Monday, March 12, 2007

Disrupting conventional law firm business models using document assembly

Darryl Mountain published an article on document assembly Disrupting conventional law firm business models using document assembly in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology.

He identifies three barriers to the adoption of document assembly: 1. Shortage of Right People, 2. Inadequate Capital and 3. Rules against the Unauthorized Practice of law. Although his article is about externally facing document assembly being made available to the public, I think the same barriers exist for internally facing document assembly products.

1. Shortage of the Right People: For a successful and sustainable document assembly process you need both a technology person for the programming and a legal person for legal expertise. The legal person will need to tolerate the technology limitations, the intrusion of the logic tree and business process on the form documents. The technology person will need to understand the legal needs and anticipate the legal business process. Both of these type of people are few and far between in a law firm.

2. Inadequate Capital. It is difficult to identify the documents that it is worth investing the resources into to automate. The simplest (i.e. shortest documents) are generally the first to be automated. As the documents get longer and more complicated, harder decisions need to be made about the choice of language and decision-making process to achieve the right language. This is where many automation projects fall aside. Attorneys lose interest as the choices made no longer match the choices they would make. I have found the most successful projects to be those focused on a particular client, where a senior partner can force the decisions on those working for his client.

3. Rules Against the Unauthorized Practice of Law. For external document assembly this is the biggest issue. For software vendors, this is largely insurmountable. For law firms making the legal knowledge available through document assembly, this opens them to malpractice claims from unknown individuals. For internal document assembly, there is a similar concern that an attorney without the substantive knowledge will misuse the document assembly program, opening the law firm to malpractice. From a technology standpoint this can be controlled through security. But one should also point out that an individual attorney misusing a document assembly product would otherwise be uncovering a random form or precedent from another knowledge system. The document assembly package can be used to better steer the attorney in the right direction, give better advice and point them to who they need to talk to.

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