Lawyers sometimes approach the concept of automation with caution because they feel like they are losing control over their work. In certain instances it’s true. There are times when automation is either not very useful or even counterproductive. But there are also a lot of repeatable processes involved with practicing law, and these are the things which more law firms should strive to automate. We are big believers that process automation will become one of the key drivers of success in the legal industry of the future. Although not every aspect of your daily workflow is a good candidate for automation just yet, here are 3 common processes that every law firm should automate right now.
1. Drafting Repetitive Emails
If you’re like most lawyers (or businesspeople in general for that matter), sending emails is a fundamental part of your work on a daily basis. Email is still the primary means of communication between businesses, their customers, and their partners, as well as internally amongst colleagues at most companies.
Email automation can be challenging because most of the time, the specific content of the email will differ under the circumstances. However, at most law firms there are also inevitably a lot of repetitive emails being drafted on a daily basis. Here are some examples:
- Welcome/introductory email after meeting with a potential client the first time
- Instructions about requirements for clients (e.g. “please fill out this paperwork and bring it to our consultation”)
- Reminders about overdue payments, upcoming appointments, outstanding forms/questionnaires/documents that were sent previously, etc.
- Directions to the office
- Communications/updates about the progress in a case (e.g. “your lawsuit was filed,” “this motion was filed,” etc.)
These common communication emails are not only repetitive and tedious to draft, they also tend to fall outside the scope of the legal work, which means it may not be possible to bill for your time (billing for emails is not the best idea anyway in our opinion because it’s not part of the value of legal services, but that’s a topic for another day).
Law firms utilize templates extensively in so many other aspects of their daily work, so why not do so for routine emails?
Some modern email providers like Gmail have email template extensions that can be added as a plugin. Alternatively, you could use a CRM with built in email capabilities, such as Yesware or Lexicata. Either way, by leveraging email templates, law firms can cut down on hours of time wasted drafting emails each week and free up more time for billable client work, marketing and business development, or anything else.
Check out our post on email productivity hacks for more info.
2. Entering Data
Your data is essential to everything you do, which is why having an organized place to keep it (such as a case management system) is so important. The problem is, all the data has to physically be inserted into a database somehow, most commonly via somebody’s keystrokes on a computer.
Data entry is a necessary evil. It’s unfulfilling and tedious work, yet a critical aspect of using software and running a successful business. That’s why automating data entry is so valuable, whenever possible.
The first step to automating data entry is to use software to capture the data in the first place. When data is stored in a software database, it is far easier to manipulate and utilize for other purposes later. If data is captured on paper, it must then be re-entered into software manually. That’s why automating data entry begins with implementing technology-driven processes to actually capture it.
Using online forms is an excellent way to capture client data into a database, rather than on paper. Not only does it make data collection easier, but online forms also generally provide a better experience for clients compared to printing and filling out paperwork by hand.
Once the data has been captured, there are many ways to utilize it. For example, with Lexicata, you can capture data using online forms and insert it into a document template to prepare a client agreement or fill out a PDF. You can also export it into a case management system like Clio, download it to an Excel spreadsheet for analysis, or enter it into other software programs like MailChimp and use it for an email marketing campaign.
All of those things can happen directly because the data was captured and input into a database from the start. This would never be possible if you keep your data on paper in a filing cabinet somewhere. Automation of data entry can save hours and provide for valuable connections and integrations with other useful applications. And for these reasons, automating data entry is something all law firms should seek to do.
3. Preparing Standard Documents
Legal work usually involves a lot of paperwork, and much of it is standard forms and boilerplate agreements. These types of documents are perfect candidates for automation.
There are a few reasons why automating standard documents is a good idea. For one, they can be tedious to fill out and customize for each particular client. Automating them can save hours of your valuable time.
But also, humans tend to be more error prone than computers. Filling in standard templates yourself (or having a staff member do it) can result in typos or other errors that can lead to embarrassment, or worse, malpractice claims.
Any type of standard client letter, legal services agreement, simple legal document, or government filing might make sense to automate. Most law firms process hundreds of them every month, which means the cost savings can be dramatic with a good automation system in place.
There are many document automation programs to consider, such as NetDocuments, HotDocs, or the basic ones included along with case management software.
Lexicata’s document automation tools come with the added benefit of a complete e-signature integration. This means you can get your standard documents both drafted, and sent out for e-signature in a single workflow that takes under 1 minute to complete. Most clients will appreciate the ability to e-sign them as well, and they tend to return them more quickly as a result.
As you can see, automation does not always have to be approached with caution. There are many simple, repeatable processes that law firms complete daily which would be perfect to automate. Three common ones are drafting repetitive emails, inputting data into a database, and preparing standard documents for clients.
Although each of these tasks may take only a few minutes of time, when they are automated, it adds up to substantial time savings in the aggregate. Other benefits of automation include less hassle, fewer errors, and capturing and storing your data in a readily accessible and easily usable format.
Law firms that strive to leverage automation in their daily work can benefit tremendously from all of these things, and build a thriving practice that can focus the majority of its energy on serving clients, rather than completing mundane tasks.