Affording Document Assembly: the Group Approach

As a document assembly consultant, I am often contacted by solo or small attorney firms who are overloaded with work, champing at the bit to get a Document Assembly system, realize the value but are understandably nervous at the cost. And, they should be. Creation of a good document assembly system is expensive in both time and money. Your law school education wasn’t cheap, setting up your office wasn’t cheap and setting up a potential profit generating document assembly system that will become absolutely integral to your practice won’t be cheap either.


So what do you do – bite the bullet and get your money back on the ROI or give up? Here’s a possible third solution – Group development. Two or three lawyers with similar practices might be able to create a system that all of them can use and share the development cost. This, of course, requires collaboration, cooperation and a willingness to compromise. It’s a midpoint between buying a pre-canned system and getting one custom made for your own needs.

If you decide to go with this approach, the first thing you should do is find a developer to build it for you. It’s a very bad idea for 3 or 4 busy lawyers to try to build pieces of a document assembly system and hope they’ll hang together properly. You need a central expert who will advise your group, develop the templates and interviews and make sure everything works with everything else.

After that, devising a group document assembly system is similar to devising one for a single firm. You need to determine the universe of documents that will be automated, set up meetings with the developer and designate an expert from your group to work with the developer.  For the period of development, think of your group as one firm.

Some ideas for setting up your group:

1. KEEP IT SIMPLE. When choosing the attorneys for your group, stay in your area of expertise. DO NOT grab the real estate lawyer from down the street, the PI guy from next door and the estate lawyer from down the hall. These are very different areas of law with very different automation and document gathering needs. Stay within your area – if you’re basically a PI litigation firm, go to other PI lawyers to make up your group.

2. KEEP IT SMALL. It may seem that a system like yours would be good for the 20 other PI lawyers in town. Ever been in a meeting with 20 people? Doesn’t work very well for general consensus, does it? Don’t bring in more than 4 other attorneys.

The bottom line is – We, Basha Systems have been in business since 1996. In that time, we have never seem anyone remove or stop using a document assembly system. Once they’re built, people use them and use them. So, if price is what’s stopping you . . . try the Group approach to keep your costs in line.

All Thumbs

Last week I stubbed my thumb … And while this may not have seemed like a major injury, I came to realize the cost on my productivity.

The thumb is something that we take for granted.  And we use the phrase:  “we are all thumbs”.  This phrase usually refers to clumsiness.  The reality is that the thumb (in opposition to the other fingers in the hand) is a very precise and versatile instruments.

Last week I stubbed my thumb.  The injury led to an infection.  Over the course of a day a blister appeared and spread.  The green puss grew.  My knuckle started to ache.  And by the end of the day, my whole hand was sore.  I could not enjoy the new Wii Console we had bought for my sons.  I could not even type effectively.  In fact, I tried to relearn the way I used the keyboard to avoid using my thumb.  Try to train yourself not to use your left thumb for the Spacebar, Alt and Control keys.

By the next day, the growth of the infection had stopped, but my thumb was a pretty ugly site … It was covered with a layer of green and red puss under the skin.  My children would not touch me for fear of infection.  I could waive my magic thumb, and they would instantly loose their appetites … great for dieting.  The little infection still has a scar over a week later as the skin underneath is healing.  I am now a little more cautious with my thumb and have gained more respect for the critical role of the lowly thumb.

If Santa had a Practice Management System

If Santa had a practice management system … what would he do?  As the population grows, Santa’s elves have been hard-pressed to keep up with “the List” (you know the one …of who is naughty and who is nice) and provide fast and accurate responses.  The elves have been working overtime (they always do) as the big day approaches. But the List is just too long.  Keeping the list current is a gargantuan task.  Just finding all the parchment and ink requires daily shipments for Ink from India and parchment from Sri Lanka (Yes … Santa is part of the global economy). So … what if we gave Santa a practice management system?  As a non-profit, Santa might even be eligible for software discounts or a NFR license to LNFOPBTM.

Related Link:

So … Let’s look at the situation from a practice management consultant’s eye.  We need status records on 2 billion children.  We need to generate instant reports on who is naughty and who is nice.  With the rise of litigation, some naughty children have been appealing the determination of naughtiness (they don’t particularly like coal). And so, we have needed to open an audit file on each child to keep track of communications regarding each child’s activities.  These notes, of course, are discoverable, so we need some document retention policy.  And given the time it takes to do appeals, the typical 1 month retention policy for emails is too short.

