Category: HotDocs

Must Software Evolve?

It has been a year and a half since Capsoft UK (based in Scotland) purchased the HotDocs division from LexisNexis, and the combined entity became HotDocs Limited .  In this time period, HotDocs came out with a major release of its server product, including enhancements for integration with sharepoint, as well as a “shrink-rapped” portal for HotDocs Server.  By switching from Javascript to the Silverlight engine, HotDocs was able to vastly speed up the rendering time for complex document assembly interviews.  These high-end products put HotDocs squarely in line for the corporate general counsel market and for high-end law firms seeking to avoid the cost of desktop deployment of software.  HotDocs provided partner training for the server product, and invested R&D in bringing the Server product up to near parity with its desktop product.

On the desktop side, the changes were more on branding, than on improvements.  HotDocs 10 was released to handle compatibility with the release of Microsoft Office 2010.  HotDocs 2009, developed under the tenure of LexisNexis, did a major switch to XML component files and to Unicode (t0 support foreign languages).  However, there was little in the way of new features or options in either HotDocs 2009 or HotDocs 10.  On the marketing front, HotDocs Professional (with HotDocs PDF Advantage) became HotDocs Developer (at $800) .  HotDocs Standard became HotDocs Developer Lite (now at $500).  And a new product HotDocs User (at $300), a “player edition” of HotDocs that could only be used to assemble documents was introduced.

HotDocs has over 500,000 users according to the HotDocs website.  It is a product that has revolutionized the practice of law.  It has dramatically increased the productivity of thousands of lawyers as well as their profitability.  We have used it internally, and have built systems with it for nearly 15 years and so have an intimate knowledge of the product and its capabilities.

Some say it is “nearly perfect”.  Others that it is the “Gold Standard”.  What is true, is that all other document assembly systems are to be measured against it.  “I can do it in HotDocs … Why can’t I do it with your product?”   There are so many features to the product and so many capabilities.  And yet, no program is perfect.  Software evolves as new needs arise, as the product is put to new uses.  New ideas generate new solutions to old problems.  There needs to be some “new reason” to get the product, some sense that  the product is dynamic, growing and evolving.  Microsoft Office is being supplanted by GoogleDocs and OpenOffice, or OS-X version of Microsoft Word, and yet HotDocs templates can not be developed in those environments.  Law firm web sites are morphing into “portals” through which clients and prospects communicate with their Attorneys, and yet HotDocs does not have a low-cost web-service that allows law firms to integrate their web-data, their practice-management systems and their document assembly systems.  In our new “connected” world, dominated by “social networks” our legal software needs to evolve.

Time Matters 11 – HotDocs Active Integration (Bug Fix)

President of Basha Systems

The Author

For 15 years I have been working with HotDocs and Time Matters, working to ensure the smooth data-flow between those 2 programs.  We have used several methods, including (1) template registration and field mapping, (2) active integration (lookup from HotDocs), and (3) SQL database integration.  But realize our surprise on a recent Time Matters 11 upgrade to a long-time client when the Active Integration ceased to work.  Rather than getting a Contact list or Matter list when we ran our HotDocs interview, we got a picklist, with NO DATA.  Quelle disaster!!

But, luckilly, there is an easy solution.  The issue has to do with a failure in TM11 to properly register Time Matters application in the section of the registry for HotDocs.  You have the choice of MANUALLY editing the registry.  Or, you can save the text below to a TEXT file in NotePad.  Call it “TM11-HotDocs10 Registrity Fix.reg”.  And then execute it on all workstation.

     Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
     [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\HotDocs\HotDocs\Answer Sources]
     "Time Matters - Contact"="c:\\Program Files\\LexisNexis\\Time Matters 11\\TMHDASC7.DLL"
     "Time Matters - Matter"="c:\\Program Files\\LexisNexis\\Time Matters 11\\TMHDASA7.DLL"

Disaster averted.  There are of course other issues that come with the upgrade.  But this one will make your life much easier.

BTW … Welcome to my new blog.  Basha Systems LLC has moved their blog from ExpressionEngine to WordPress.  We have also consolidated all our Tips Blogs (for HotDocs, GhostFill and Time Matters) into the main blog.  However, for those looking for timps, you can still use a menu item or subscribe to just a category.  Cheers, Seth.

Upon Returning from Banff

I have just returned from the Amicus 2010 Consultants conference in Banff.  They were kind enough to invite me to speak on document assembly to their consultants and to demonstrate how Amicus Attorney can support and facilitate complex document assembly workflow.  The setting, high in the Canadian Rockies, was nothing short of spectacular.  Some days were sunny and warm (I wore T-shirt and shorts) and other days it snowed.  But what was real exciting was the transformation from Amicus Attorney from the “warm familiar” attorney practice management system that “anyone” can use into a powerful, fully customizable, extensible workflow powerhouse.

