Catherine Bamford, director of Bamford Legal Engineering, delivered a speech titled Next generation automation: Rise of the machines at this year’s Janders Dean Legal Knowledge and Innovation Conference (19-20 September).
“I am going to give you a serious and stark warning that if your … lawyers [are] not already using [document automation] as the business-as-usual way to draft all of their documents and reports then you are already behind the curve and you do need to catch up fast,” she said.
Bamford compared neglecting document automation to accountants doing calculations using a pen and paper instead of using Excel.
“[Document automation] enables lawyers to prepare documents and reports in a fraction of the time it does with quill and ink as well as minimising risk, ensuring firm style consistency and improving quality.”
Firms that already have entire teams working on document automation are going to have the edge when it comes to confidently pitching the benefits to clients about these innovative, efficient, value-adding and risk-managing products, she said.
Firms should let machines do the heavy lifting
The way that many law firms currently operate is highly inefficient, according to Bamford.
Drafting documents by hand is time-consuming and does not make the best use of a lawyer’s expertise
“Having been a junior lawyer myself, I liked that document automation did enable me to focus on what I actually went to law school for,” she said.
She used the example of drawing up a tenant lease to demonstrate her point.
She said that in drafting this document a lawyer would typically go onto the firm’s intranet, find the precedent, print it out, mark it up, putting the same information into three of four different places and then send it off to typing.
“Now, lawyers did not go to law schools to do this and clients do not expect to be paying for it. In fact, if your client realised, which some now are, they would be horrified.”
While the process takes a lawyer approximately an hour in terms of recorded time, often a day or two has passed since receiving the clients’ instructions.
Document automation, on the other hand, is neat and tidy and takes about half the time, said Bamford.
Lawyers work through an online questionnaire that acts as a checklist to all the legal points that need to be considered, with each question only appearing if relevant based on the previous questions answered, she added.
Becoming the ‘dream lawyer’
Document automation, according to Bamford, is a sure way of cementing a client relationship because it lets firms deliver high-quality services and anticipate their client’s needs.
She said that firms could develop client-specific online databases to help in-house lawyers and even offer advice about company management by capturing data about legal disputes.
“[This way] you become the dream lawyer; you become the guard rail at the top of the cliff, rather than the ambulance at the bottom,” she said.
While partners might be “resistant” and practitioners might be sceptical about the potential for automation, Bamford said that she has yet to find a legal transaction or a dispute that cannot be automated in some way.