Personally, I think these “coal appeals” are frivilous on two grounds.  First, there is no harm from the determination.  There is no claim on a contingent expectation of generous gifts, particularly where the determination is entirely discretionary; under the arbitration review standard, the one which is applied to coal appeals, no claim should survive (unless the judge has been bribed) on preliminary motions.  Second, it is frivolous, as the supplied coal is far more valuable than any gift that would be supplied by Santa.  With the current price of oil, any kid could take his lump of coal to the nearest savings and loan, and trade it in for cold hard cash.  Coal assets these days are far more value than real estate …. at least the price is appreciating.

So back to Santa’s workshop.  Everyone knows that even frivolous appeals do get litigated, and therefore the data needs to be managed.  And so, Santa and his elves would be better served by a Practice Management system or Case Management System.  My company has produced an Estate Planning Management System for estate attorneys (see link).  We could undertake the Workshop as a client.

We would start them on Time Matters Enterprise. SQL server would be required and some fairly powerful Quad Core Xeon processors. The complexity of the determination of naughty and nice would work with a stripped down basic contact form … in essence a Client Record, since we really have only one Client (Santa). For each appeal, we would open a Matter to track the status and proceedings in the litigation. Each communication and note regarding the “Client kid” would be tracked in the system, whether a note, an email, or a phone call.  We would keep a history of determinations on the second tab, showing the determination for each age up to majority (common … will ya … After ya hit 18 Santa stops keeping tabs).

Then we need to redirect the elves to a proper assessment process.  Let’s have none of these off-the-cuff determinations!  With a Case management system, our process is discoverable.  And the more open the process, the more transparent the method of determination, the less likely appeals will be overturned … hell even get into court.  And so, with the 2008 Santa’s Workshop Management System (“SWMS”), there will be a new regime.  The SWMS includes customized Contact Powerviews that let you review with one click.  Just after Thanksgiving, all notes, calls, events and tasks of each kid as recorded by the busy elves.

This report is printed out; reviewed separately by three elves to make an independent determination.  In the case of any dissenting votes, the report is passed up to a committee of 12 reindeer who decide by simple majority.  In the case of a tie, Santa is called in as the tie-breaker.  All proceedings are recorded in the SWMS.  Once a determination is final, the contact is flagged for the appropriate Santa’s list, and the gift determinations are also recorded and sent to the warehouse of Santa’s Workshop.  With just-in-time inventory processing, these warehouse order are then passed on to the production floor of Santa’s Workshop and then onto the fulfillment provision to get ready for shipment.

We anticipate that with the Santa’s Workshop, the Workshop should easily be able to meet the rising tide of litigation over “Coal Appeals”, and even shut down completely for the January and February mid-winter break from all the efficiency savings.  If you find elves wind-surfing in St. Barts this January … you will know that the Santa’s Workshop Management System is in place and doing its job for happy children around the work.

The End of Censorship in China and CIC Guidelines

In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, it was reported that China had ended a policy of official censorship of the press.  Said the Chinese Government official. We believe that our journalists are responsible journalist who understand what is in the best interests of China.  As such, we no longer require that all news copy be reviewed by government censors prior to publication. This was exciting news … but it required a reading of the fine print to understand what had happened. And the more I read the fine print, the more I realized that something similar had happened in America, both in the public press and other forums of commercial speech.

What China has done is replace the explicit censorship with voluntary guidelines.  The guidelines focus not on what can and cannot be printed, but on more nebulous understanding of what would be in the “best interests of China”.  In the enforcement of guidelines, China has turned to the “editors and journalists” to self-police.  The editors “know” what types of articles might upset the powers that be, and then “gently” steer the reporters to topics that are “more favored” by the powers that be.  The effect is much happier journalists and much happier bureaucrats.

Gone are the “confrontations” and “adversary” posts that are the usual fairs of relations between the FIRST ESTATE and the FOURTH ESTATE.  By enlisting the FOURTH ESTATE in the process, the rivalry is reduced to the “cutting desk” of the newsroom—a much quiter and less public place.  This is true because the valuable media franchise (TV and major newspapers) are owned by corporate interests that benefit greatly from the Chinese national government.  The corporate interests have much more to loose than getting a few words edited out of a report—their very franchises are at stake.

As a reporter explains in the article—we have a pretty good idea what will be liked and not liked.  So the censors pretty much leave us alone.  It is really easy.  We feel free from close attention to our writing and the government gets out the business of editing news reports.

