Category Archives: Articles

More than Ever, Small is the New Big

Small is the New Big

In 2006, at the Law Society Future of Legal Practice Conference, I spoke about how modern developments such as affordable legal technologies, online libraries, pervasive online communication and mobile technologies, would lead to a changed landscape where “Small is the New Big”.

You may recall this was a time where the legal profession was shrinking, both in terms of the number of law firms and the number of practitioners.

The collapse of seemingly invincible, venerated global financial institutions, the number of Big Law breakaways and the continued increase in the number of small law firms starting up (1-5 practitioners, as defined by the law society), has put to rest the notion that Big = Better. Today, with technology and the pay-per-use business model of outsourced legal support services, size is no longer a requisite to success. Small can be Great, as easily as Big can Fail.

At Bizibody, we are convinced, that this Small is the New Big trend will accelerate. What’s different now? Cloud-based legal technologies have now come of age, offering equivalent or better features than their onsite server counterparts, at a lower “cost of ownership”. Apple for Apple, cloud technologies will invariably perform better in terms of ease of use, scalability, affordability, upgrades and I daresay, security.

In 2016, we are truly excited to be offering you a really outstanding suite of different cloud-based legal technologies for practice management, document management, document automation and case management, that makes it possible for you to realise not just productivity gains but new ways of serving your clients, offering lower cost services without loss of quality or profitability.

To do this, today’s modern law firm needs to venture beyond word processing, and financial management software. Technology cost is not a factor , especially in the Singapore context, where cost of labour continues to rise, and technology costs are subsidized by generous government grants.

Serena Lim

Cloud Powers Law Firms in 2016

2016 Year of Cloud_004

We believe that Cloud Technologies for the legal sector have now come of age, and we will see many more law firms, small and large, adopt cloud-based technologies for document management, document production, document collaboration, case management, evidence management, and eDiscovery in 2016.

By 2017, we expect that most of our clients would no longer need us to provide onsite support for windows-based servers.

Cloud technologies certainly reduces some of the traditional technical support roles that technology companies like Bizibody Technology play, but it also provides such companies with the ability to provide technologies that can reach a far-wider and geographically dispersed audience, with a small team.

We spent 2014 and 2015 getting cloud ready. Internally, we are cloud everything:  more than half my colleagues spend 1/2 to 3/4 of their time on the road, working from client’s place, their mobile or at a cafe. And we are now able to support clients from anywhere, including from Myanmar where our LEAP helpdesk is now based.

Bizibody now supports 2 of the world’s leading cloud-based products for the legal industry, Clio, a practice management system and NetDocuments, a document management system. We are targetting to bring in LEAP Cloud in mid-2016.

We have also created 2 exciting cloud products for the legal industry – Uberdocs and Action-It, for automated document production and collaborative calendaring, which you will be hearing more of.

Litigation Edge continues in its mission to provide document digitization services  to litigation and dispute resolution practices, where the volume of paper evidence continues to explode. This outsourced conversion of paper to bits and bytes service makes it possible for more cost effective litigation to take place, and for lawyers to enjoy the electronic tools of tagging, searching and hyperlinking.

And our partner, Opus 2, the leading provider of in-court technology and transcription services, blends sophisticated document management cloud technology with court reporting excellence to enable more paper-less and more efficient court/arbitration hearings.

The economic forecast for 2016 may be uncertain and challenging. But the cloud direction is one thing that we feel confident and certain about.

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS – Making the Right Choice

February 2004

Much more than an accounting system that handles your office and client accounts, Practice Management Software (“PMS”) adds on an entire suite of other functionality to your accounting system – eg, case / matter management which involves tracking matter information and status from the opening of the file until it is closed and archive; automated workflow integrates with diary functions to provide group calendaring and task allocation; even generating documents and key performance indicators.

The proliferation of lower-cost PMS software means that such systems are now readily accessible to even solo and small practices. By implementing a robust and scalable PMS, a startup law firm is putting in place a sound infrastructure to support its future growth and expansion.

Due to the investment in terms of cost and resources, the consequences of choosing an unsuitable PMS for your law firm are monumental. Yet selection decisions are often made after a couple of sales calls and a few hours of software demonstration in your conference room. In discussions over functionality and price, we tend to forget issues that concern the underlying technology platform which impacts on scalability, support and maintenance, future development; and even the continued viability of the Vendor. Such considerations are important because they relate to the long-term investment in your PMS.

Most competing PMS products in the market today will be able to perform the functions described above to differing levels of competence. The best ones have more than enough bells and whistles to impress the most tech-savvy office managers. However, how high up each product appears in the popularity stakes is less important than how it fits into your law firm and business goals.

To narrow down your search, you need to –

1. Identify the best opportunities for improvements specific to your organisation

2. Evaluate how different software performs the functions most vital to you

3. Understand how the software integrates with your current technology setup.

Even before you meet the Vendors and launch into an evaluation of the relative merits of different PMS software, you need to be very clear about – what it is that you want the PMS to achieve.

I have set down below some guidelines on the issues that should be addressed when choosing the right PMS software for your practice.

CHOOSING THE SOFTWARE

The answer to your question – what do you want the PMS to achieve? – will depend largely in part on practice size, nature of legal service and business directions. Larger practices with several branch offices and a complicated management-equity structure will demand more sophisticated reporting functions than a smaller practice. Electronic Time Recording and its seamless integration with the backend accounting system will be more important to a firm that charges by time instead of fixed fees.

The ability to generate documents quickly and accurately from matter specific data is more important to a firm that derives most of its revenue from delivering resource intensive documentation such as housing loan mortgages or debt recovery. The ability to track matter progress (key dates) is essential to a firm that specialises in high volume transactional services such trade mark registrations or corporate secretarial services.

The first thing to do is to make a wish list and prioritise the items appearing on it. That way, if you are unable to find a PMS that delivers only 90% of your list, you can at least decide what tradeoffs are acceptable and whether you can live with the absence of the remaining 10% at the bottom of your list. Better yet, you will save valuable time nixing those PMS software that are unable to deliver the top 5 wishes on your list!

Once your wish list is established, you can begin to examine the different PMS software available in the market with these other considerations in mind.

Technology Platform

Due to the size of the investment, an average law firm is not likely to change its PMS for the next

5 -8 years. Consider the need to protect your investment from changing or volatile technology.

When a technology environment fails or loses its prominence, software built on that platform begins to lose market share because the marketplace will no longer buy products designed for a defunct platform. An example of this is software written for Wang or non-Windows versions of PCDOS. No matter how successful or well liked the software is, existing users are likely to suffer integration and support issues as the Vendor will find that it cannot afford to expend further resources for the continued support for a product that the marketplace no longer wants.

Furthermore, as new hardware / software will not integrate with or run on networks/workstations built on an obsolete platform, a progressive and forward-looking law firm will feel frustrated at not being able to take advantage of emergent technologies in office automation.

Database

Law Firms require information about their clients, contacts and matters; progress of their cases; and financial information in order to thrive. The PMS must not only manage this vast storehouse of information but also render it accessible so that it presents an accurate and comprehensive picture to the Managers.

