According to some reports, automating your practice can increase office efficiency by up to 90%. That’s an impressive number. While I agree that automating your practice can significantly increase your office efficiency, what I appreciate just as much is the decrease in common errors, uniformity in work product among all office users, and the additional time it can return to me. When I spend less time doing routine matters or revising the same documents for the same errors, I can attend to other things and grow my practice Over the past 10 years, my law practice has increased tremendously and without automating my practice I would not have been able to keep up with that growth and still kept 9 to 5 hours (for the most part).
What exactly do I mean when I say “automate” a practice? That can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. At the most basic level, it means taking the forms, letters, and other documents that you routinely use (assume this is 80% of your standardized work), mapping out 80% of the routine variations that occur, and then integrating that document set and variations with a program that, after a data entry session, will transform your custom interview answers into a draft document ready for your review. You might call this “intelligent templating.” The draft might not be perfect but it will: 1) be uniform among all users; 2) be consistent from interview session to interview session until you modify the template and/or interview; 3) not contain the names or custom information from another client’s document (as will cut and paste drafting); 4) be capable of being processed by a staff person with minimal or virtually no training or legal experience if you have developed a control sheet to allow for this; and 5) can be processed with lightning speed. Attorney review and edits may still be necessary. Additional custom drafting may be required. It’s not perfect but it’s a smarter, faster and better way to practice. As suggested above, automating a practice might also involve control or direction sheets that enable an attorney to quickly communicate custom drafting directions to staff, which can then be implemented by staff. Our firm has embraced this process, and I think all firms should if they haven’t already. Further automation may involve the creation and implementation of workflows that follow a file from cradle to grave and ensure proper opening, processing, closing and file storage or destruction in a controlled manner.
Automating a practice takes a lot of time and effort but once completed (is it ever?), an automated practice brings with it increased peace of mind for the lawyer (don’t worry, there is still plenty to stress about), increased available time (time to market, time to develop and improve your forms and systems (one of my favorite past times), spend with family and friends, take on more pro bono services, or participate on charitable boards) and hopefully less potential future liability because your process and document are subject to less random variation.
Automating a practice takes a lot of time and most of us don’t have that kind of time, are happy with commercial drafting services that get us part of the way there and/or don’t have the automation skills or experience to build a custom system – nor might not want to have to maintain it even if we did. Strangely, I enjoy the practice of automation practice as much as drafting and meeting with clients. I feel that I have the perfect job, as it employs so many of the intellectual tasks that I enjoy. It might come as no surprise then that my practice combines the use of my custom automation efforts, but it also includes the use of a commercial subscription. The commercial subscription offers a lot of valuable tools (videos, listservs as well as national updates) in a convenient format and has forms that I do not want to spend the time automating to the same level of detail. Additionally, that commercial service’s forms are review and critiqued by a larger number of minds, which, of course, is impossible to do in a small firm practice. However, because it is nowhere near as board and encompassing as my custom library and because it is far too complicated for my staff to navigate without significant training, my custom automation efforts provide our firm with the efficiency, and state-specific details, that is so critical to automating a practice successfully.
New England Estate Planning (www.newenglandestateplanning.com), a free attorney automation service that I hope I will be launching in the near future, will not attempt to compete at the same level as various commercial drafting services but will bring a new set of automation tools, as well as other features, that may help solos and small firms stay competitive in today’s challenging legal environment. While registration does not officially begin until January 1, 2020, I am currently requesting that interested attorneys pre-register now (please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) to ensure there will be an adequate interest to justify full registration and then launch.