SATISFACTION … 40 YEARS LATER
Superbowl XL was a tour de force, with the largest audience of any show all year. It is the one football game I watch each year … “I watch for the commercials” and the “half-time” show. This year, Mick Jagger of ther Rolling Stones performed the half-time show … without a “wardrobe malfunction”. At the age of 62, Mick Jagger opened with the remark, that it took 40 years from when he burst onto the Rock ‘n Roll scene to make it to the mainstream of the Superbowl XL (“40″). Dancing around a giant tongue (stuck out at full length, as in a “Brooklyn cheer”) he launched into a rousing rendition of “I can’t get no Satisfication …” and I tried, and I tried, and I tried.
A DECADE LATER
It has now been over a decade since I left my comfortable “New York” litigation practice to enter the area of document assembly consulting. In the ten years, document assembly has gone from “fringe and novel” to “mainstream”. For many attorneys it is a central part of their process, whether it be for generating high-volume pleadings, prepare probate applications, or drafting wills and complex tax-sheltering trusts. This article is a reminsce on the past decade in document assembly.
THE JURASIC PERIOD
When I first started writing on document assembly, in the early days of the commercial internet, I was flamed as a traitor. I took the position, which I hold now, that the billable hour is a dinosaur. I argued that unless law firms changed their business model, they would soon find themselves priced out of the legal market by more nimble competitors. I took the position that law firms who innovated and invested in their intellectual property, would rise to the top in terms of profitability per partner.
TRENDS TOWARD COMMODITIZATION
The response I received, to say the least, was caustic. How could you “commoditize the law”. Do people get legal services from “Walmart?” or “Lawyer’s ‘r Us.” The quality of legal services in this country will plummet. Lawyers are unable to determine the “true cost” of services, and should be rewarded for the hours they labour. Once you “fix prices”, lawyers will stop innovating and lower the quality of the services they provide. We are serving as “advisors” to our clients – how can we put a price on that advice. When I suggested that will value-billing and project-based billing, the effective hourly rate for service could reach into thousands of dollars per hour, I was told that lawyers who charged such fees should be brought before bar association ethics committees and disbarred.
ACTING AS AN ACCOMPLICE
Lucky for me, I was no longer practicing law, but rather “aiding and abbetting” my clients in the commission of these ethics crimes. I was making it possible for my clients to “fix” the fee for a client for the delivery of a defined service. The client would get a “cap” on the fee and a fixed expectation of the service to be rendered. By defining the service with particularity, the law firm then had the incentive to invest in building intellectual property and systems to deliver that service with a minimum of time. I spent much of my time, urging my clients to consider the R.O.I. on document assembly. Most of the time, these projects were implemented only for “loss leaders” – services which were not profitable under the hourly model – and thus the investment would “save” the firm from having to write off hours.
TRY TRY TRY
For ten years , I got no satisfaction. And I tried, and I tried, and I tried. Yes, I found a number of enterprising attorneys who faced with the choice of hiring additional staff to handle a burgeoning workload, or investing in automation technology and consulting, chose the CHEAPER alternative – automation. I would spend 30% of my time marketing and doing demos. Ten years laters, I spend 5% of my time marketing. These websites bring in several leads every weak … people who had already made a decision to automate. The only question is whether the cost of our services would fit into their Return on Investment. Many of our clients are pioneers, pushing the limits of automation. They have played with HotDocs and Ghostfill, worked with merge fields and done simple automation.
FROM DOCUMENTS TO APPLICATIONS
And now they were ready to go to the next level, and build a custom application to handle a complete practice area. Those are the inquiries we are now receiving. Document assembly is no longer just for documents. Mosts of our systems begin with a Master Information List to gather data and then a switchboard. We invite you to look videos of our current systems. Video Tours
DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY SOFTWARE
Over the years, I have worked with a number of Document Assembly Products. For more information on these products, click on links below:
- Microsoft Word
- Corel WordPerfect