To ensure respect for the integrity of your database there should be only one point of entry and all other applications should integrate with that core database to eliminate duplication of effort and inconsistent information. If your PMS system does not store “one version of the truth”, it translates to costly and time-wasting manual validation outside of the system.

The database should be an “Open System” relational database that complies with industry standards as opposed to a proprietary custom-built database developed in isolation from other systems. PMS designed on a proprietary database is more likely to require “system down-time” for housekeeping routines (for rebuilding and re-indexing of the database).

An open system database offers ready support and maintenance from IT Professionals anywhere (not merely those employed or trained by your Vendor), ease of reporting and inquiry, ease of migration of data; and more importantly, robust and stable to ensure long term data integrity.

An isolated PMS operating on its own proprietary environment may be cheap at first glance, but the restricted access to qualified and experienced support resources may make you feel held by ransom by your Vendor and more costly in the long term.

Integration

For your PMS to be an effective productivity tool, it may have to integrate with existing systems –

e.g., Outlook / Lotus Notes for email, Copitrac / Softlog for disbursement recovery, Worldox / iManage for Document Management. Integration eliminates wasted time and effort. An example of this is email integration. As email increasingly becomes the default method of routine communication with associates and clients, your PMS system should have the ability to integrate your e-mail system into your natural workflows – so that you have access to emails related to a matter when you are looking at relevant information for that matter.

Ease of Use

How high up “ease of use” and “operability” appears on your wish list depends largely on how savvy or computer phobic your lawyers and staff are. However, given the pressures of operating a thriving law firm on limited resources, a PMS system that is intuitive, user-friendly and requires a shorter training period to master will win more support from your staff over one that isn’t. The good news is that the current generation of PMS software are likely to have a “Windows” graphical user interface. Conformity to “Windows” standards such as “file” “edit” “tools” and scroll bars makes the software less daunting to the uninitiated.

Security

Law Firms will have their own specific requirements on security and restricted access, but most proprietors would like to lock-out associate lawyers and clerical staff from access to financially sensitive information contained in the management reports or pay -roll. Important questions to ask the Vendor are – Can security be applied selectively to specific functionality? How many levels of security does the PMS support?

Scalability

Even if you do not have specific expansion plans for your firm, scalability (ie, the ability of the PMS to support a growing number of users without prohibitive upgrades and additional cost) is an issue that should be addressed from the outset. This is especially so when law firms today are allowed more flexibility in structure, and we find mergers or fluid associations of practice groups becoming increasingly frequent.

Remote / Web Access

In this era of greater mobility and the internationalisation of law firms, any firm with plans to set up a branch office in future (whether at home or abroad), to join a “global” network of associated law firms; or even to allow lawyers to work from home will require the PMS to offer browser based access to lawyers working remotely. In the same way, client’s demand for immediate access to real time matter status and other information online may drive the selection process in favour of a PMS that has such functionality..

CHOOSING THE VENDOR

As important as the functionality of the PMS software, consider that you are also choosing theVendor. The quality of the professional services rendered by the Vendor, the strength of its support, development and research programmes are important concerns if you view the PMS as a long term investment.

Vendor Services – Customisation & Implementation

Due to the complexity of its functions and the need to integrate with your existing systems, you should recognise from the outset that you are not buying a “shrink wrap” product; no PMS will work “out of the box”. The issue that must be put to the Vendor is – whether the PMS can be customised to the degree that ensures a satisfactory degree of integration with your existing systems and processes. Do you want to make the PMS jump through hoops or are you content with minimum customisation? In terms of cost, you can expect to pay more for a higher degree of customisation.

If you need to migrate accounting data from existing systems to the new PMS, then in addition to understanding the database structure of the new PMS, the data migration expert must also have a good understanding of CPA auditing requirements and an obsession with accuracy! To check if your Vendor is able to provide this level of expertise, you may want to makes checks on the Vendor’s past experience in data migration and obtain some references.

Programmers who designed and built the PMS software do not necessarily have the same skills to implement it in your office environment. The Vendor’s implementation team should compriseskilled business process analysts who possess in-depth knowledge law practice management; including client/trust accounting rules, matter management and specific workflow processes in a law practice. Copyright Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd – February 2004

Another indication of the Vendor’s implementation expertise is whether their professionals deploys a structured project management methodology that establishes clear lines of communication between the Project Manager and the Partner appointed to take charge of the implementation process in your office. To find out more, you should request your Vendor to give an account of implementations in law firms similar to yours in size and practice specialisations; and follow up with client references.

Training

No matter which PMS you decide upon, the key to a successful implementation is support from the staff. The return on investment for any PMS is so spectacular that you can expect it to pay for itself within 3-6 months through savings in time and increased efficiency. However lack of adequate training in the use of a complex productivity tool induces frustration and anxiety. Users that have been poorly trained will be poor users. The lack of support for a PMS perceived by its users to be more problematic than helpful will lead to under use.

Most PMS vendors recognise the importance of providing adequate training. Some will even require mandatory training hours when you purchase the software. However it is frequently left to the Law Firm to ensure that commitment and weight is put behind the Vendor’s training programme as an integral component of its implementation and roll out plan.

Support & Maintenance

A comprehensive support and maintenance plan is crucial to ensure that any problems arising can be swiftly and proactively dealt with. More importantly, if you want your investment in a PMS to last the next 5 to 8 years, it is important to know that your Vendor is committed to supporting the software for that time and has dedicated resources to its continued development.

In your support contract, you should look out for –

1. Scope of Post-Installation Support – does i t include a Helpdesk? Onsite Support? (If your Vendor is located abroad) is support available in your time-zone?

2. Quality of the Support Personnel – is the Helpdesk staffed by trained Professionals? Is support Generic (eg, concerning technical problems only) or Function-specific (eg, covering law office accounting / business process issues / database management issues)?

3. Software Updates – Vendors who are committed to ongoing research and developmentgenerally update their software once or twice a year. Your support contract should state clearly if such “version upgrades” are included in the support programme; or whether it comprises only software “patches” that take care of “bugs” arising from the version of the software you purchased.

Any Vendor committed to long-term service to their clients will have a continuing “support programme” that includes – dissemination of information relating to software updates; training workshops on the use of new features; a dedicated website for users that is focused on product information and user-feedback. Some dynamic companies will even hold User Group Meetings for Users to find out more about the Vendor’s plans for product development plans; and even an opportunity to influence its direction.

Conclusion

In summary, an intelligent choice on a Practice Management System requires several levels of probing and analysis beyond the software’s functionality and features. You need to know what your needs and goals are to help you narrow down your choice; and then evaluate its technology platform and database structure; with considerations of security, scalability and ease of use.

Finally, consideration of the Vendor’s ability to lead a successful implementation and provide long-term support ensures that your investment is a sound one.

______________________________________________________________

Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd provides Business Process & Practice Management Consultancy for Law Firms. Bizibody Consultants are former lawyers and IT professionals with in depth knowledge of practice management, accounting, document assembly and legal process workflows. Our clients include law firms of different sizes, legal institutions and the Singapore Law Courts.

To contact us – email info@bizibody.biz or Call – (65) 6236 2840

LINUX: From Scratch to Server

Linux has been the mainstay of the server world. It is an operating system that powers the world’s busiest sites like Google and is also being increasingly embraced by enterprises and the Government. Furthermore, the host of vendors like IBM and HP supporting and promoting Linux strengthens the case that Linux is ready to be deployed on an enterprisewide basis.

