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Document Generation

Written by Jeff Stouse on 10 May 2012.

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Many attorneys will agree: Law firms run on documents. Given that, why do many firms fail to realize that if your firm cannot generate the most basic of documents without having to open an existing document, re-save it as a new document and then manually enter basic contact or matter information --they're wasting their time—repeatedly? With the many different programs and approaches to document generation, any firm that cannot consistently generate a “standard” document containing current client/matter information in less than a minute is simply not paying the necessary attention to this important part of a law firm’s daily needs.

Everything needs to be documented: the written record is all. If there isn't a document; then it didn't happen. If that is true, then why do so many firms fail to spend the necessary time and money to ensure that the process of creating those standard documents is easy, quick and consistent? Why do so many firms consistently argue that each document is a “one-of” – and that it would take too much effort to create the document through standard document generation techniques?

The problem commonly comes from a lack of data. Or sometimes even from the data not being where it needs to be (like in a spreadsheet or word processing document.) When firms choose a practice management program, they should include a review to ensure that the program can merge data from contacts and matters into documents. If it can't (and I can't think of one worth using that doesn't), then move on in the selection process.

The data needed to be merged into a client/matter document needs to be stored somewhere. In the past, merging data meant storing data in spreadsheets or word processing data documents. Now, client and matter data should be stored in the firm’s practice management program. (Deciding what custom data fields should be created should always include fields needed for merging data into documents and emails.) Whenever a firm needs to generate a document (utilizing whatever word processor they choose), the data fields to be merged using that word processor should already be defined in the firm’s practice management program.

And one other point to remember - what's the second (perhaps even MOST) commonly generated document? Yes, that's right - the email. So make sure that your practice management program of choice can merge data into documents AND emails. Emails created through the merging of data are now often sent as reminders for upcoming events (like depositions and trials), as well as client updates, as more and more clients are requesting (who wants to wait for the US mail?) their reminders in that fashion.

From a standardization perspective, most law firms now have succumbed to the choice of Microsoft Word as their word processor of choice. (The debate on which word processor is better has not been the point for quite some time - instead, the choice of word processor has become which word processor does your really, really big client want you to use?) Given that commonality, most practice management programs that support merging contact and/or matter data into a word processor support MS Word.

Remember that merging data from a practice management program into a word processor is not the most efficient and most powerful tool for generating documents. Programs such as HotDocs are the most powerful (and the most expensive to set up and use) when it comes to merging data. In fact, there is a standard perspective to document generation: HotDocs (or other pure document generation programs) are the de facto standard: they offer more power, options and efficiency when it comes to generating complex, long and variable documents.

However, as with most powerful programs, the cost and time it takes to set up those document generation scenarios is often more than what most firms want (or need) to pay. An alternative is a merge, where the data resides in the firm’s practice management program (instead of a Word document or spreadsheet), and is merged into a form document created in MS Word. While the documents created by this merge approach are often not as sophisticated as one created by a HotDocs approach (for example, it is possible to control the “he, him, his” pronoun usage with HotDocs, but a very tedious and most-of-the-time not worth it task to try to do it using a merge), they are often many times better than the prior methods.

So, make sure that your practice management program of choice offers the ability to merge data from the important data types (contacts and matters mostly) into standard document “forms” quickly and easily. The resulting documents should be editable in your word processor for further refinements, and then saved into the document list in your practice management/document management system.

One bonus feature of your practice management program should be the ability to notify the person in the firm who needs to know that the document is finished. For example, if an attorney dictates a document to be typed up, or an associate/staff “knows” that a document needs to be prepared at a specific step in a matter’s process, then when the document is generated, the practice management program should offer the ability to send a message to the attorney that the document is finished and ready for review.

Another desired feature of a practice management program using the merge approach to document generation is the ability to generate a document completely, without a user having to “finish” the process. What this means is that for example, when a firm lands a new client and the standard “welcome letter” needs to be created, it is more efficient and less tedious if the practice management program can actually create and save the document, and then notify the person(s) involved, without requiring a user to press a key to complete the process.

 Several practice management programs offer some of the above features: Practice Master can start both an email and a document generation process (although a user has to save the document and Send the email to complee the processes); and Time Matters can generate merged information into both a document and an email, but the email has to be “completed” by a user. HoudiniESQ can generate both a merged (saved) document and a sent email without user intervention.

For more information about HoudiniESQ, please visit http://www.houdiniesq.com- they offer a free, fully functional program as a trial; or, if you are a solo attorney, you can use their product for free (no catch!) for as long as you want. HoudiniESQ is a product of LogicBit, and Frank Rivera is the CEO of that company.

For more information regarding Practice Master, please visit . Software Technology, Inc. is the company that created Practice Master, and Brad Berlin is the CEO of that company.

For more information regarding Time Matters, please visit www.timematters.com. LexisNexis owns Time Matters.

For more information regarding HotDocs, please visit www.hotdocs.com. HotDocs Limited owns HotDocs.