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Building legal documents

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One of the key competencies for lawyers is drafting. Lawyers spend a large proportion of their time drafting documents, be it letters, agreements or court forms. Broadly speaking, legal technology at most firms is applied in two areas — construction and storage of documents — to help make the overall process of creating documents more efficient.

Legal technology surrounding the construction of documents is a fairly big area, and one which I will cover in more detail in the next edition. However, in summary, law firms are now using software to create documents more quickly and more consistently, and soon it may well be the norm to create documents in this way rather than drafting manually. Firms can either employ their own automation specialists to automate their precedent documents, or outsource it to the software provider. Lawyers are then given access to the software and documents are generated via a simple-to-use questionnaire with the input populating the relevant parts of each document.

Speed and consistency are two clear benefits of drafting using technology rather than drafting manually. It avoids the need for a lawyer to enter the same information more than once, e.g. party names. From a team perspective, it can also allow a document to be created consistently across the whole team, making approval of documents easier for partners and the output of the team to clients broadly consistent.

Risk is also a key consideration when it comes to the automation of documents. Firms are keen to avoid lawyers re-using previously drafted documents as there is potential for those documents to contain errors, which are subsequently compounded the more times they are used. Errors in drafted documents may lead to complaints by clients and, depending on how serious they are, it could also lead to professional negligence claims against the firms themselves by disgruntled clients.

One example from my time as a claims handler defending claims against solicitors related to wills and probate. The solicitor had been instructed to draft wills for an elderly couple which were meant to mirror each other. However, the solicitor had written the same name on both wills. The wife (who was named on the will) died first and her will operated correctly. When the husband died, the error was found, leaving the husband effectively intestate. The executors of his estate claimed against the firm for professional negligence.

It was a relatively simple error but for the firm it has repercussions in terms of client service (as those involved with the estate are unlikely to recommend the firm to anyone) and insurance premiums (if money was paid to settle the claim then the firm might be required to pay more in premiums). So this is a good example of how automation could alleviate simple errors and minimise risk.

When it comes to storage, law firms are moving towards becoming paperless by using document management systems. This software allows lawyers to store and access documents with ease, whether they are in the office or working remotely. Incoming letters to lawyers are now scanned when they are received and saved straight to the electronic matter file. There could therefore be very little in the way of hard copy material on certain types of matters, and so the cost of storage is minimised when the matter is closed.

Although litigation still has hard copy bundling work, it is possible that this work will be done by an internal non-legal team that deals with administrative tasks or is outsourced. As court modernisation continues, it may be the case that the courts themselves will become paperless so sending hard copy bundles to the court will no longer be required.

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