Estate Planning – Attorney Control Sheets
Have you ever wished that you could provide pinpoint directions to your staff for drafting an estate plan by checking boxes, making reference to your intake form or a memo prepared for the file, all in less than 10 minutes. Have you also wished that with that information in hand, your staff could process your estate planning documents, provide you with an itemized review checklist and that the service was free? Sound too good to be true? Well, New England Estate Planning (newenglandestateplanning.com) seeks to provide attorneys in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire with that ability and much more.
According to the folks at Hotdocs, www.hotdocs.com, a leader in document automation, “Using document automation technology to generate documents is still not a common practice***. Instead, staff resort to a range of manual processes to produce tailored documentation. **** Without automation, people can try to save time when producing business documents by creating Word document templates. However, they quickly realize that the more the size of the document increases, the more difﬁcult this method becomes. Other tactics include adding notes or indicators within documents to communicate which elements must be edited and where new information must be entered. Even just checking all instances where variable elements such as names, phrases, company names or legal clauses exist takes time.” Hotdocs Whitepaper, The-deadly-sins-of-document-production. That all makes sense, drafting, of course, is bound to be faster, easier, and less prone to error if it is automated.
Of course, that’s all well and good but you still have to give staff directions. Right? In my experience, the direction given to staff that assists attorneys with initial drafts is thin, mighty thin. Perhaps too thin. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to drill down issue by issue with staff. So, Hotdocs has it half right; having an automated document production is only half the battle. To really get efficient, and accurate, you have to have a comprehensive means of delegating instructions that can be carried over to your automated drafting program and to really bring it home, you need that system to cover as many elements of your practice as possible. Of course, I am assuming that you are delegating your drafting but if you aren’t, you don’t know what you are missing! Lawyers are critical by training but as humans, it just comes naturally when we review the work of others. When you review the work of someone else, you will be operating naturally at your highest level of critical review possible absent the use of a checklist system (which, even if simple, I recommend), which means your work product will improve simply because you will be seeing it from a more objective point of view. If you don’t have a checklist system don’t worry, New England Estate Planning will be making one available for you and your staff.
Sure, that sounds great but who wants to spend the time and effort to automate an entire practice? The folks at New England Estate Planning do. Take a look at our sample attorney direction packet for drafting a will. Sample Attorney Direction Control Sheet.Will. Just imagine filling this out (with practice I think you can do it in 10 minutes or less) and having your staff generate a corresponding Will with 100% accuracy to your instructions and with a matching checklist that demonstrates that each aspect of the data entry has been reviewed. It still might not be perfect but it is getting close, really close. Now apply your checklist to the same document set. If the resulting documents are not perfect, I suspect that the error is a human error (common examples: lazy reviewer, overworked reviewer, review being conducted during the wrong time of day (right after lunch), review being conducted on an empty stomach, or not enough time allotted to review – most of which are manageable factors once you identify the source of the error and adjust your practice accordingly) and not the system.