Process Based Document Assembly for Civil Litigation

Is it the process or the document that comes first?  Does the user view the world as a series of data, with document as the outputs; or a series of documents, with data as the inputs.  These views govern how you will design a document assembly library.

Input Data ….
Output Documents …
Process or Form Library

These are the choices when building a document assembly library.  Most users view the world as a collection of forms.  Choose the right documents and fill them with the available data.  Push it through from lawyer to paralegal (or secretary) and then out to client or court house.  And yet, where you stand in the process is critical how you design the library.

Benefits of Process-Oriented Systems

A process-oriented system focuses on steps in a process, and constrains the users choices only to “relevant” information and documents.  The user at stage one, inputs client info, opens the “matter file” and sends out a “client engagement letter.” Once payment is received and further action is authorized, the process requires gathing facts on potential defendants, third parties, and their related representatives.  Then as the litigation proceeds, there are options as to how that litigation branches.  An internal party list keeps track of who was served with what documents and when.  Another data table stores information about each defendant.  And yet another table stores data about the claims and their elements.

Such as systematic approach allows for a high volume litigation process … not high volume in terms of hundreds of hours plodding through documents and depositions, but high throughput in ability to cost-effectively process claims and get out the necessary court papers to keep the action alive and bring it to resolution.  It allows this work to be done by “paralegals” and “legal secretaries” under the supervision of a junior attorney.  The constraints built into the process system, reduce the level of supervision to managing the “stage of the litigation” and “court appearances” rather than overseen the choice of document forms and the quality of the data input.

Benefits of Document Library Systems

The typical “forms library” is usually a book or an electronic book with a table of contents.  From this library, it is up to the user to (1) select the appropriate form, and (2) fill it.  There is no constraint on the appropriateness of the form; it is the selector’s judgment.  In filling the form, a good document assembly system (HotDocs, GhostFill, DealBuilder) will allow you to use “answers” given in prior document assembly sessions to fill out the current form, and then prompt you for missing data.

The “libraries” are exactly that; places to browse in the hope you can find the right bucket.  In many “off the shell systems” is is serendipity whether you will actually get data used for one form to pre-populate a second form.  These published systems have inconsistencies in their underlying code so that the “promise” is not delivered.

Conclusions on Process vs. Library

If the practice is “diverse” enough, what you may need is in fact a “library”.  The library will give you a modest increase in efficiency, but will require a much greater degree of senior attorney supervision and judgment.  If the practice is essentially a solo practitioner (without secretary), these open systems with hundreds of forms make sense.

However, the more complete process oriented systems are better suited for high-production law departments.  They require an investment of time and training.  But the productivity rewards put a law firm in a substantially greater competitive position.  They are systems that give a full ROI in the first month or two, and then become profit centers.