I practiced law for 11 years before joining Ballard Spahr’s Client Value and Innovation Team as a Legal Solutions Developer. During that time, my “document automation” process was the same as that of many other attorneys. I opened a “template” from a document management system with blanks scattered throughout boilerplate language or I filled in new information in a document from a prior case. There was nothing automatic about this process, aside from the repeated tweaks I applied to these “templates” from muscle memory. Now that I work with Ballard360 DocBuilder, Ballard Spahr’s document automation system, I can’t help but reflect on what a powerful resource it would have been for my practice.

Staying with the Simple Way

To be fair, my prior firm’s traditional approach to “document automation” was understandable. The managing partners were familiar with manually altering documents from prior matters and filling in blanks – a holdover from the process they had used at the big firm where they worked before starting their own firm. They were not opposed to investing in technology, but their familiarity and comfort with the traditional system made moving away from it challenging. Implementing any new technology can raise concerns. Often, the main worry is that it will take too much time to learn, particularly if your organization has varying levels of technological know-how. The practice at my previous firm, like many other thriving practices, simply could not spare the time. Attorneys were often too busy managing active matters to research and vet the various document automation options. Plus, developing the infrastructure required to make these programs operate effectively requires additional time and knowledge investment. Above all, the traditional system is simple. Replacing blanks in a word document does not require advanced word processing or technical skills.

Simplicity is attractive, but manually replacing blanks or old case information is time-consuming and susceptible to errors. Entering party information that is likely already in the firm’s intake system is repetitive and increases the likelihood of mistakes. Locating blanks and old case information that needs to be replaced requires an exhaustive review of the entire document every time. Using old case documents as “templates” can also create an unfortunate situation in which a letter or pleading goes out with a previous client’s name on it.

Relying on Technology

A true document automation system can address these issues. It will reliably generate the same static text for the selected document. It can automatically populate fields coded with the input information for that specific matter. If a party’s address contains a typo, one change to the document inputs will update that address across the entire document set. You no longer have to review documents to make sure you have replaced all of the old-matter information. Each set of documents is generated virtually instantaneously based solely upon the data input from the case on which you are currently working. Replacing the traditional method with a true document automation system ultimately results in a simpler and more efficient document creation process for any attorney involved in the matter.

Document Automation Benefits Clients

As soon as an attorney team starts to use a document automation system, it affects its client’s bottom line. Ballard Spahr’s DocBuilder has saved over 7,200 billable hours on more than 890 transactions, an average of eight hours of billable time per transaction. In addition to saving time, the technology reduces the risks associated with using form documents. Overall, implementing a document automation system can improve the quality and consistency of documents and increase speed and efficiency to keep costs down.

At Ballard Spahr, we continue to invest in our Ballard360 DocBuilder technology and are actively working to expand it across practice areas. The Legal Solution Developers on our Client Value and Innovation Team work with our practicing attorneys to develop DocBuilder questionnaires and templates that improve practice efficiency. This approach increases the profitability of fixed-fee matters, increases capacity, and lets lawyers focus on practicing law. Coded solutions also enable matters to be staffed more effectively. Our Legal Solution Developers have legal experience or backgrounds, so the attorneys we work with spend less time generating the basic components of documents and more time addressing the complex, substantive issues of the case.

Please continue to follow this blog if you want to learn more about Ballard Spahr’s DocBuilder technology and how we are developing other innovative solutions to meet client-specific needs.