How to Save 12 Hours/Week with Legal Document Automation

April 27, 2022

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It is 7 PM. I should be with my family, having dinner, but after a week of rescheduling meetings and pushing back paperwork to the other corner of my desk while handling emergencies both personal and professional, it is going to be yet another late night.

Us lawyers never seem to have enough time. There’s the pending client calls, emails, meetings, and document drafts. A lost file by a clerk, a client that reappears after months with a “fix this or I go to jail” request, and a long list of “things I will get to to help my business grow when I have time.” The lists grow every day with, what feels like, no way out.

You need to do more in less time, and, in this case, the billable hour may not be your best friend. The importance of delivery cannot be overstated, and if that isn’t streamlined, completing a matter can be delayed under a mountain of ‘to-do’ lists, decreasing both your capacity to serve existing clients and acquire new business.

Manual legal drafting processes are time-consuming. According to McKinsey, automation could save over 60% of businesses 30% of their time and productivity. But, how? 

Here’s what we propose: A mindset tweak to lay the groundwork that will save you up to ten hours per week. Streamlining your processes to help you get more done with less effort.

5 Ways Legal Document Automation Can Streamline Your Process

1. Onboard Clients Seamlessly With Automated Intake Forms: Save 2 Hours/Week 

We know the feeling of a new client request. The rush of excitement from making a sale and increasing clients under management, followed up by the thought of *shudder* more paperwork. What would your world look like if all the client onboarding that takes approximately an hour, took only 6 minutes? For starters, you would be able to take on more clients with less energy (and less headaches). 

Using intake software, simply send an email to your client with the intake form attached and let clients input the key information. You can reuse the intake form’s data to automatically generate documents like engagement letters and even the substantive legal work. These documents can then be quickly reviewed and sent to clients. 

By cutting down on client meetings, back-and-forth through email, and manual data entry, a seamless client onboarding process can save a significant amount of time. Let’s say that’s one hour per new client, or two hours total every week, assuming two are onboarded every week. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of how you can use the same process to start the actual legal work, which is pure admin time. 

If you’re curious about which software works best here, we reviewed the 4 best client intake software for lawyers

2. Automating Routine Documents: Save 5 Hours/Week 

Most of the time lawyers have to draft the same documents for multiple clients. As a business lawyer, you are constantly dealing with non-disclosure agreements, independent contractor agreements, employment agreements, and the like. 

An estate planning lawyer might draft the same power of attorney and trust documents hundreds of times. You’ve likely drafted these so many times that you can draft one with your eyes closed. However, you’re still limited by human factors, like how fast you can type or “find and replace.” Manual editing and “find and replace” tactics often introduce more typos and errors, which take additional time to edit out. Unfortunately, humans can’t draft a document in seconds. But document automation can. 

You can save time by using your repeat forms to draft new documents. For example, for an NDA, you plug in essential business-specific data into a form (much of which may have been provided by the client on an intake form). The software then returns consistent drafts of these documents using automation capabilities.

By focusing on reviewing documents, instead of generating them, lawyers can scale their expertise with less effort. Using a review checklist for each type of document to speed up and standardize the review process can be a good approach.

Full-time lawyers work 49.6 hours per week on average, according to the 2018 Legal Trends Report. We expect 10% of that time is spent drafting routine documents, which is 5 hours per week. By automating those hours, you can dedicate more time to higher-value tasks while also increasing your capacity to take on clients.

3. Cut Down Training Costs: Save 2 Hours/Week 

Attracting talent is a big deal. It’s estimated that firms spend, on average, $12,000 to recruit and train first-year associates. When considering big law, that number balloons to an average of $62,000. 

Although the cost of hiring varies from firm to firm, as well as between associates, paralegals, and support staff, the time spent training new team members is likely in the 50-100 hour per hire ballpark, which doesn’t include continued training and mentoring.

Document automation empowers new hires to be productive right out of the gate, which drastically reduces their time to value for the firm. Although there’s more to being a lawyer than drafting documents, producing work is a big piece of it. 

Estimating time savings here is a bit more challenging as there’s very little data on the subject of time-to-value of legal professionals. However, when factoring in the numbers we mentioned earlier, we imagine that the average law firm is spending at least 4-12 hours per week training new staff, given a conservative estimate of 2-3 hires a year. Implementing document automation in a firm’s process can drastically reduce the learning time for a new hire’s document production, representing savings of 2 hours per week for law firms.  

4. Use a Menu of Services to Sell Legal Services from your Website: Save 1 Hour/Week

Using a menu of services is a profitable idea in and of itself, when coupled with document automation it can be a powerful force in streamlining a law firm and increasing matter profitability. 

What is a menu of services? It’s a listing of your services directly on your website. Think of it like listing products for sale on a typical eCommerce website. It makes it easy for new and existing clients to purchase services from your site.

One example of how this can tie into document automation is to imagine a current client navigating to your website, selecting a service, paying for it, and then filling out a questionnaire related to the service. When the lawyer logs into their platform next they’ll have a majority of the administrative work completed for them, with a first draft of the document awaiting review. 

If you’re starting a new matter every week, we expect this would easily save one hour per week on administrative tasks, which can scale with the amount of new matters per week. 

5. Re-use Client Inputted Information: Save 2 Hours/Week

Business lawyers don’t prepare legal documents in a vacuum, they regularly re-use the same information and data across multiple documents, as well as from one matter to another. According to a report in Information Week, 80 percent of company data is 'dark,' which means it is unused and forgotten. We imagine that translates into law. There are ways to overcome this: implement tech that stores and re-uses data.

When you re-use client information on various matters you save a fair amount of time, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each document. For example, wills and trusts can stretch hundreds of pages. Manually entering client information into these documents, plus form letters and bills, equates to hours of data entry and review, not to mention typos that get caught and later have to be revised. 

We estimate most business and corporate lawyers can save, at minimum, 2 hours per week by using information they already have on hand. Though, this number is hard to quantify and would depend on each situation, there are many lawyers who could save far more time, for example those in wills and estates.

Something to note about storing data is how you’ll want to ensure your client’s data is secure. Make sure to read the privacy and protection statement of your legal tech vendor of choice.

Become More Profitable

The faster you can deliver to clients, the more time you can free up, allowing you to overdeliver for existing clients and freeing up time for business development. 

Some automation techniques cut down on the administrative tasks that can never be billed, like training and intake. In these cases, it’s a complete net positive. 

In other cases, automation works at odds with the billable hour, which may be why we’re seeing a shift towards alternative fee agreements in law. According to the 2020 Altman Weil ‘Law Firms in Transition survey, 62.4% of lawyers are switching to alternate fee options, like flat and subscription fees. 

The venerable billable hour is clearly not going down without a fight, and whether or not you are still an adherent of that business model, more time means more money. Automation is the perfect partner to those tasks you can’t bill for and for those that will increase profitability by speeding up (like flat-fee projects). We would recommend seeing what software providers are out there and which may work best for you. Our comparison guide stacks up document automation software providers to show you what’s right for your firm.

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