Workflow Possibilities

I took several days to prepare for my session, evaluating just how far and how easily Amicus could be modified to support complex workflow.  The answer was that “within constraints” there was no limit to how far it could be customized.  Customization is permitted on Contacts and Files in the form of “Custom Pages”.  Each custom page can be designed.  All field types are supported.  You can layout the prompts and the data entry boxes in any fashion you want.  You can (and are recommended) to use the same fields across multiple file types.  However, you can apply them in a different order, in a different grouping, and on different pages across multiple file types.  You also have “custom records” which can be used on files and contacts, with no restriction on the number and type of custom records.

This is all done without substantially altering the familiar look and feel of Amicus.  But in the process, it truly transforms the product.  Gone are the limit of 50 custom fields for Files and 20 custom fields for contacts (assuming of course you are using Premium Edition).  In preparation for the session I prepared 3 custom pages with a total of 100 custom fields of various types including dates, picklists, checkboxes, text, and memo fields.  I also added custom pages for contacts on the file.  And I created two new record types.  It was all done rapidly.  I was able to define the field names, the prompts, the size of the text boxes, the location on the page, and even use alignment fields to make everything “pretty”.  I was also able to add text label boxes to provide further clarification.

The fun begins

This would have been enough, but the focus of my presentation was document assembly.  Amicus lets you access all the fields, including custom fields, in both “merge templates” and through HotDocs.  The merge template builder gives you access to the custom data on the file with fields grouped by file type.  If you are “rigorous” on your field naming, your field lists can self organize by subject area.

As for HotDocs, Amicus takes full advantage of the HotDocs API.  You can use a default “map file” which will automatically create a HotDocs component file will all the data on the file (with the exception of custom records at the present time).  This include all matter data, including custom fields, all data on the “primary client” including custom fields, basic information on people on file (in a repeat) and special fields for data on events, tasks, notes, calls etc.  It creates a CMP file and will generate the requisite answer file without any mapping required.  That doesn’t prevent you from creating your own custom maps to an existing set of HotDocs templates.  Nor does it prevent an advanced HotDocs developer from creating his or her own master component file and using an INSERT command to bring the interview into the template.

Even more exciting is the ability made possible by SQL Server that ships with Premium Edition.  You can create a database component in HotDocs and “query” the database for any data that is not coming over automatically.  You can use the Short Filename in your query to go back and grab more related data. Or, you can build your own dynamic reporting system.

Conclusion

As you can see, it was a busy few days.  I learned a lot about Amicus and met a lot of great new consultants and made some new friends.  In my standing room only presentation, it is my hope that I have excited them as much about document assembly and its possibilities, as I am now excited about Amicus.

Document Assembly – The Contenders

When you think “document assembly” for law firms, who do you think of?  For many years, there has been a single answer, HotDocs.  This is not because of any great marketing effort by LexisNexis (the former owners of HotDocs). Rather, it was a combination of “automated forms” delivered by LexisNexis and a grass-roots movement of lawyers and consultants building systems from the ground up with a “cheap” software tool.  It was word of mouth that caused the spread of HotDocs, one license at a time.  Now that HotDocs is “established”, who are the contenders.  I was given the following list of contenders: ActiveDocs, Business Integrity/Dealbuilder, Epoq/Rapidocs, Exari, Korbitec/GhostFill, Napersoft, Pathagoras, SoftPowerHouse/PowerReuse, Thunderhead, and Zumesoft.  It is interesting that despite my 15 years in the business, this list failed to include some interesting contenders, but also included some contenders I had never heard of.  So, who are these contenders?

The text below is drawn directly from the website of these vendors.

ActiveDocs

ActiveDocs Opus facilitates the simple and effective creation of your essential business documents and the automation of a wide range of mission critical communications. A scalable, affordable, high-performance document production solution, ActiveDocs Opus enables you to quickly create accurate, professional documents that meet a variety of business needs.

Business Integrity / Dealbuilder

Business Integrity launches ContractExpress.com, the world’s first premium document assembly product to be delivered exclusively as “software as a service,” requiring no set-up costs or infrastructure. ContractExpress.com builds on Business Integrity’s trusted DealBuilder technology, which is used by many of the world’s leading law firms and corporate legal departments.

