Document Automation
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A World of Options

Document Automation Choices: Buy or Build?

By Marc Lauritsen

In my previous post, “Choosing a Document Automation System,” we kicked off the topic with a checklist of circumstances and goals for those embarking on what can be a challenging journey. This post turns to the many options for you to consider as you explore system tools.

Zooming In

“Document automation” covers a broad field of functions. We’ll focus here on the “creation branch,” where humans and their intelligent non-biological assistants produce documents. But if you are searching for tools in this branch, also be attentive to related processes and technologies that deal with the raw material for and outputs of legal drafting work.

The first choice is whether to set forth on this journey at all. Doing that rationally requires you to have at least a first approximation of the economic case for doing so. Assuming you select a platform and deploy applications, what benefits do you anticipate? Will they outweigh the effort and expense?

That, in turn, requires having a first approximation of the bundle of functions you hope to secure — and how you expect to deploy them in productive work. You should have at least a preliminary sense of who will exercise what functions where, when, how and how often. You can’t gauge the cost or benefit of a system in the abstract.

Buying or Building?

Any technology procurement presents choices about how much to buy “off the shelf” and how much to cobble together yourself. In the case of document drafting tools, the choice is presented in at least three forms:

1. Should you use an existing software platform or “shell,” or build that technology yourself? Many of the existing platforms will serve admirably for most uses, but a surprising number of organizations still strike out to “roll their own” underlying document automation tools. Reinvention can be wasteful or empowering.

2. Should you create your own content (templates), or acquire access to content that someone else has prefabricated? A growing number of the latter are available online. For examples, see Blumberg’s DL Libraries, Direct Law, HotDocs Market, Smokeball, WealthCounsel and VentureDocs. If you’re lucky enough to find content that meets your needs, that will generally settle your answer to choice number 1 since it will be “in” a particular platform’s framework. In some cases, you can have the best of both worlds by customizing such content, but that raises complications when the vendor releases an update.

3. Should you do the associated work yourself, with your own personnel, or engage an outside consultant? For most organizations, if you are not already active in this kind of work, outsourcing will make the most sense. Note that choice of consultant may tie you to a particular platform.

The Abounding Options

An embarrassment of riches awaits those who want to kick the tires of document automation systems. Brace yourself for a blizzard of options.

While I focus mainly on pure-play products below, it’s important to know that substantial document automation functionality can be found in products in other categories, such as case management and expert systems. Contract Logix and Neota Logic are examples in those two categories with especially robust document automation feature sets. There are also dramatically new approaches such as KM Standards and CommonAccord that don’t quite fit into any existing category.

Looking Back

Here is a representative sample of specialized document generation products that have been marketed to lawyers over the years. Some of these are still in use, but their vendors have disappeared, moved on or withdrawn their products from general availability.

Document Automation Tools Past
ABF ProcessorDocBuilderGhostFillPrecedent
AmazingDocsDocFireILS TechniquesScrivener
BizDocsDocumaker (Docucorp)JumpStartStructure (Attenex)
Black LetterDocument Modeler (LegalWare)KillerDocsSupra II
Blankity-BlankDocuMENTORLincDocsSynthesis Publishing Architecture
Brentmark Document AssemblerEasyDocsMasterformWinDraft
CAPSeDrafterMemba GenesisWork Engine (Anselm)
Cetara WordShareExpertextMillraceWorkForm
Clause-ItFirst DraftObanXpertDoc
DAS@HForm BankPerfectus
DataPrompterGeneral CounselPowerTxt

Document Automation Tools Present

Today’s well-established candidates include the following:

And here are examples of products that have emerged in just the past few years:

There’s been quite a lot of churn in the document automation business, but also much productive innovation as vendors attempt to leapfrog each other.

Next time I’ll get into the considerations you may want to take into account as you filter and sort your options.

Illustration ©

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Document Management, Legal Technology
Originally published December 16, 2015
Last updated April 13, 2019
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Marc Lauritsen Marc Lauritsen

Marc Lauritsen, president of Capstone Practice Systems and author of “The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools,” is a Massachusetts lawyer, technologist, and educator who helps people work more effectively through knowledge systems. He has taught at five law schools, conducted path-breaking work on document drafting and decision support systems, and run several software companies. Follow him on Twitter @MarcLauritsen and on LinkedIn.

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