Do Lawyers Need to Fear Automation?

Automated legal services, particularly document preparation services, have been the boogieman for lawyers for years. But as automation gets better, attorneys need to make the decision to embrace it and use it to improve their work lives.

I don’t know how many conferences I have attended where LegalZoom and other document automation services were held up as the enemy of the legal profession. To listen to the speakers, you would think that no one is hiring lawyers anymore; everyone is just filling out their forms online.

It is true that courts are seeing an increase in self-represented parties. But that doesn’t mean these parties don’t want a lawyer. It could be that traditional pricing models have simply put legal services out of reach. An innovative attorney can use document automation to reduce billable fees and take advantage of that gap.

Automation allows attorneys to work more efficiently, charging each client less and get more done in a day. For lawyers who use the billable hour, reducing fees sounds like a bad thing. But by allowing clients or assistants to take on more of the preparation, attorneys will be able to handle more cases, and make more money in the end.

How In-Office Automation Works

The first step to document automation is the creation of dynamic forms that fill in client information automatically. Many online practice management services have features that allow for this kind of automatic document population. First, lawyers carefully draft form documents that include the appropriate tags in place of details like names, dates, and addresses. When a new client signs on to the case, the law firm staff inputs client information into the practice management software using the appropriate fields. Then all the staff needs to do is select the appropriate document and let the program do the work to fill in all the blanks.

By taking the time to draft these forms properly, lawyers can save themselves and their support staff hours of document production time. Attorneys can also avoid embarrassing “Find/Replace” errors, pronoun conflicts, or typographical errors.

Getting Lawyers Back to Lawyering

Most lawyers don’t get into the business to fill out forms. Instead, they would rather spend their time helping clients work through their problems, or arguing difficult legal issues in court. By automating the busy work, lawyers will be able to spend their day being advisors and counselors, rather than data entry clerks.

There will always be a place for lawyers, even in a LegalZoom world. Most plaintiffs and defendants would rather hire an attorney than take the risk of doing things wrong themselves. By using document automation, attorneys can lower the barrier to quality legal representation, while at the same time focusing on work they truly enjoy.

Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist. She helps lawyers and law firms make the most of their time by providing outsourced legal research and writing. If you need help meeting your deadlines, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.

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