What is Linux? How can it be used? How much will it cost? Why do I need to change? These questions and many more need to be answered to make a convincing case for Linux.

Linux is an Open Source operating system developed by thousands of volunteer coders who were motivated primarily to create a better operating system because they were not satisfied with the operating systems available at that time. This led to the development of the Linux kernel or the heart of the operating system. People get confused because there are many different types of Linux like Red Hat, SuSe, Mandrake, UBuntu and many more. This makes the decision making for selecting a type of Linux confusing and difficult. However, all these types share the same kernel.

Linux, in our opinion, is useful as a server within the enterprise and it is difficult to envision that it will power desktops in the foreseeable future. The beauty of Linux is that it can coexist within a Windows or a hybrid environment and can be used as a server in the following main ways:-

File server that can act as a shared network drive for users.
Web server to host your external and internal web sites and applications.
Email server which allows users to send, store and retrieve emails.
Print server for sharing and printing via a network printer.
Database server by installing RDBMS software like MySQL.
Backup server for backup and restoration purposes.
Additionally, the Linux server can also be used as a FTP server, firewall and anti-virus server

[Insert Figure 1: Linux as a server in a hybrid environment]

Linux distributions are free but if you lack the technical expertise to install and configure then it is best to engage a vendor to support. There are also vendors like Net-iTech that provide complete turn-key versions of Linux-based server operating systems like NITIX. Generally, the Linux operating system neither has a license fee nor a ‘number of users per server’ restriction. Therefore, it is a cost-effective solution especially if you have a large number of users or if you expect that the scale of your operations will grow rapidly.

Apart from the cost factor, there are three other main benefits of Linux that make a convincing case to adopt Linux as a server.

Firstly, since only the server needs to be changed there is minimal disruption to the users because in most cases, no additional software needs to be installed on their desktops.

Secondly, Linux provides better reliability in terms of the performance.

Thirdly, Linux has better security as there are very few viruses and malicious software that is designed to attack Linux systems.

It is important to weigh the cost and benefit before adopting Linux as a server. However, in the long term we believe that Linux is a better solution mainly because of its affordability, reliability, security and scalability.

___________________________________________________________________

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY

Dipankar Subba is head of the technology in Bizibody.

Dipankar has in-depth knowledge of strategic integration of web technologies into a business. He has system analysis and design experience and is well-versed with various software applications, programming languages and system design methodologies with a keen interest in Open Source technologies. He has led many Bizibody projects like RATIO, CaseTracker, Law Society Portal and the LAWNET content management system using Open Source as well as proprietary platforms.

Dipankar holds an MBA focused on e-Business from the National University of Singapore.

Email – dipankar@bizibody.biz

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS – Making the Right Choice

February 2004

Much more than an accounting system that handles your office and client accounts, Practice Management Software (“PMS”) adds on an entire suite of other functionality to your accounting system – eg, case / matter management which involves tracking matter information and status from the opening of the file until it is closed and archive; automated workflow integrates with diary functions to provide group calendaring and task allocation; even generating documents and key performance indicators.

The proliferation of lower-cost PMS software means that such systems are now readily accessible to even solo and small practices. By implementing a robust and scalable PMS, a startup law firm is putting in place a sound infrastructure to support its future growth and expansion.

Due to the investment in terms of cost and resources, the consequences of choosing an unsuitable PMS for your law firm are monumental. Yet selection decisions are often made after a couple of sales calls and a few hours of software demonstration in your conference room. In discussions over functionality and price, we tend to forget issues that concern the underlying technology platform which impacts on scalability, support and maintenance, future development; and even the continued viability of the Vendor. Such considerations are important because they relate to the long-term investment in your PMS.

Most competing PMS products in the market today will be able to perform the functions described above to differing levels of competence. The best ones have more than enough bells and whistles to impress the most tech-savvy office managers. However, how high up each product appears in the popularity stakes is less important than how it fits into your law firm and business goals.

To narrow down your search, you need to –

1. Identify the best opportunities for improvements specific to your organisation

2. Evaluate how different software performs the functions most vital to you

3. Understand how the software integrates with your current technology setup.

Even before you meet the Vendors and launch into an evaluation of the relative merits of different PMS software, you need to be very clear about – what it is that you want the PMS to achieve.

I have set down below some guidelines on the issues that should be addressed when choosing the right PMS software for your practice.

CHOOSING THE SOFTWARE

The answer to your question – what do you want the PMS to achieve? – will depend largely in part on practice size, nature of legal service and business directions. Larger practices with several branch offices and a complicated management-equity structure will demand more sophisticated reporting functions than a smaller practice. Electronic Time Recording and its seamless integration with the backend accounting system will be more important to a firm that charges by time instead of fixed fees.

The ability to generate documents quickly and accurately from matter specific data is more important to a firm that derives most of its revenue from delivering resource intensive documentation such as housing loan mortgages or debt recovery. The ability to track matter progress (key dates) is essential to a firm that specialises in high volume transactional services such trade mark registrations or corporate secretarial services.

The first thing to do is to make a wish list and prioritise the items appearing on it. That way, if you are unable to find a PMS that delivers only 90% of your list, you can at least decide what tradeoffs are acceptable and whether you can live with the absence of the remaining 10% at the bottom of your list. Better yet, you will save valuable time nixing those PMS software that are unable to deliver the top 5 wishes on your list!

Once your wish list is established, you can begin to examine the different PMS software available in the market with these other considerations in mind.

Technology Platform

Due to the size of the investment, an average law firm is not likely to change its PMS for the next

5 -8 years. Consider the need to protect your investment from changing or volatile technology.

When a technology environment fails or loses its prominence, software built on that platform begins to lose market share because the marketplace will no longer buy products designed for a defunct platform. An example of this is software written for Wang or non-Windows versions of PCDOS. No matter how successful or well liked the software is, existing users are likely to suffer integration and support issues as the Vendor will find that it cannot afford to expend further resources for the continued support for a product that the marketplace no longer wants.

Furthermore, as new hardware / software will not integrate with or run on networks/workstations built on an obsolete platform, a progressive and forward-looking law firm will feel frustrated at not being able to take advantage of emergent technologies in office automation.

Database

Law Firms require information about their clients, contacts and matters; progress of their cases; and financial information in order to thrive. The PMS must not only manage this vast storehouse of information but also render it accessible so that it presents an accurate and comprehensive picture to the Managers.

To ensure respect for the integrity of your database there should be only one point of entry and all other applications should integrate with that core database to eliminate duplication of effort and inconsistent information. If your PMS system does not store “one version of the truth”, it translates to costly and time-wasting manual validation outside of the system.

The database should be an “Open System” relational database that complies with industry standards as opposed to a proprietary custom-built database developed in isolation from other systems. PMS designed on a proprietary database is more likely to require “system down-time” for housekeeping routines (for rebuilding and re-indexing of the database).

An open system database offers ready support and maintenance from IT Professionals anywhere (not merely those employed or trained by your Vendor), ease of reporting and inquiry, ease of migration of data; and more importantly, robust and stable to ensure long term data integrity.