In America … we have moved to a “corporate-owned press”.  We do not have express censorship. But we do have owners of media conglomerates who care deeply what the current administration thinks about what they right.  This is not new.  In fact. in “Good Luck, and Good Night,” Edward R. Murrow confronted CBS management in his decision on whether to air on his show criticism of Joe McCarthy and his campaign to “out the Communists”.  Then CEO Paley ultimately permitted the series, however at the cost of eliminating Edward R. Murrow’s regular show in place of “more entertaining” and “more profitable” broadcasts.

When it comes to discussion forums, these have been traditionally free from corporate economic “constraints”.  The moderators would review posts to block out spammers (yes they exist), but generally allowed free-spirited debate.  LexisNexis in setting up the Time Matters CIC forums—and they were set up with knowledge, support and consent of the Time Matters division of Lexis Nexis—sought to encourage an atmosphere that was supportive of the Time Matters product suite.  The result was the set of guidelines (developed by a group of “Certified Independent Consultants”—one of whom did a stint as Time Matters Vice-President of Sales).

Let us look at the Guidelines:

The purpose of the LexisNexis Practice Management forum is to establish and maintain an online community where LexisNexis Time Matters, PC Law & HotDocs users and consultants can come together to share knowledge about our Practice Management applications, tailor these applications to individual needs, and develop specialized solutions.

So far so good … My emphasis.

This forum is managed and moderated solely by LexisNexis Practice Management Certified Independent Consultants (CICs) and is for the benefit of licensed LexisNexis® Practice Management customers as well as other CICs. CICs are not employees, agents, representatives, resellers, or contractors for LexisNexis®. CICs are independent professionals whose primary focus is the training and support of customers. LexisNexis® provides the infrastructure to host the forum, but does not participate in the management or moderation of the forum.

Again … the Chinese model of Censorship.  But note that CIC’s do have “resale” rights for software and would qualify as “authorized resellers” under law.  We were required to execute a contract with LexisNexis to be part of the CIC program.

There is no cost for using this forum and a support agreement is not required. However, you must be a licensed user of LexisNexis® Practice Management products and conform to the protocols of the forum to participate.

Note the focus on protocols. So far so good.

In order to establish a positive, constructive environment in which issues can be addressed, all posts are reviewed by the forum’s volunteer CIC moderators before being distributed. Message content will not be edited, augmented, or changed. Messages not in compliance with the objectives of the forum will simply not be posted to the forum by the moderators and individuals who repeatedly attempt to post such messages may have their access to the forum restricted or terminated.

Here is the “meat” of the guidelines.  Keep them positive and upbeat…. or else, rejection, and expulsion from the forum.

Generally, LexisNexis® will not be participating in the forum and participants should not rely on the forum to communicate with LexisNexis® directly. If you have ideas or feedback for LexisNexis® regarding any of the Practice Management products, please follow the procedures established for submitting ideas or comments to the appropriate business unit.

Historically, LexisNexis officials have participated in the HotDocs list, and it was an effective way of communicating ideas to HotDocs developers.  This here gives notice that such a communication method should not be assumed … and in fact, posts that attempt to tell LexisNexis what to do with its product are rejected.  The tradition of posting ideas on the forum by HotDocs developers for discussion would not be in compliance with these guidelines.

Messages should include your name, firm name, city and state, which version of the product you are running, basic operating and computer system information, plus your current status regarding working with LexisNexis® Practice Management technical support (remember, call technical support first). Anonymous or alias posts will NOT be accepted.

This is a favorite … those who don’t edit their signature block to include City and State will get rejected.  It is not enough to just put in your name and return address.

This forum is primarily for getting the most out of the current feature sets and methodologies under existing LexisNexis® Practice Management policies and market conditions.

This is a clear call to focus on the “status quo”—and not what could be done. The next paragraph drives home the point.

This forum is not for discussion on matters not directly related to the use of LexisNexis® Practice Management products. Additionally, because CICs have no control over LexisNexis® product pricing, business practices, customer service, or technical support policies, these subjects are outside the scope of this forum.

Here is the clinch … since CIC’s are powerless … these topics are outside the scope of the forum.  They are deamed “not relevant” to community support.  This was clearly a response to the Elderlaw list where there were rants about pricing of Time Matters (a quite affordable product, given its benefits) and complaints about Technical Support that rose to the level of extortion of Time Matters.  Rather than striking a balance, all these topics are expressly excluded.

