and assembly is just the beginning of streamlining your law firm. Tools like Smokeball have an entire lineup of automation tools that help you automate time-tracking, billing, tasks, and much more. Automate your entire practice with the following tools.

Automatic Time-Tracking

Smokeball’s law office time-tracking software automatically and accurately tracks associates’ and other law firm staff’s entire day. Just imagine, associates accurately and automatically tracking each moment they spend on the matter without needing to manually enter their time into a system. Not only does this automatic time-tracking system make it easier for associates and staff to report their billable hours but it improves the accuracy of those hours. So much billable time is lost when associates and staff aren’t able to record time accurately and/or they underreport time spent on a matter simply because time-tracking isn’t automatic and they’re depending on their memory for billing. Because time-tracking is automatically captured in Smokeball, it is seamlessly integrated into the Smokeball billing system, allowing your law firm to quickly generate invoices without needing to wait for associates to manually update their hours. But the benefits of automatic and accurate time-tracking don’t end there; Smokeball offers easy to run profitability reports that will examine profitability per matter, per matter type, and per associate. Thus, even flat-fee and contingency firms can see great benefit from automatic time tracking. Here are some other benefits of automatic time tracking that every law firm should consider:

  • The minutes add up. The time each associate and staff member spends manually recording time spent on a matter can add up to thousands of dollars each year. That’s money left on the table.
  • Fewer client complaints. When lawyers don’t have to play guessing games with their time tracking, the time is more accurate which generates fewer billing disputes. Fewer billing disputes means happier clients and more money in the law firm coffers.
  • It’s the future. There’s no stopping automatic time tracking; it’s the future. Any law firm that wants to maximize productivity and time-tracking accuracy will eventually integrate automatic time tracking into their business practices. If your law firm doesn’t adapt, the failure to change could be costly.

Automated Billing

Smokeball’s automated time-tracking tools puts a lot of your law firm’s invoicing on auto-pilot. With Smokeball’s simple legal billing software, you can easily finalize invoices because associate hours per matter are already populated with details on what they did and how long it took them, along with the right billing codes. You can also send out bulk invoices, batch edit, and set up automatic billing reminders so that you help clients pay their invoices on time. Let’s take a look at a few more benefits of an automated billing system.

  • Fewer mistakes. When an invoice is automatically generated because associate time is automatically tracked, there is less room for error.
  • Fast payment. When you need to find time-tracking information or correct billing errors, payment gets delayed. With automatic time tracking and a streamlined billing process, you get invoices out faster, meaning money should come in faster.
  • Productive staff. You can shift some staff time and resources away from the minutiae of billing and use them for more important matters.

Law Firm Insights

Want to get the inside scoop on what’s happing financially in the industry and specifically in your law firm? Smokeball’s Law Firm Insights offers real-time data on business trends and law firm profitability. Uncover the profitability of your law firm by matter, matter type, and individual employee. Getting your hands on data-driven insights about your firm, practice area, and the business of law in general, you can make informed decisions that will help your law firm thrive. And because many law firms don’t have an accurate, data-driven grasp on the profitability of their business or the trends in the field of law, leveraging law firm insights will give you a serious advantage over most competitors.

Tasks and Workflows

The work never ends in law firms but there is a way to organize your tasks and workflows so that the work you do is efficient and effective. Smokeball’s tasks and workflows tool helps to automate every aspect of your law firm processes. Create a master task list and assign tasks to specific employees. You can even set reminders for assigned tasks so that the people responsible for the work don’t forget. Use Smokeball to streamline processes so that the way things are done is uniform and more effective no matter who is completing a task in your law firm. Need to share information with an employee? When you assign a task to someone at your law firm using Smokeball’s tools, you can attach emails and documents so that they can find the right reference information in one place. You can even attach a document template to be automated with the press of a button! And because you can get an overview of all tasks assigned to anyone in your law firm, you can easily keep track of who is doing what and when. Let’s take a closer look at why organizing your tasks and workflows is critical:

  • Fewer missed deadlines. When lawyers miss a deadline it can be costly for both the law firm and the client. Streamlined tasks and workflows means fewer deadlines will be missed because all relevant parties will receive reminders.
  • Less confusion. When you begin working with more than just a handful of people, keeping on top of what is due and when is almost impossible. Using the right tools to organize tasks and workflows alleviates confusion and helps everyone understand the status of a matter and all its different parts.
  • More efficient communication. Have you ever tried to follow an email thread with more than two people on it? It’s a nightmare. Using Smokeball’s task assignment feature, you can easily and transparently assign specific tasks to multiple people while letting everyone know about it. No more unwieldy email threads that no one can follow.

Law Firm Marketing

Smokeball knows that a law firm’s job doesn’t just end at serving the client; law firms must also raise brand awareness and always remain on the search for new clients. This is why Smokeball provides a free, modern, mobile-friendly law firm website with every practice management software subscription. Setting up the free website is simple, and hosting is free for subscribers. Because Smokeball is committed to helping you getting more clients, subscribers will have access to expert website help so that you can create an online image that captures the personality of your law firm. This is web design created specifically for law firms so that you spend less time creating an online presence and more time serving the clients you’ve attracted through that presence. If you build it they may not come unless you have a powerful marketing plan to let people know what you’re offering. Every law firm should leverage the power of online marketing to create a steady pipeline of potential clients. And be sure to brag about the consistent, efficient product you provide clients thanks to Smokeball!

By leveraging the power of automation, law firms can position themselves to win.

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