An isolated PMS operating on its own proprietary environment may be cheap at first glance, but the restricted access to qualified and experienced support resources may make you feel held by ransom by your Vendor and more costly in the long term.

Integration

For your PMS to be an effective productivity tool, it may have to integrate with existing systems –

e.g., Outlook / Lotus Notes for email, Copitrac / Softlog for disbursement recovery, Worldox / iManage for Document Management. Integration eliminates wasted time and effort. An example of this is email integration. As email increasingly becomes the default method of routine communication with associates and clients, your PMS system should have the ability to integrate your e-mail system into your natural workflows – so that you have access to emails related to a matter when you are looking at relevant information for that matter.

Ease of Use

How high up “ease of use” and “operability” appears on your wish list depends largely on how savvy or computer phobic your lawyers and staff are. However, given the pressures of operating a thriving law firm on limited resources, a PMS system that is intuitive, user-friendly and requires a shorter training period to master will win more support from your staff over one that isn’t. The good news is that the current generation of PMS software are likely to have a “Windows” graphical user interface. Conformity to “Windows” standards such as “file” “edit” “tools” and scroll bars makes the software less daunting to the uninitiated.

Security

Law Firms will have their own specific requirements on security and restricted access, but most proprietors would like to lock-out associate lawyers and clerical staff from access to financially sensitive information contained in the management reports or pay -roll. Important questions to ask the Vendor are – Can security be applied selectively to specific functionality? How many levels of security does the PMS support?

Scalability

Even if you do not have specific expansion plans for your firm, scalability (ie, the ability of the PMS to support a growing number of users without prohibitive upgrades and additional cost) is an issue that should be addressed from the outset. This is especially so when law firms today are allowed more flexibility in structure, and we find mergers or fluid associations of practice groups becoming increasingly frequent.

Remote / Web Access

In this era of greater mobility and the internationalisation of law firms, any firm with plans to set up a branch office in future (whether at home or abroad), to join a “global” network of associated law firms; or even to allow lawyers to work from home will require the PMS to offer browser based access to lawyers working remotely. In the same way, client’s demand for immediate access to real time matter status and other information online may drive the selection process in favour of a PMS that has such functionality..

CHOOSING THE VENDOR

As important as the functionality of the PMS software, consider that you are also choosing theVendor. The quality of the professional services rendered by the Vendor, the strength of its support, development and research programmes are important concerns if you view the PMS as a long term investment.

Vendor Services – Customisation & Implementation

Due to the complexity of its functions and the need to integrate with your existing systems, you should recognise from the outset that you are not buying a “shrink wrap” product; no PMS will work “out of the box”. The issue that must be put to the Vendor is – whether the PMS can be customised to the degree that ensures a satisfactory degree of integration with your existing systems and processes. Do you want to make the PMS jump through hoops or are you content with minimum customisation? In terms of cost, you can expect to pay more for a higher degree of customisation.

If you need to migrate accounting data from existing systems to the new PMS, then in addition to understanding the database structure of the new PMS, the data migration expert must also have a good understanding of CPA auditing requirements and an obsession with accuracy! To check if your Vendor is able to provide this level of expertise, you may want to makes checks on the Vendor’s past experience in data migration and obtain some references.

Programmers who designed and built the PMS software do not necessarily have the same skills to implement it in your office environment. The Vendor’s implementation team should compriseskilled business process analysts who possess in-depth knowledge law practice management; including client/trust accounting rules, matter management and specific workflow processes in a law practice. Copyright Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd – February 2004

Another indication of the Vendor’s implementation expertise is whether their professionals deploys a structured project management methodology that establishes clear lines of communication between the Project Manager and the Partner appointed to take charge of the implementation process in your office. To find out more, you should request your Vendor to give an account of implementations in law firms similar to yours in size and practice specialisations; and follow up with client references.

Training

No matter which PMS you decide upon, the key to a successful implementation is support from the staff. The return on investment for any PMS is so spectacular that you can expect it to pay for itself within 3-6 months through savings in time and increased efficiency. However lack of adequate training in the use of a complex productivity tool induces frustration and anxiety. Users that have been poorly trained will be poor users. The lack of support for a PMS perceived by its users to be more problematic than helpful will lead to under use.

Most PMS vendors recognise the importance of providing adequate training. Some will even require mandatory training hours when you purchase the software. However it is frequently left to the Law Firm to ensure that commitment and weight is put behind the Vendor’s training programme as an integral component of its implementation and roll out plan.

Support & Maintenance

A comprehensive support and maintenance plan is crucial to ensure that any problems arising can be swiftly and proactively dealt with. More importantly, if you want your investment in a PMS to last the next 5 to 8 years, it is important to know that your Vendor is committed to supporting the software for that time and has dedicated resources to its continued development.

In your support contract, you should look out for –

1. Scope of Post-Installation Support – does i t include a Helpdesk? Onsite Support? (If your Vendor is located abroad) is support available in your time-zone?

2. Quality of the Support Personnel – is the Helpdesk staffed by trained Professionals? Is support Generic (eg, concerning technical problems only) or Function-specific (eg, covering law office accounting / business process issues / database management issues)?

3. Software Updates – Vendors who are committed to ongoing research and developmentgenerally update their software once or twice a year. Your support contract should state clearly if such “version upgrades” are included in the support programme; or whether it comprises only software “patches” that take care of “bugs” arising from the version of the software you purchased.

Any Vendor committed to long-term service to their clients will have a continuing “support programme” that includes – dissemination of information relating to software updates; training workshops on the use of new features; a dedicated website for users that is focused on product information and user-feedback. Some dynamic companies will even hold User Group Meetings for Users to find out more about the Vendor’s plans for product development plans; and even an opportunity to influence its direction.

Conclusion

In summary, an intelligent choice on a Practice Management System requires several levels of probing and analysis beyond the software’s functionality and features. You need to know what your needs and goals are to help you narrow down your choice; and then evaluate its technology platform and database structure; with considerations of security, scalability and ease of use.

Finally, consideration of the Vendor’s ability to lead a successful implementation and provide long-term support ensures that your investment is a sound one.

______________________________________________________________

Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd provides Business Process & Practice Management Consultancy for Law Firms. Bizibody Consultants are former lawyers and IT professionals with in depth knowledge of practice management, accounting, document assembly and legal process workflows. Our clients include law firms of different sizes, legal institutions and the Singapore Law Courts.

To contact us – email info@bizibody.biz or Call – (65) 6236 2840

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT FOR LAW FIRMS

Part II – Technology Infrastructure for Effective Knowledge Management

From a technology perspective, the key ingredients for establishing an environment for effective knowledge management within a Law Firm are –

1. A Client-Server Network

2. A Core / Centralised Database

3. Means to Digitise Data or Access to Digitised Data (eg, scanners, fax servers, email and internet access, and subscriptions to “packaged electronic legal sources” such as statues, law reports offered online or in CD-media by Lawnet or Lexis Nexis)

4. Technology Applications specifically designed to enable or promote Knowledge Management

The overwhelming importance of a Core / Centralised Database for effective knowledge management has been addressed in Richard Hugo -Hammond’s article called “Database Basics”; and the technical and business considerations for implementing (or upgrading) your Network will be the subject of a forthcoming Bizilaw article on Networks.