This forum is not for editorializing, broad qualitative comments, customer complaints, lobbying for particular features or improvements, or otherwise trying to pressure LexisNexis® into a particular course of action.

If you had ANY doubts about whether discussion of the future direction of the product, this last one makes it clear — not relevant … and to go back to the top, such posts will be rejected and if the poster does not learn, he or she will be expelled.  My query … would discussion of a true “bug” in the product … a feature that doesn’t work … be barred under these guidelines.  More than likely.  Time Matters CICs have received calls from executives at Time Matters who have acknowledged in “bugs” in public posts.

So you can judge … are the Chinese that bad.  Perhaps, it is they who have learned the capitalist way.

Time Matters Tips Site Goes Live

Welcome to the new Basha Systems Time Matters Tips site.  It is run by our blogging software, but will grow to operate much like any information site…

As time goes by, we will be adding Time Matters tips and tricks to our database.  Eventually, this site will become a quality resource for the Time Matters case management community.  Growing side by side with this site will be our GhostFill and HotDocs information sites, all run in a very similar manner.  If you find yourself becoming lost, the following color schemes should assist:

grey = generic blog containing articles & document assemby topics of interest
red = hotdocs specific tips and tricks
navy = ghostfill specific tips and tricks
tan = time matters specific tips and tricks

quotes in the Time Matters Tips site will appear like this

On the left side of this site, you will notice links to relevant Time Matters resources, as well as a search box, so that you can quickly find what you want from our site (if it is here of course).  If you want some light reading regarding case management ( and document assembly!), dont forget to check out our main blog which has many articles regarding the industry generally.

We hope you enjoy the new approach.

Online Commercial Lending Systems

In the past week I have been approach twice by people seeking to buy or build on online commercial lending document assembly system and asked for the appropriate platform.  As a consultant, I patiently explained the options and why merely purchasing a system would expose the company to unacceptable risks; that while I was a lawyer turned programmer, this went beyond the risks I was willing to assume as an automator. In so doing, the issue arose, what warranty does an automator make as to the legal viability of the forms produced.

The Inquiry

I want to start a lending business producing loan documentation for all 50 states.  Can you direct me to some forms I can use.  I want to automate them, let people enter information over the internet.  And of course, they need to be legally viable and enforceable in all 50 states.  Can you help me.

The Reply

Sure.  Do you have the forms.  I can build you a system and get you online for a reasonable fee in a reasonable amount of time.  You have a choice of platforms, each with their benefits and their limitations. The choice between HotDocs, GhostFill and DealBuilder depends on where you want to put your money, how you want to deploy the system, and who will be using the system.

Why there can be no warranty

Most if not all software agreements disclaim “consequential damages” or limit liability to the cost of the license.  Any other approach and the development of software is not cost effective. We can warrant that the software will present and interview, and that based on the selected items certain text will be included or excluded.  We cannot warrant that the selection of particular text is legally valid. For that you need a lawyer.

Why You Need a Lawyer

Where I part ways is over the content.  I can build the business logic, the rules, the work flow and collect a nice sum in exchange for my valuable efforts.  But I will not be the lawyer.  When a million dollar loan defaults and the language of the default clause gets exercised, I don’t want my words on the hook that a judge will say, “this clause is not enforceable; perhaps in New York that’s the way they do things, but here in Oklahoma, we require __________ and you failed to include that in your loan agreement.

Moreover, even if I had an “enforceable” set of multistate forms for today, tomorrow, a new court decision in Oklahoma, could change the standard and require modification of my forms.  Sure, we can get a piece of paper that has the business terms, but it is the nuances that make the paper have its value as commercial paper.  If I were lending tens of millions of dollars, I would want to make sure such paperwork was effective.

Value of Document Assembly

In writing this, I am not knocking the use of document assembly for online commercial lending.  It is actually a fabulous idea, incredibly cost effective and profitable.  The typical bank lending process is slow and fraught with “inefficiencies” that can be eliminated.  A company like ING Bank can have an entirely online system, automating many of the banking processes and eliminating the opportunity for human error.  When applied to lending, document assembly allows you to support real business logic and conditional language, mapped against a legally valid form and allows you to offer a range of flexible financing options.  I am all for it.  My only concern is that you retain legal counsel in building the business logic and in maintaining that business logic.

An Interview with the DocGuru (by himself)

No one was calling me for juicy quotes. Some of you have started visiting the blog. I was getting tired of the lack of interaction in a blog (too much lecturing). So I thought I would do something fun, I would interview myself.

