Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Document Assembly Update and Problems

Document assembly is a powerful tool that we are starting to deploy across my firm. Document assembly is a wonderful and powerful knowledge management tool. We recently deployed HotDocs Server.

I found the desktop version of HotDocs to be powerful, but a pain in the neck to install, maintain and train attorneys on how to use. Going the route of the server made deployment easy. Users just need a web browser to access the templates, answers the questions and assemble the documents.

The problem with HotDocs server was that they sold it without a front end, expecting the customer to custom-build the user interface. Last year, HotDocs came out with their Template Portal product to act as the user interface for the portal. This allowed us to open the box and deploy the server in a week. Most of that time was spent changing to the colors and graphics to match our intranet.

One issue I had with the Template Portal is that it presents all of the templates in a flat list. I wanted to seamlessly integrate it with our intranet and forms library. So instead of opening the form of deed in word, you get the HotDocs interview taking you through the conveyance process. We found a workaround. We found the Template Sets feature created a distinct URL for the template, allowing us to link directly to the HotDocs interview.

Barron Henley and Blair Janis wrote an article for the Best of ABA TECHSHOW: Abracadabra: Document Creation You Can Really Use. They do a great job of taking you through the process and touting the benefits of document assembly.

The problem I have is dealing with changes to the documents and managing the client. Any good form document should change as market conditions change, the law changes and client expectations change. Inevitably, the client wants to see the changes and approve them before they get into the form, or the client wants to send a set of forms out to a potential recipient to give them a flavor of the documents. The problem is that the form is full of the document coding, making it hard to understand what is happening with the document.

To counter this, I have starting setting up the templates with a form option. This option pre-selects some of the answers and produces a form for distribution. It is kind of kludgy but is solving the problem for now.


  1. Your take on Hot Docs is interesting because I have known opthers that share some of the very same dilemmas using document assembly products. I work in the Legal Industry and am aware of several programs out there that are taking on document automation but most of them are approaching it in the same way as hot docs, drafting via an interview process. There is one product out there which solves many of the issues you have brought up within in this particular blog. Ixio Legal QShift is a document assembly tool which works at a clause level with no programming required. You can modify your templates, change your language, utilize your templates to contain alternative clauses that can be assigned as optional to be selected on a draft by draft basis, amongst other coll features that are not provided by other products. If you are interested in document assembly but have not yet seen QShift you should check it out. There are no set up fees and it is on a month to month subscription basis so you can cancel anytime if it is not suiting your needs. You can find more information about QShift on the companys website.

  2. I had looked at several competing products before we decided to move ahead with HotDocs Server including Qshift, Dealbuilder and D3. All of these made it easier to build and create templates.

    However, I found them to be harder to use and therefore harder train the common lawyer on how to use them. I could show someone how to fill out a HotDocs interview and produce documents in less than 5 minutes. The burden then falls on me and other template designers to make the interview work and to able to produce "forms."

    I found these other products to do cool things and offer some great features. Personally, I was overwhelmed by some of the choices and found the common user experience to be confusing.

    I decided to go with the dumbed down approach for the common user. All they have to do is answer questions.

  3. The desktop version of HotDocs is extremely powerful. You are correct that the base HotDocs Server implementation is a bare-boned document assembly engine. With the introduction of Template Portal, LexisNexis did shorten the time to deployment.

    Another alternative (one we resell) is that provided by DocEngine, a hosted HotDocs Server solution where you pay a monthly fee per concurrent user license. DocsEngine manages the templates and the document and the answer files and allows you to set up a hierarchy of templates in groups and sets and sequences.

    With respect to template development, you might want to look at my blog: Document Assembly (and Case Management) and the document assembly articles on my main website


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