The focus of my article is on item 4 – technology applications designed to promote KM in a law firm.

Introduction

“Intellectual Capital” in a law firm comprises not only legal knowledge (research, opinions, precedents – referring to a lawyer’s work product) but also information about its clients and contacts, matter information such as key dates and stages of work in progress, and financial information (bills rendered, time spent, disbursements incurred, monies in trust / client account) etc; Generally referring to data that is essential to reduce your practice risks, maintain consistent work output and service levels, keep on top of your financials, and make sound business and management decisions.

Appendix A is a summary of the different types of “Knowledge” within the law firm and the corresponding software applications developed to help law firms to store, manage and use the knowledge.

A brief description of what the specific software application can do to facilitate KM in a law firm is set out below

Practice Management Systems

A Practice Management System captures the following information into a “core database” –

– client and contact relationship information across the Firm;

– file/matter information handled by the Firm including when the file was opened, archived, destroyed; related parties; documents prepared for that file/matter; attendance notes, documents safe -kept; time spent of the file;

– financial information including full Office and Clients Account data; disbursements rendered for each matter; invoices rendered.

It also manages the data and renders it accessible to your Lawyers and Managers in the performance of the following actions –

– conflict searches

– comprehensive client / contact profiling for marketing purposes

– electronic time recording

– automated billing and back-end bookkeeping

– generating real-time financial and management reports

– collaborative calendaring, resource allocation and task scheduling

– tracking the progress of matters and deadlines

– monitoring the work output of staff and lawyers

Your practice management system forms the lynchpin of the Firm’s data structure, from which all other applications must be integrated whether document management, document assembly, or disbursement recovery systems. Getting the right practice management system in place is the key.

Most competing PMS products in the market today (eg, Open Practice, Elite) will be able to perform the functions described above to differing levels of competence. The proliferation of lower-cost PMS software means that such systems are now readily accessible to even solo and small practices (eg, Law Ledger, Billing / Time Matters). By implementing a robust and scalable PMS, a start-up law firm is putting in place a sound infrastructure to support its future growth and expansion. Whatever your area of practice, whatever the size of your Firm, a good practice management system will provide the Law Firm with a solid KM foundation.

Document Management Systems

A substantial amount of the output of a law firm’s collective knowledge is captured in the form of an electronic document in the form of a word processing file, a graphic image, am email or other digital format that can exist within a computer system.

A document management system imparts structure, organization, and accessibility to your vast ever increasing hoard of digital information; and a document search engine will help you to trawl through your vast digital storehouse to retrieve the relevant information you need.From a KM perspective, the core document management functionality comprises the following features –

Library Services – Cataloging and profiling documents, through the use of custom fields, descriptive file names, security attributes, and additional file attributes which are filled in automatically, such as Author, Description, File Type, Date Created / Date Updated, Unique Document ID, Path location etc. The document’s profile enables easy access and retrieval of any specific piece of information from the knowledge bank.

Full Text Retrieval – retrieval is a critical route of access to information that cannot easily be categorized or represented within the document profiling structure. Full text retrieval involves an indexing engine which extracts each word from all the documents cleared for searching. This information is used to construct an index to the document; when users make a search by specifying search criteria – words, combinations of word, phrases, expressions, etc the Index is used to identify the documents answering to the specific search criteria.

Security & Restricted Access – the document management system assigns rights and permissions to documents based on individual users, groups of users, and the roles in which users serve within the organization.Document History – the document management system maintains a historical activity record associated with each document, tracking each action in the life of a document including who performed the action, its date and time, and the nature of the action itself.

Market leading document management syste ms used by law firms today are – WORLDOX, Hummingbird DMS and iManage (now called “Interwoven’).

Case / Matter Management Systems

Sometimes also known as Business Process Automation, Workflow Automation, case management systems provide the Firm with tools to track case status. Used in conjunction with Document Assembly tools, Case Management tools are indispensable to firms who want to compete in “high volume, low margin” practice areas eg: conveyancing, retail financing, trademark registration,corporate secretarial.

Case Management Systems comprise of:-

– Shared calendars to track availability, appointments, key dates;Copyright – Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd – December 2004

– Tools to track and monitor case status;

– Event driven notifications to notify end users of events;

For optimum efficiency, case management systems are often integrated with document assembly systems that will generate documents from pre-designed templates; and generic communication and collaboration tools such as MS Exchange or Lotus Notes.

Case management systems generally fall into 2 categories:

1. Generic Case Management Applications provides tools which can be customized to suit different area of practice, for example Open Practice Workflow has been customized for use in different areas of practice such as Conveyancing, Housing Loans, Debt Recovery, Personal Injury, Trademark Registration etc

2. For Case Management Applications are specifically designed for specialized Areas of Practice; for example, Viewpoint for Corporate Secretarial Work, Hypermark for TrademarksManagement. Litigation support software such as Ringtail and Summation provide functionality for managing complex litigation involving document-intensive trial and discovery procedures anddeadlines

Taking responsibility for the Implementation

The system you implement to facilitate KM in your firm must be easy to use, user-defined and accessible. It is never a good idea to leave the implementation your KM systems solely in the hands of the IT professionals who are not likely to be familiar with your practice needs or the business process. For the system to be personally useful, a high degree of customisation involvingconsiderable department-specific, legal-specific technical knowledge is often required. A partner or head of department should understand the intricacies of the system and make informed decisions on:-

(i) customisation of the user-interface to meet specific user requirements;

(ii) decide on what levels of restricted access should be granted to specified user groups, if security is an issue;

(iii) decide howthe system should be used, drawing up user policies and disseminating key aspects of policy decisions downwards to all end-users.

Integrating Disparate Systems

More important than the type of software application for its purpose is the issue of integration. From simple in-house Access Database to complex Practice Management Systems, integration of disparate systems within the law firm is a crucial first step towards achieving your KM goals. A core database must give you “one version of the truth”. If you cannot achieve that, at least ensure that there is a single point of entry for your Client / Contact and Matter information to eliminate duplication of manual input and inconsistent data; and integrate all other databases across the enterprise from this starting point.

Remote Access

Another important consideration is mobility and remote access. Lawyers are increasingly required to take work home or work remotely from a site office or on the road, should enjoy the same levels of support and access to the law firm’s knowledge base as the lawyer who is plugged into the network; and conversely, knowledge accumulating on the lawyer’s laptop should be as efficiently assimilated into the Firm’s knowledge base. An extranet or virtual private network (VPN) allows users to access the Firm’s database at a high level or interoperability via a secure internet connection.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT FOR LAW FIRMS

Introduction – What is Knowledge Management?

A law firm’s business involves charging their clients for the use of their intellectual resources. Being in the pure knowledge business, law firms readily accept that their sole sustainable advantage is the expertise and knowledge of their lawyers. Knowledge Management (“KM”) is both a business process and a professional discipline aimed at enabling an organisation to achieve maximum advantage from its most important asset – its knowledge.

The concept of recording and transmitting knowledge in Law Firms is not new – every lawyer who has ever worked with its law firm’s precedents or consulted an opinion given by the firm in a previous matter can vouch for this.