Epoq/ Rapidocs

- Rapidly automates legal and business documents
- Creates dynamic and interactive interviews
- Delivers to end-users instantly in the browser
- Displays real time document changes live to the user
- Supports all popular web browsers
- Handles both text and PDF forms
- Offers ‘try before you buy’ technology for your customers

Exari

Exari accelerates your contracts, reduces costs and risks, and streamlines authoring complex documents.  …. With Exari, business people create their own legally pre-approved documents and agreements by completing a web-browser interview. It eliminates the need to wait for the legal department while still providing legal compliance and contract visibility. Exari saves time, lowers costs, improves document quality and minimizes risk. Exari contract creation and contract management solutions are used by leading companies to automate various document types including those used in sales, insurance, and banking.

Korbitec /Ghostfill

GhostFill is no longer offered directly for sale.  However, GhostFill is embedded in several applications, including AIA Forms, DWTA, and Nebraska Probate System V.

GhostFill is one of Korbitec’s flagship document assembly software engines, and has over the last decade been utilized in thousands of document-centric software solutions at law firms, banks, publishers and other institutions, world-wide.

Napersoft

Napersoft CCM (Customer Communication Management) solutions streamline business processes for document creation, personalization, publishing, distribution and archiving. Quickly & easily create complex real-time customer documents, including correspondence, letters, emails, notices, alerts and confirmations and distribute them via print, email or the Web.

Pathagoras

Pathagoras™ is a multi-faceted document authoring tool. First and foremost, Pathagoras is a ‘Plain-text based’ document automation system.  In just two clicks, using your current collection of documents, Pathagoras can present a list of forms or clauses on a designated topic. From that list, you would select an appropriate form, group of forms, or a subset of clauses to be assembled One more click presents your selections, fully assembled, onto the editing screen for final processing.  No complex or time consuming setups are required. You can create automated documents within 5 minutes of installation. You will begin cutting document produc-tion time immediately.

SoftPowerHouse/PowerReuse

PowerReuse is a document assembly software designed for boosting productivity for professionals (lawyers, insurance agents, real estate agents, project managers, sales, marketers and consultants) in small and medium-sized companies. Taking advantage of its patent pending technology, it organizes related Word, Excel and PowerPoint files into projects for better accessibility, updates many documents at a time and pastes pieces of text from the created library by simple drag & drop. The functions ensure accuracy and consistency of all your documents.

Thunderhead

[With the CorrespondNOW module] customer communications are as personal as they get with this module, which allows you to create individual ‘ad hoc’ communications quickly and simply. Streamline correspondence creation, allowing your customer service teams to respond more quickly and efficiently to customer inquiries while bringing new levels of control to the desktop.

Zumesoft

WordFusion is an advanced web-based Document Assembly Platform.  In very simple terms, WordFusion allows you to automate document templates, and then distribute them within your organisation or across the internet. WordFusion also provides work-flow management for the preparation, review, payment and finalisation of documents. This enables professionals from a number of disciplines to effectively collaborate on the production of a document. In essence, WordFusion is a project management tool, to connect you with your clients and other professional partners, to efficiently collaborate on the production of sophisticated and high-value documents.

There were a few MORE that should rightly have been on the list.

XpressDox Docussembly

XpressDox Docussembly™ saves you time, saves you money.  XpressDox Docussembly™ is a document assembly system that will help you become more productive when creating repetitive documents. Using XpressDox, you can easily create a template that asks you for only the information which changes. This improves your efficiency and effectiveness, and ensures that all documents you create conform to your organization’s standards. The result is faster, more accurate documents, which saves you time. And saving you time means saving you money, too.

ActiveWords

ActiveWords relates words and actions, giving you instant access, making you more productive, and improving the quality of your work.

Memba Genesis

The Memba Contract Management Platform is constituted of three main components which work integrated or independently. Memba Genesis Editor is the editor of contractual documents and templates. Memba Genesis Formation Server supports contract drafting and negotiation. Memba Genesis Execution Server supports portfolio and diary management.

Intelledox Enterprise

Intelledox Enterprise is the fully featured Intelledox document creation software solution. Built on Microsoft technology, Intelledox Enterprise is a user-friendly, document creation solution that enables the fast, accurate and compliant production of documents; tailored to individual business requirements and delivery methods.

DrawLoop Technologies

Drawloop is a complete document automation service. We help businesses, organizations and individuals close more deals, increase revenue and improve productivity through automating document creation. In minutes, you can web-enable the same Microsoft Office files your business has been using for years. There is no hardware or software to buy, install or maintain. All you need is your documents and a web browser!

