No more redundant, manual typing. Auto-populate documents in AbacusLaw with case and contact information from the database of your case management software. Learn how to increase productivity and decrease errors by turning everyday letters into custom templates, in this Free Training Friday. Watch the video or read the transcript below.

 

About Free Training Friday: Since the beginning of 2017, we have been holding these free, 30-minute training hosted by our industry-leading experts and innovators who will teach you about AbacusLaw, Amicus Attorney and the Abacus Private Cloud. Since then, we have expanded to also provide free Results CRM and OfficeTools Software trainings. If you would like to request a topic, please email webinars@abacusnext.com.

Video Transcription

Good Morning. Good Afternoon everyone. Hope you are doing good.  If you could just please confirm that you can not only hear me but that you can also see our shared screen. Go ahead and raise your hands or just give us a confirmation in the chat panel, that would be fantastic.

We got one, two hands raised, three hands raised, Adam, Adler, [Alisha 00:00:33]. Thank you so much. Okay. Looks like you all can both hear and see us. Fantastic.

All right. Welcome everyone.  My name is Andrew Perez. I'm online content manager here at AbacusNext. I want to thank you all for signing up for our webinar Document Generation in AbacusLaw.

So, before we get started, just a couple of quick housekeeping notes. Feel free to submit any questions you have throughout the presentation using the chat panel. We'll try to answer your questions in the order we receive them at the end of the presentation. We'll go ahead and run for 15 or 20 minutes and then we'll tack on another 10 minutes of Q&A to the end.

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce our speaker today, Scott Heist. Scott is senior software trainer here at AbacusNext and will be our guide as we dive into our training today. So, I'll just hand it over to you Scott.

Thanks Andrew. Appreciate everybody joining us today. I do see some familiar names there in the list. Looks like I probably trained you sometime in the past. For anybody, I haven't trained, thanks for joining us. I do appreciate it. We should have a pretty good topic for ya here today, document generation, which is obviously something that's very important inside of a law firm because depending upon the practice area that you focus on, this can be a very time consuming process. So, using the forms library and the document generation tools inside of AbacusLaw will actually streamline your generation workflow.

And also just make your life a little bit easier. Right.  Save a little bit of time when it comes to generating all those letters that you're sending out every single day.

So, where we're going to start today is actually inside of your forms library. And when I say forms here and I click this button and open this up, what we're focusing on are not court forms today. What we are focusing on are letters that you are sending out to clients, opposing counsel, doctors, treating facilities, you know depending upon your practice area, different things like that. Like deposition appointment letters, engagement letters, non-representation letters, different things like that. The type of letters that you probably generate inside of Word manually, or Word Perfect, Abacus can handle both. We'll be looking at Word today, but the process is very similar for Word Perfect.

So, if you look at my forms library here, and you'll notice along the left side, I have a pretty detailed tree of different letter categories and folders and things like that. And you'll be able to set this up inside of your program as well. So, you can have a nice organized folder structure where you're keeping maybe your general miscellaneous forms, like we have here, and then more practice area specific letters and forms there, okay, under needs.

We're going to be focused on a very specific letter today to use as our example. And that's going to be the non-representation letter. But just keep in mind the logic behind what we're doing, the steps that I show you today, are all the same. It doesn't matter what type of letter it is, or anything like that, it's all going to be the same process.

Okay. So first things first, we have to get the letter that you have been filling out manually, for all these years, we actually have to bring that letter into our Abacus programs so that it's useable. So, what you'll notice ... I'm going to show you my desktop. Sorry it's not very organized, it's kinda bare actually. You'll notice that I have a letter, a little word doc there, sitting on my desktop, and that's the letter that I want to bring into my Abacus program so that every time I need to fill that out, I don't have to type in the client's information. I don't have to type in the attorney's information. The system will auto-generate that information [through it 00:04:24].

So, the first step to bringing your letters into the Abacus program is to open up that library and click the add button on the top toolbar. Now you'll notice there's actaully two different add buttons. One says add and of course one says add many. So, I'm sure as you can probably figure out, the add many is for adding letters in bulk. So, if you have 25 firm letters that you want to bring in, all at one time, you can use the add many option there and you can do that.

We're going to focus on just the add button. So, we're just worried about one document right now but the process is the same. So, when I click add that's going to open up my little Windows Explorer that I, you know probably see a hundred times a days, whenever you're searching for something. And I'm going to go to my desktop, and on my desktop I'm gonna have that document sitting here. Let's go ahead and make sure that we see that. There it is.  Gate's non-representation letter. And I'm gonna click open. And when I click open, I get this little question here. It's kinda an informational prompt as well as a question. It's telling you that forms must be located in or below this directory. Okay. This directory is your computer directory that Abacus saves all of the library letters and forms. That's where it saves it, in that directory there.

So, what this is asking you is do you want to make a copy of your letter and move it into that directory or do you want to move the original? Okay.