What is new and exciting is the potential for using modern information technology to support KM efforts in Law Firms today. The low cost of computers, scanners and networks, and the easy availability of software applications that support knowledge sharing has been a cru cial “enabler” of effective knowledge management in even the smallest organisations. The Internet (browser based data access through intranets and extranets), document management systems, document assembly and expert systems are the technology tools available today for helping you to collect, structure, disseminate and use valuable information within your law firm and in your service to clients Knowledge Management for Law Firms is a series of articles on how law firms can leverage on their intellectual resources to gain a competitive advantage.

The series begins with the technology angle –

Part I is an introduction to the basic component of the KM Process and the role of Technology;

Part II offers a discussion on the Technology Infrastructure that facilitates knowledge capture and dissemination within your law firm and an introduction to some of the Technology Tools for effective KM;

Part III considers the “human factor” and cultural change as the underlying force for overcoming the barriers to effective KM in your law firm.

PART I – The Role of Technology in Knowledge Management

The KM process requires technology to support the capture and sharing of knowledge, promote collaboration and provide unhindered access to the information. Michael Zack, Associate Professor in Knowledge Management at University College, describes the role of technology as providing a seamless pipeline for the flow of explicit knowledge through the following four stages –

1. Capturing Knowledge;

2. Storing Knowledge

3. Defining, Categorising & Indexing Knowledge;

4. Searching & Retrieving Knowledge

Stage 1 – Acquisition and Capture

Knowledge is either created within an organisation or it is acquired from external sources. 90% of knowledge in a law firm resides in the heads and experience of its lawyers – in KM terminology; this iscalled “tacit” knowledge. As a lawyer’s “taci t” knowledge is put to use in the service of a client, hisadvice rendered in writing , in a telephone conversation or an email becomes “explicit” knowledge to be added to the Law Firm ’s collective knowledge base.

Technology which supports the process of capturing tacit knowledge and converting it into a digital format that can be stored, indexed and shared across the enterprise encompasses – word processing tools and spreadsheets, scanners and scanning software, email and fax server software. Emergent technologies in voice dictation software and video conferencing also perform this function of “coding” knowledge.

Although this point seems obvious, it bears repeating that information stored in a digital format offers the following advantages over “hard” (ie, printed) copies – 1. Electronic keyword searches enables quick access and retrieval of relevant information; 2. Ease of sharing and dissemination through email or the intranet; 3. Sensitive data can be given different levels of security access (eg, read only, read and print etc); 4. Digital information can be hyperlinked or cross-referenced to other digital objects of a similar or related matter; 5. Digital Information can be easily copied (ie, “back-ups” created) and additional copies stored in an off-site location in case of fire, sabotage by a disgruntled employee or other damage.

Stage 2 – Storage

The knowledge repository acts as a bridge between the capture and retrieval processes. Generally, knowledge repositories are your file servers, database, or intranet. Although each may comprise a distinct and separate physical tool, together they form a single, virtual knowledge repository.

All Client / Matter and Financial information should be stored in a “core” or centralised database and rendered easily accessible in the form of management reports and performance indicators that present an accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date picture of your firm’s financial position or client profile at any time.There should be only one point of entry to eliminate duplication of effort and inconsistent information. If your database does not store “one version of the truth”, this lack of respect for the integrity of your database is likely to result in time-wasting manual validation outside the system (eg, references to manual records such as payment vouchers and client notes).

Your database should be an “Open System” database that complies with ind ustry standards (eg, MS SQL, Oracle) as opposed to a proprietary custom-built database for these reasons – An open system database offers – 1. Ready support and maintenance from IT Professionals anywhere (not merely those employed or trained by the developer of a proprietary system); 2. Ease of reporting and inquiryas the requisite skills for designing customised reports will be readily available without the need for assistance from the proprietor; 3. Ease of migration of data when required – in this age of globalisation, mergers and formation of group practices are commonplace.

To put it simply, if you choose to a Practice Management System that is built on a customised database, you may find yourself held to ransom by its Developer for technical suppo r t and migration issues in the future. More significantly, the Developer’s continued viability then becomes integral to accessing your data.

Stage 3 – Organisation

To enable users to find relevant information quickly, all data stored in your repositories must be indexed and categorised in a way that facilitates its retrieval by the end -users. The “knowledge map” as defined by KM specialists is the primary means of representing the entirety of your knowledge base and the primary means of navigating the system. To be useful across the enterprise, its structure must accommodate multiple content views so that users can examine the stored knowledge according to their own contextual needs and understanding. Your KM must be structured to coincide with the way users think about and retrieve information

Maintenance – The knowledge base is bound to change and grow over time and knowledge becomes redundant as it is superceded by new knowledge. If the information stored in your knowledge banks is outdated and unreliable, it will take considerable effort on the part of the user to glean the wheat from the chaff; the end result being that your knowledge bank will soon become irrelevant in your office.

One way to ensure the currency of the information in your knowledge banks is to require the contributor and subsequent users to profile the information – by whom and when it was created; who has used it again; when and how it was used, changes (if any) that have been added to it; and even what they thought of it. A “living” precedent where commentary is readily input by users and which allows users to track its “evolution” over usage is one way to ensure that your users themselves invest in the maintenance and currency of your knowledge base.

Depending on the rate of growth of your knowledge banks, it is probably at risk of becoming cumbersome without routine housekeeping involving archiving and purging. You can automate the application of a few intelligent archiving rules to stored information, but quite likely human intervention will be required at some point to ensure that the rules being applied are current for the specific information.

Stage 4 – Retrieval

To be useful and valuable, the data in your knowledge base must be rendered easily accessible through good s earch capabilities.

However, a well-designed and efficient technology tool for carrying out a search function is only as good as the database it is searching . To ensure that your search tool throws up positive results to your searches, your database should have a well developed indexing and classification scheme, covering data in different file formats, and disparate data sources; and even incorporating content from external sources. If the search can’t provide an answer, it should at least point the user in the direction of an answer – this may be achieved through links and cross-referencing as well as direct access to external sources of information.

Lawyers are often required to solve problems and recommend solutions across different disciplines, complex work which demands more of your KM system. Typically there are 2 ways to index digital information – “full text indexing” which automatically indexes every word and “structured indexing” which indexes the data based on pre -specified attributes such as title, date, author and specific words in the text. A full text search without limiting parameters potentially delivers high volumes of irrelevant material; on the other hand structured index searches are limited to retrieving information that complies with the pre-specified data fields. An optimal answer lies in a combination of both methods.

Retrieval tools may comprise the front-end of a document management or practice management system, or the user-interface in your law firm intranet.

This user-interface to your firm’s knowledge base represents the workspace in which the user inhabits from day to day. From these screens the Managers generate management reports and performance indicators ; and your lawyers retrieve research and precedents. The success of your KM efforts may well depend on the responsiveness and ease of use of the user interface. In today’s fast paced business world, there is little time for extensive training or for reading manuals – if any system is intended for day to day use, ease o f use and navigation is critical to its adoption.

___________________________________________________________________

Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd provides Business Process & Practice Management Consultancy for Law Firms.