Related Link: the guru’s document assembly page

The DocGuru: Where does document assembly make the most sense?
Himself: Well everywhere! Anything you write, anything you type, any form you fill is a candidate for document assembly.

The DocGuru: Be real. Coding a template takes time. Should we really do everything?
Himself: Why not. It’s fun. It challenges the mind. It beats billing time.

The DocGuru: Yes. You caught it: “billing time.” Shouldn’t we spend our time doing billable work?
Himself: Well for me, document assembly is billable work . But for you, I get the point, and the answer is NO!

The DocGuru: Who is going to pay for the office overhead? We can’t hole up in a dark corner with a laptop and code.
Himself: I don’t do it in a dark corner, I beg your pardon. I take the laptop out to the garden, and watch the Daffodils pushing up, hear the birds chirp. Spring is beautiful.

The DocGuru: You are avoiding the question
Himself: All right. Here is why you should “stop billing”. Do an hour of billable work and you make money for an hour of billable work. There is no multiple; no extra reward for the effort, no return on investment. Yes, you make more than the typical wage laborer …. (have you talk to your plumber recently?) But say you make $400 and hour … you need to work a lot of hours to get real rich. And then, you have to constantly justify your time. What is the “value” of your labor … What is the value of your “workproduct”

The DocGuru: But that is what lawyers do, they bill
Himself: I disagree. You don’t come to a lawyer for a few hours of his time …. Yes he may bill you for a few hours. You come for advice; you come for help out of a jam; but more often you come for a “document”. It is the document you want, not the time; you want to take home a piece of paper, whether it be a partnership agreement, a lease, or a will; you want to know that it is well written and will survive the test of time.

The DocGuru: What does that have to do with document assembly?
Himself: Document assembly is all about documents; it is all about the creation of quality documents; it is all about the delivery of services. It is about workproduct. Invest 100 hours in template coding, and the return is equal to a thousand hours of billing. It allows you to bill for the document; not for the time. It is all about multiples; all about service; all about competition.

The DocGuru: You seem convinced about this? You have been doing document assembly for nearly a decade. It is easy for you; but not everyone can code.
Himself: Exactly my point; but all of you can markup documents. You markup documents day in and day out. Why not mark up your documents and send them to me to code. It will take less of your billable time to get the project done; and bring you closer to your the time you can reap the multiples from your investment.

The DocGuru: Aren’t you being a little direct? This seems to be a sales pitch.
Himself: Think what you wish. Feel free to come back; I give away advice for free and tip. You will find me posting (uncompensated) on the HotDocs list and GhostFill list. Many of you have received a private email or a call when you got into sticky trouble. But I do make my money consulting and love my work. Did I mention my new document assembly and case management sections on my website?

The DocGuru: The DocuGuru: You are a hypocrite. Don’t you bill by the hour?
Himself: Have you called me? You ask me to troubleshoot a template and give you “help” writ large; of course I bill by the hour. But, if you come to me with a set of documents, all marked up, and ask what will it take to turn them into a system, I will more than likely give you a fixed fee quote or a range. The quote will be based on a combination of the value of the documents to you, the complexity, and an estimate of the time it would take a typical coder to automate the documents.

The DocGuru: Well, our readers thank you for your candid comments and this opportunity to talk with you. Keep up the good work. Keep blogging.

The Death of the Software Manual

Reminiscing on the days of software manuals….whatever happened to those things anyway?

It used to be that there was “money” to be made in writing a software manual.  That was in the old days when:

  • Computers were new
  • There weren’t too many programs
  • Those programs didn’t have too many features
  • Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)
  • People would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book read
  • Writers cared

Today, programs change too fast. By the time a manual is properly written, the pictures and illustrations are obsolete. It used to be that writers would get a beta copy of the new software months before its release and use it for the manual. Now, software is released as .0 version for sale when it is really still in beta.

And when you look at the programs, there are so MANY features, that manuals turn into feature catalogues, rather than something that one could actually use to learn a program. At the other end, manuals have become collections of tutorials (often on topics that are irrelevant to your intended use).

The best manuals I have found are the “Mere Mortals” series: “SQL Querries for Mere Mortals”, “Database Design for Mere Mortals”. These manuals set out the fundamental principals on which these programs are based. From there, an intelligent developer can “ask the right questions” when going through the online help and knowledge bases.

All are welcome to add comments for thought.