How Technology Can Improve Lawyers’ Document Workflows from First Drafts to Final Delivery
Lawyers spend most of their time drafting or working with documents, but typical attorney document workflows fail for three reasons: they don’t maximise profitability, leverage prior knowledge, or incorporate final transaction management.
Transactional lawyers spend the majority of their time creating, drafting, or working with documents. New client? Send an initial retention letter. New deal? Draft and collaborate on a contract and its supporting documents. Closing a deal? Assemble all those papers and get them signed.
Obviously, streamlining the way you work with documents could expedite and simplify your entire workday, allowing you to focus on what your documents mean and how they apply to a client’s specific needs instead of their format, style, correctness, or completeness. Here’s how technology can help transactional lawyers solve three common document workflow problems.
Workflows Should Maximize Profitability and Realization Rates
As Nicole Black wrote, “the grunt work of law—the constant document drafting and review, combined with the monotony of repetitive tasks—can take its toll over time.” That’s true not only in terms of lawyer morale, but also billability.
Finding enough billable time in the day is an eternal struggle for lawyers and law firms. According to Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report, lawyers on average only bill 2.4 hours for every eight-hour workday. Doubling or tripling that rate—reclaiming the other two-thirds of the day by converting more of those hours to billable time—would instantly double or triple the practice’s profitability.
There is an easy way to bill for more of your hours: stop doing repetitive administrative tasks or wasting time looking for documents or precedents. The appropriate use and adoption of automated document technology decreases wasted (unbillable) time and improves realisation rates. This is especially true at the document collaboration stage. The less time lawyers have to spend looking for the correct version of a document for review, or searching for new comments and changes, the more time they can spend thinking about and productively working on the document—and billing for it.
There is another way to optimise realisation rates: by standardising workflows, lawyers can focus on doing their work rather than thinking about how to do their work. When workflows are logically designed and routinized — and when they don’t necessitate constant screen- or program-switching or repetitive clicks — lawyers can get in a billable groove and stay there.
Workflows Should Fully Leverage Prior Knowledge Without Introducing Errors
Few lawyers start from a blank page when they need to draft a new document. After all, it is more efficient and effective to leverage their prior experience. That is a great idea in theory, but it often fails in execution for two reasons.
First, to truly reap the benefits of your prior experience and knowledge, you need to start from the most recent version of a document—the one that has been completed, collaborated on, and fully proofed and corrected. But if that version is buried in an email chain, searching for it can waste valuable time and focus. The result is that lawyers frequently settle with near-final, rather than true-final, versions.
Second, once you have repurposed an existing document, you must ensure that it is absolutely free of errors. Those errors take three primary forms: visible proofreading errors (those that would be wrong in any version), client-specific errors (when incorrect or irrelevant information from a prior version is left in a document), and document instabilities caused by the program as edits and changes accumulate. There is simply no room for any of these errors when the practice’s reputation is on the line with every document.
Technology again holds the key to both leveraging prior knowledge and eliminating document issues of all types. In designing your document workflow, look for technology that can effortlessly track versions and keep the most recent — and most correct — version readily accessible, proof and compare documents quickly and accurately, and repair instabilities in the structure of the file itself.
Workflows Shouldn’t End with Document Creation
Imagine if a restaurant perfectly prepared a meal, served it, and then promptly turned off the lights and kicked the customers out. Sure, the restaurant’s mission starts with creating exquisite food, but the point is for the guests to then eat the meal. Similarly, for transactional lawyers, the purpose of drafting documents is to use them, not merely create them. Why, then, do typical document workflows end the moment that documents are finalised?
Our workflows can, and should, encompass the use of those documents. Transaction management is a natural extension of the document creation process for transactional lawyers. Until documents have been signed and delivered and the deal closed, the document lifecycle is not yet complete. This reimagined workflow — incorporating closing checklists, signature management, and the creation of closing books — sees documents through from initial generation to ultimate use.
If your document workflows do not maximise your profitability, leverage institutional knowledge while eradicating errors, and continue from first drafts through final delivery, consider whether technology can help you do better.