Everybody's a little bit different about this I find. I personally am a fan of copying the original and moving the copy into my forms library. And the reason I do that is because I like to have, you know, that native original document kinda preserved in whatever the location is I had it saved. And we can edit and we can play around with the copy of that letter.

Now, if you have space concerns, maybe on your network or on your computer and you don't want to have another copy of that for space concerns, you can click move and it will actually take that native letter and it will move it into that library for you.

Now once you ... either one that you choose, the end result is really the same here. When you click copy, it's going to take you into a little details window for that letter. Because what you're doing is your adding a new form, or aka letter, to your forms library. So a lot of these fields are self-explanatory but I'll just run through a few of em here that are important.

First thing we want to do is make sure that the name of our form or letter here is appropriate. So, is that something descriptive enough that if another member of the firm goes into the library and looks for it, are they going to be able to recognize that letter by the name?

The id as well, similar to the name, okay it's another way that we can search for that letter if we have a bunch of them in our library. The category, the dropdown menu for the category, this is how we are nesting that letter in our tree. Okay. So, you notice here, my tree is pretty involved along the left side, so if you wanted to nest this letter into something specific to say family law. Okay, because maybe it's a family law type form and letter, you can choose that directory from your list and that will make sure that that letter gets nested into the right folder.

Also notice here, that if you don't see a category that's appropriate or maybe you want to create a new one, you can click add, right here, and you can enter in your own custom categories for each of your letters. And if you are an Abacus user and using Abacus for quite awhile, which I think most of you are, the program is extremely customizable. So, you've probably seen a similar add button throughout the system as you've been working.

But this is where we're going to select the category that we want this letter to be saved in in our tree. Okay. Jurisdiction, type, state, okay those are additional filtering options that you can select for each of your letters. And then another important button that we see right here, says ALF file. And some of you may be familiar with this but for those that aren't, what the ALF file is, is it's actually the little data file that holds the list of Abacus notes that you would be merging into your generated letter. Okay.

So, you have to ask yourself a question right here. What type of letter is this? If it's just a general letter, than maybe leaving this field blank is okay, cause you're just going to be putting in basic fields, like client name, client address, things like that. But if the letter that you are importing is case type specific. Like it's specifically for personal injury. Or it's specifically for real estate or estate planning. And you happen to have our estate planning or personal injury specialty versions, really any specialty version okay, if you happen to have one of those. What you'll probably want to do here is specify the appropriate ALF file to apply to this letter.

So, we can do that by clicking this button and telling the program which ALF file we want to assign. So, if this letter is specific to estate planning then we want to make sure that we specify the estate planning ALF file. Okay. So that way the system knows which fields to use or at least give you a menu of when it's time to start editing this letter.

Now, I'm going to leave my blank, or actually, I'll just use the basic Abacus.ALF. Okay.

We can also put in some notes here about this letter. Again, the more descriptive you are with your notes, of help text that you put in, okay, the easier it's going to be for future users that may not be as familiar as you are with the program. These types of things make it easier for people to come in and know exactly what this letter has to do with and how to use it.

So once I do that, once I select my letter, I copy it over, I fill in all of my appropriate details here, I can go ahead and click done. And that's going to bring my letter into my viewer. Notice we have a preview option up here, where you can actually see this. But if you look at this letter. This non-representation letter, notice it actually has personal information in it. Because every time we've filled this letter out in the past, we've had to type all of that info in, right?

So, what we want the system to do is actually fill this information in for us, we don't want to type it anymore. So, the way we do that, is once we can pull the letter into our system, we just click that little design button up on the top toolbar. This is going to invoke your word processor, which in most cases will probably be Word. In some cases it may be Word Perfect.

So, notice it opened up my Word program with this letter, but see here it took me to a mailings tab. Okay, and the important button on this mailings tab, when you're designing a form, is the Insert Merge Field button. Okay. Remember that ALF file I talked about before. How you want to assign the appropriate ALF file to your letters when you import them, this is why.

Because, I don't want to type the personal info every time. So, I'm going to back that out, just highlight it and delete it. Put my cursor back up there where I want it to show. I'm going to do the same thing maybe for my date field. Okay, if I wanted to do that. But once I put my cursor where I want that info to go, all I do is I click this Insert Merge Field button and that opens up my list of fields. Okay. So that's why choosing that ALF file appropriately is very important. Because if this a letter specific to personal injury, right, or PI attorneys, they're always sending letters to treating facilities and doctors, request for information, right. Things like that.

So, if you have fields in here specific to the doctor's name or treating facilities' address, you want to make sure that those fields are listed here as well. Okay. So, once you click that Insert Merge Field button and it opens up your list of merge fields, now you want to find the field that's appropriate and you want to insert that into the correct location. Okay. So, I'm going to choose client address and click insert. And that puts my field text there, okay.