Bizibody’s Consultants are former lawyers and law firm knowledge managers with in depth knowledge of practice management and legal process workflows.

To contact us – email info@bizibody.biz or Call – (65) 6236 2840

WHITE PAPER – Document Automation (Part I)

More Production, Fewer Resources, Less Overheads

August 2005


 

The preparation process for a legal document could a simple letter dictated to your secretary on the fly or a complex contract running into several hundred pages involving input from several people, numerous reviews, redlining and comparison with other documents, and so on.

Typically, the starting point of a legal document could be –

(a) A blank word processing file – ie, drafting from scratch

(b) A word processing template containing standard headers and boiler-plate clauses

(c) A prior work product or “precedent” document where users “cut and paste” relevant information for the matter at hand;

(d) Selecting the appropriate content from “clause libraries” using text insertion macros

(e) Deploying specialised document assembly tools to input matter specific data into predesigned document templates

While few lawyers ever “draft from scratch”, many lawyers still produce documents the laborious oldfashioned method of printing a precedent, amending them by hand and then asking their secretary to produce a draft, then proof-reading, further corrections and so on. Most of the document preparation that takes place in your law firm today probably fall into the middle range of the continuum – using the “cut and paste” functions in MS Word on a prior work product.

Document Automation software has been widely regarded as the best thing to hit the legal profession since Word Processing; yet Law Firms in Singapore are regrettably slow in catching on to the fact that document automation reduces the cost of production; thereby creating substantial savings inchargeable time, while ensuring consistency and accuracy in work output. Document Automation Specialist, Mark Deal, writing for the TechnoLawyer summarises the benefits of document automation in succinctly – “More Production, Fewer Resources, Less Overheads”.

What does document assembly software do?

The steps involved in using an automated document software is graphically represented here –

[Insert diagram]

Document Assembly software typically “asks” the user key questions to gather the information needed to complete the document; then it performs a “mail merge” function to deliver the completed document.

They use “Precedent Templates” that contain static and dynamic areas of text, along with instructions on how to compile a completed document. Static areas of your document are parts that never change – for example, your company’s name and letterhead, boilerplate clauses, statutory forms etc.

Dynamic areas comprise matter specific data – such as date, name of parties, and optional clauses that are included conditionally. Dynamic text is determined based on the answers provided by the User in an interview format; and may also comprise “clause libraries” for variable paragraphs.

Templates identify and map such variable data fields so that data entered once is retrieved and instantly “popped” into all documents and letters for the same matter.

What are “Intelligent” Templates

Most document assembly tools today are able to – (a) ask questions to elicit sufficient information required to select the correct form(s) or clause(s) and complete the missing information in the template document; and (b) apply pre-established rules that infer from the answers given what further questions should be asked

Intelligence can be built into the templates to determine which questions to ask; perform simple or complex computations; determine grammatical issues such as singular / plural, identity (company or individual) and verb tenses; contain “require answer” intelligence to ensure that no omissions are made.

At the “template creation” level, the precedent manager is required to embed the variable field names and intelligence and rules; and to update them each time to cater for new legal or practice requirements.

Document Automation software

With over 400,000 users worldwide, HotDocs is recognized as the market leader in document automation software. Hotdocs has also won virtually every industry award – including Law Office Computing Reader’s Choice Award for Document Assembly and the TechnoLawyer Reader’s Choice Award for Document Assembly and Automation – for five consecutive years. Owned by Lexis Nexis, Hotdocs is currently deployed in over half of the AmLaw 100 Firms and one third of all UK Law Firms; as well as international corporations such as General Electric, Barclays Bank and British Airways.

There are more Hotdocs specialists offering template development services & consultancy and “ready-to-go” legal templates in Hotdocs than any other competing document assembly software.

Rapidocs is a web-enabled document assembly application that powers a host of online legal services websites providing legal forms and documents for the public on a “pay as you go” basis including MyLawyer.com (www.mylawyers.com), The Desktop Lawyer (www.desktoplawyer.co.uk),

Law Assure (www.lawassure.co.uk), Law Express.com (www.lawexpress.com).

Going one step further, Speedlegal’s “SmartPrecedent” software sets the standard for document automation on XML technology for large enterprises and government agencies.

Why use Document Automation?

Law firms need to look at document automation in the context of a larger issue – increasing profitability by reusing work products and expertise whenever you can. The fact that few lawyers (if ever) “draft from scratch” testifies to the fact that reusing prior work product saves you time and resources which can be better spent on higher value work.

The benefits are obvious for high volume low margin type legal services in the areas of mortgage loan financing, retail conveyancing, corporate secretarial services etc. These transaction are likely to be billed on a pre-negotiated “fixed fee”; margins are low precisely because the legal process (including the legal documentation involved) is considered “routine” or low risk.

In terms of profitability, Seth Rowland of Basha Systems LLC sets out 4 indicators that show your law firm could gain significant benefits from automating its documentation –

(A) if you are losing work to your competitors because your average transaction fee is greater than theirs;

(B) if you are consistently writing off billable hours on certain type of work

(C) if you are consistently exceeding budgets set by clients for particular matters

(D) if you have been compelled by market forces to adopt task-based billing or fixed fee transactions and you find that you are not profitable.

He recommends document automation as a way to reduce billable hours and internal costs; and the lawyers’ time can be spent more productively on refining the precedent templates and client care.

What Types of Documents are Ripe for Document Automation?

1. “Standard Form” contracts for high volume type of legal transaction

This is the classic “automated document” where the same contract is reused over and over in multiple matters. Eg, acting for the seller of a development project where a prescribed sale and purchase agreement is used for every transaction in the development; housing loan mortgages; prescribed statutory forms, simple wills.

2. Shared information in multiple documents for a matter

Wherever matter specific data is to be re-used over a set of documents. Document Assembly software will insert the same data into the “blanks” in each document so that the user does not have to input the data more than once.

Document automation has the added benefit of enabling “global change” in a set of related documents for that matter whenever there is a change in any matter specific variable.

Once the variable fields are in place and the revised data entered into them, the document assembly tool will re-generate the complete set of documents using the revised data in the relevant “blanks”. While the need for careful review of final documents can never be completely eliminated, the amount of “expert” lawyer time reviewing drafts for consistency and accuracy through each modification is significantly reduced.

Conclusion

In 1986, Peter Hart said this about document automation – “Explaining document assembly software to lawyers is like telling them about heaven – it’s where they want to go but not yet”. 20 years on, law firms testify that if they did not use document automation tools in their practice, they would have gone out of business. Lawyers who are hard-core technophobes see its deployment as a path to more satisfying analytical work and an opportunity to focus on client relationships and marketing.

If you are now persuaded to step through the pearly gates, read Part II on the Keys to a Successful Document Automation Project.

WHITE PAPER – Document Automation (Part II)

Keys to a successful Document Automation Project

If you consider the sheer volume of documentation that your law firm produces every day, developing templates for automating your law firm precedents may seem overwhelming. Too many practice areas and too many “types” of documents. Where should you start?