Ultimus

Ultimus automates and simplifies key business processes so you can dedicate more time to your business and customers. Ultimus’ Business Process Improvement Suite reduces the potential for human error, eliminates waste, and decreases the amount of paperwork companies use on a daily basis. Moving far beyond standard workflow automation, Ultimus (Business Process Management) BPM Software provides a flexible solution that connects technology systems to enable data sharing and enhanced visibility throughout your entire organization

Ultimus has automated more business processes than any other BPM software provider worldwide and has over 15 years experience helping organizations across many different industries implement business process optimization. We have more than 1,900 customers and thousands of process templates to enhance every division of your company.

*This list is by no means an endorsement of any or all of these products.  As independent document assembly specialists since 1996, we have worked with a number of these products.  Our entrepreneurial clients have generally favored HotDocs as the best dollar value, given its historical pricing.  However, over the years we have partnered with GhostFill, DealBuilder, and Exari on projects, and we have carefully evaluated a number of other products.  Any decision on a document assembly platform should at least consider these contenders.

Merge Templates and Clause Libraries

Early Days of Automobiles

In the early days of the auto industry, a team of mechanics would put together a car in a week.  This was no mean feat of engineering.  In many cases, the car would have “custom parts”.  There would be “user” preferences.  And there was the inevitable unintended variation.  To achieve efficiencies (and thereby profits which was the ultimate goal), the engineers would create a template (a master design) with instructions to be “manually” completed by the engineers.  Further efficiencies were achieved by laying out the workspace; adding labeled shelves with all the key auto parts.  Some items were “pre-assembled” or partially assembled, leaving a few remaining steps that could be used for customization.  Nevertheless, it required a team of skilled engineers to put together a car.  Quality control was a matter of “experience” and not something that could be measured.  Each car had a unique character.  And of course, cars were expensive; in fact, too expensive for most people to afford.

Early Days of Document Assembly

In many ways, the early days of automobiles resembled most law firm’s view of document automation.  The more “efficient” firms have recognized that Word or WordPerfect templates can make them more productive.  These “templates” are partially constructed documents that contain the bare bones of the ultimate legal instruments that are the stock and trade of lawyers.  More advanced firms have added “merge fields” to these documents allowing some user input at the assembly phase.  The user can “fill in” the blanks with prompts.  Some have “organized” the shelving in the the assembly room, by grouping clauses into clause libraries.  A skilled practitioner then reviews the clauses and selects the one the he or she feels fits the bill.  Some will fit; others won’t.  And the skilled practitioner then adjusts the part to make the proper fit.

In many cases, each attorney has his or her own assembly space.  Each attorney or paralegal organizes his space differently, populating it with different parts.  The actual organization is generally understood only by the individual. The implication is that the individual can be more efficient, but the individual is not easily replaced. And moreover, the individual cannot dramatically improve his productivity.  Gains in productivity are “incremental” as opposed to arithmetic or exponential.  These “workspaces” are often confined to the users “computer profile” which stores their favorite documents.

To help lawyers in these efforts, there are features of Microsoft Word and WordPerfect.  There are some add-on tools that amounts to clause libraries with fill-in fields.  These adhoc tools enable the skilled practitioner to be more efficient; but also entail a great deal of technical learning to accomplish for fairly limited productivity gains.  This piecemeal approach to document production is doomed to limited gains. Such programs as Pathagoras, Microsystems D3, Ixio qShift, ThinkDocs, ClauseBank all embodied this approach.

The Present and Future of Document Automation

Document Assembly tools are NOT new.  HotDocs has been around a long time (on 20 years).  It was preceded by CAPSAuthor, Visual WorkForm, PowerTXT, and MasterDraft.  Other programs such as GhostFill, ThinkDocs,and SmartWords are no longer available or supported, There are several other programs available, including Exari, ContractExpress, and XpressDox.

These programs, however, are different from the early days in that they support true logic.  That means that decision trees can be built into these systems to result in dramatic improvements in both quality and quantity of the output. These systems support “rule-based” document assembly, true templates, and “dynamic interviews”. They support arrays, computations, and calculations.  This newer breed of document assembly tools (Contract Express, Exari and HotDocs) include a “relevance engine” that can look at the document markup and determine the relevant questions to present to the user.  This change in these engines is nothing short of revolutionary.  It is a baby step towards the thinking machine.  But the real revolution is that it simplifies the process of creating complex templates.  By putting all the clauses in (or linked to) a master template, you can now add simple rules that will bring in the appropriate language.  Far from simplifying the “outputs” with one model fits all, Rule-based document assembly enables unlimited customization while retaining quality control.


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