As litigation firms adjust to a distributed workforce and unpredictable revenue streams in the age of Covid-19, many must rapidly learn how to simplify their business operations for the months ahead.
The answer isn’t the “robot lawyers” of your legal blog nightmares. But it may well be automation of more menial processes.
Today, most law office tasks that can be more effectively accomplished via automation than human labor are still relatively simple. What’s more, they tend to help enhance the value of legal support professionals by freeing them up for more meaningful case work.
Not sure where to start at your firm? Look first at these common examples.
1. Filling out court forms
Some law practice management software systems, such as Smokeball and LEAP, come with court form libraries, which allow forms to be generated automatically with information pre-filled from the software. Others may include tools for building custom forms on your own that meet your courts’ specifications.
Either method can reduce or even eliminate the tedious task of filling out required court forms by hand. But even if you don’t have access to a form library or form builder, there are ways to fill forms automatically using data from a spreadsheet report.
Microsoft Word’s “mail-merge” feature allows you to set custom fields in a Word document that can be populated with information from a spreadsheet column, then copied to produce a different document for each row in the spreadsheet. There are similar features available as third-party plugins for Adobe Acrobat, often for a nominal fee.
2. Retrieving and organizing file-stamped copies
When an electronic filing is returned with file-stamped copies, the court clerk will typically notify you via email. This email may include a link to download the documents, or you may have to search through your e-filing service provider (EFSP)’s filing history so you can download and transfer them to your matter record.
If your practice management software is integrated with InfoTrack, none of that work is necessary. File-stamped copies automatically upload to your matter as soon as the court releases them.
3. Filing notices or proofs-of-service
When a court filing requires explicit notice of an event to be documented—for example, in a notice-of-motion or proof-of-service—you might not have to start an entirely new filing.
In some jurisdictions, the court’s website or filing process may include an option to automatically generate and file the required document. Alternatively, this might be a local feature of your e-filing service provider.
Even if automatic filing is not possible in your jurisdiction, form libraries or form builders can help you draft the form itself, eliminating one step in the process.
Knowing each court’s deadlines for appearances and other mandated events can be daunting, especially if the clerk’s website is disorganized or updated infrequently. Services like CalendarRules (available via InfoTrack) allow you to save mandated events or deadlines as calendar items in Outlook or your matter record, so you don’t have to create reminders on your own.
5. Obtaining signatures
In early 2020, e-signature solutions exploded in popularity in response to social distancing requirements of the covid-19 pandemic. But many firms had implemented this technology well beforehand to reduce delays and extra steps (i.e. printing, faxing) when multiple parties need to sign a document.
eSignature platforms like DocuSign, Adobe Sign and PandaDoc are useful enough as stand-alone products, allowing you to designate signature areas on a PDF, securely send it for review and distribute final copies to a group.
Integrating them with your practice management software via services like SignIT may confer additional benefits, such as the ability to choose documents directly from your matter and sync back fully executed copies.
Share your ideas
Does your firm use other types of automation to reduce grunt work and keep litigation running efficiently? Share them in the comments below.