Here are some pointers to a successful Document Automation Project

(A) Decide on a suitable Pilot Project

Your aim is to establish a pilot project that is not too large in scope yet likely to yield the best results in terms of “turnover” in its production. An exercise in identifying the benefits that your firm will enjoy in automating its documents will point you in the direction of where to start – look at where the firm can benefit the most in the shortest amount of time it would take to get the precedent templates up and running. A common mistake is trying to automate the most complex documents first. These will take longer to code and likely to be used less frequently than the simpler documents.

(B) Appoint a “template development” Team

This team is responsible for “coding” the precedent templates; and should comprise – a Content Manager and a Template Developer.

Content Manager

The Content Manager’s job is to give instructions to the Template Developer on the content; including variables, optional text and rules.

During the coding process, questions will arise regarding the content of the documents to be coded. The Content Manager must be able to address these issues; establish variable-naming conventions and rules; make decisions on which documents should be “combined” in the template and the desired level of “intelligence” to be built in. The Content Manager is usually a lawyer or an experienced paralegal with in-depth working knowledge of the documents and they way they are used in practice.

Template Developer

The Template Developer may be an outsourced document automation specialist or a legal secretary trained to “code” your precedent templates using the specific document automation software you have purchased. It is important that your candidate has an understanding of the content and the end-result.

Having provided technical training in Hotdocs Professional to a large number of trainees, it has been our experience that legal secretaries with good word processing skills, a logical mind and an aptitude for learning make the best candidates for this job. Expecting your IT personnel to undertake template development without an understanding of its contents is tantamount to expecting your IT staff to draft a legal document because it involves the use of a computer!

Vital to the success of your project is to give your team sufficient time and resources to dedicate to this task. Do not expect your Template Development Team to carry a full workload in addition to getting your law firm’s Document Automation project off the ground in their “spare time” – its not going to happen! To get the most from your Developer, the key is the investment of comprehensive hands-on training in the use of the software; sufficient “learning” time while he/she familiarises herself with the documents; and uninterrupted time to code the documents thereafter.

Outsourcing to the Professionals

Document automation specialists are professionals who combine technical software skills with working understanding of the documents and the end-result. They can help you get your document automation project off the ground instantly by developing your “core” or first set of templates according to your specifications. With adequate training, your own in-house developer can then use these professionally customised templates as a base from which to develop other templates.

To Outsource or Go In-House?

Consider the availability of resources within your law firm and the real cost of training and deploying your in-house resources to the project. If you forsee a long term on-going document automation project, it will be more cost-effective to train and dedicate an in-house Developer to the project.

Consider also that templates will need to be revised and updated to cater for changes in practice or statutory requirements. For expediency and to facilitate the roll-out, most of our clients hire us to code one set of templates for a specific area of practice; while sending their most able staff for Template Developer training so that the firm is empowered to embark on their own template development project on other area of practice.

(C) Gather your Precedents

After you have appointed your team, gather as many precedents as you can, including actual client documents. By examining these, you will discern repeated revisions to boiler-plate clauses, lawyerspecific styles, client requirements, and variations to the standard. This will help you to consider possible variations to your “master” template. However, do not expect your Template to cater to all situations, or you might well find yourself spending far too much time over creating one “super intelligent” template. Exercise some discernment and discard concessions made for the “one-off” transactions tailored to client-specific requirements.

(D) Identify Variables & Input Optional Text

Variables must be named identically across the set of precedent templates if the same data is to be populate throughout the set (eg, Registered Proprietor’s name must appear consistently across all the Land Titles Forms). Unless you establish a naming convention and a pre-established list of all variable names, you may well find your coding team merrily creating their own variable names that are different from each other.

Optional text refers to the “built-in” intelligence in your precedent template comprising a series of “IF” or True / False statements. The degree of intelligence in your templates depends on how complex

your instructions are. You can build in as many “IF” statements as there factual situations that the template may conceivably be applied to; but remember to apply the cardinal rule – the more complex a template, more time will be spent testing it to ensure that it produces the correct result across all combinations of input from your user. Also the more time to spend building one “super intelligent” template, the less time you have for other documents and may eventually delay your project roll-out.

At the very outset, even before the Template Developer commences “coding” the templates, the variables, optional text and other intelligence in the precedent documents should have been identified and communicated to him / her. There is no right or wrong way to “mark-up” a document for automation. I have seen some of my clients use scribbled notes and arrows on hard copies to great effect. The most important thing is for the Content Manager to have reviewed ALL the relevant precedents thoroughly, establish the naming convention and communicate the required “intelligence” in the templates to the Developer.

To facilitate this communication, I would also strongly recommend that the Content Manager familiarise himself with the software functions (and all its possibilities). This way, the Content Manager will be empowered to use appropriate terminology when giving instructions to the Template Developer on the precise desired effect (e.g., prompts, repeats, dialogues, “if / else if” statements etc).

Developing your law firm precedents is an intensely collaborative effort between the Content Manager and Template Developer. The Content Manager should always be available to the Developer when questions arise during the development process. Clear lines of communication between the team may save a great deal of time and frustration later on in the testing and final roll-out.

(E) Testing & Roll Out

After the first few Templates are ready, it is a good idea for the Content Manager to “test” them. This will allow the Content Manager to identify areas of miscommunication and catch any errors in the design of the “intelligence”. Very often, template sets require the same variables and intelligence to be deployed across all the documents in the same set. Testing each template as you go along will facilitate “global” modifications or enhancements early on in the process.

The final phase before you roll-out is to test the entire set of templates. It is critical that the templates are fully tested for incorrect end-results or inconsistencies. Otherwise your end-users may find themselves wasting time correcting the merged document. Distrust in your templates is harder to overcome than initial unfamiliarity with a new technology tool.

Involve your Law Firm’s IT personnel in establishing a proper testing environment; and ensure that they are able to provide support to your end-users after the roll-out. The IT department should know the proper location and file extensions of the Templates, Answer files (or database) and the merged documents; as well as have an understanding of the interaction of the document assembly tools with

the current word processing software deployed in the law firm.

(F) End User Training

The importance of end-user training cannot be sufficiently emphasised. After an investment in time and money in a sophisticated document assembly system containing your own law firm precedent templates, you will want your documentation clerks to USE IT WELL. The best way to ensure this is to give them proper “hands on” training; so that they learn not only how to use the software but also change in business process that it entails – where their files are saved, how to make changes to the final documents, how to access the data files etc. Give them a sense of ownership in the project by establishing proper avenues for feedback on usability of the templates and the software.

Finally, expect your template development project to be an ongoing one.

Templates need to be updated to keep up with changes in practice, statutory requirements or client driven demands. Feedback from the end-users is the most effective way to ensure that your templates evolve and continue to be relevant to the practice.

Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd are certified Hotdocs Resellers. We have rolled out a complete set of Automated Documents for Conveyancing Practice in Singapore and Debt Recovery Practice in Malaysia using Hotdocs6. We also provide Template Development Consulting & Services and Hotdocs Professional Training for Template Developers. Since the launch of Hotdocs in Singapor and Malaysia in 2003, we have empowered more than 23 law firms in document automation.

Author – Sylvia Low has practiced law in both large and small firms in Singapore. With over 10 years experience of solicitors work in the field of conveyancing, banking and commercial law, she leads the Bizibody Lawdocs Development team that creates precedent templates for use with Lawdocs.

MENU TITLE