Right here, where it says Dear Mr. Gates. If you guys notice, you know on your name records, that you have inside of AbacusLaw, there's a little field in there called dear. And that's where you can put in the ... You know the greeting, how would you greet this person in a letter. Right, Dear Mr. Gates, Dr. Miss Jones, Dear Judge Smith. Right. You can have the system actually fill that in for you.

So again, we do it just like we did for the client address. We just back out that personal info and right there where our cursor is, we click the Insert Merge Field button and we go and find the name of that field. Which happens to be, client dear. Okay. We try and name these fields very descriptively so it should be pretty obvious what the field entails. However, if you want a longer, kinda menu of what these fields are, please visit your Reference Guide under your help menu in your program. Okay. And there's a list in there of all the fields that come in that Abacus [fillable 00:14:37] form.

So I would go ahead and click insert here. That tells the program that we always want to put that client dear field right there. Okay. And what you want to do is just work through your letter. What are the personal portions of the letter that you're always gonna want the system to auto fill. Probably the attorney whose sending it, maybe the firm name. Maybe the paralegal who is preparing the document. Things like that. Replace that personal information with the fields from the list. So now from here on out, the program actually knows exactly where you want that data to go.

So, once you have your fields in place, just click your little save button here. That's gonna save your document so you can close it out. And when you click back on that document again, notice now when I look at that in my preview screen, I no longer have that personal info. I now have the actual fields right, that we want to [inaudible 00:15:43]. So this is actually ready to go. This field can actually ... Or this form can actually be used now. Okay.

All we have to do now, whenever we want to use this moving forward, is we just open up our forms library. We choose our case that we're gonna want it for, okay. Notice there's a little button up in the top left that says matter. We choose our case from our matters list. And then we click fill form. And what that does is it opens up Word again and the works done for ya.

You have today's date, you have your client name and address, you have the greeting, and all of the other personal information that's listed.

So we'll go ahead and close that out. And you can see here, it remains the same inside of your preview screen. This form is ready to be used now, anytime you need to auto generate it for a case. Okay. And it doesn't matter the length of the letter itself. Whether the letter has 3 field that you want to auto populate or 300. Okay, there's no difference in difficulty in designing that form. It may take ya a little longer, but there is no difference in difficulty.

The logic and the steps that we take to customize that letter are exactly the same.

And this still editable too. I do get a lot of questions about that. Once this is generated, can I change things in the letter? Absolutely. Just click on your letter and fill it, that opens up Word with all of the merged information. And this can still be typed in. You can still type and change data in there, whatever you want to do. And then you just save it like you would a normal Word doc.

So that basically concludes what we were going to be talking about today. 

Q & A

We have a basic letter set up for general purposes. Having attorney names for letterhead. Can we use this as a template somehow or must we update all letters each time we change it?

It sounds like there are multiple attorneys in the office and the letterhead on the top of the letter is different depending upon the attorney who that letter is being generated for.  If you currently have individual letter templates for each of the attorneys, then I would just import those letters the way you have them with the appropriate letterhead for each one. And then when you import that in, what I would do is probably create a nice little folder structure that has all of attorney John's letters. All of attorney Sally's letters, so that way you have quick access there.

You can actually generate templates as well. We do have some information inside of our User Guide that explains how to utilize those templates as well.

How/when is the ALF created?

The ALF file is actually automatically installed in your program for you.

So, you're going to see it inside of that list when you go to assign that ALF file upon import of your letter. Now, if you're wanting to customize the ALF file, that's a whole nother ballgame because sometimes people do customize the fields that they're going to see on their screens or in their letters. It may be a field that didn't come with the program. That's not uncommon.

So, if you want to see the different ALF files that you currently have inside of your program, you can go to documents, set up ALF files. This is going to pull up your list of ALF files and then you would want to find the ALF file that you are looking to edit and open that file. That will take you into the AbacusLaw Format Editor where every section is broken down. Now, I believe we have a video about this on our training videos.  

In the meantime, I would suggest checking your References Guide for how to edit the ALF file.  But to access it, just go to documents, set up ALF files, choose the ALF file that you want to view, and click open.

Our system requires us to use the contact underscore instead of the client underscore field, do you know why?

That definitely sounds like it's the ALF file that you're using. So possibly the ALF file that is assigned to that letter is specific, maybe a custom one. So what I would do there, is first identity that.

In your forms library, highlight your letter, right-click on it, and select edit properties. This is gonna show you which ALF file you are viewing.

Look inside of that ALF file and see specifically if there are options for client. You have to remember, the way fields get listed, if you look at this field name here that says client underscore. The client underscore part refers to the link type of the contact to the case.

What the system does is it looks at this case, it looks at the linked names tabs, and it says who is linked as the client. Whoever is linked as the client is whose information we're gonna be putting into those client underscore areas. if yours says contact underscore, then it sounds like it was probably edited to account for people just linked to the case as contact rather than specifically a client.

if the field is unique and is not one that came with the program or came with your [PAL 00:23:39], your specialty version, can you still add that as a merge field?

The first question you have to ask yourself in that scenario is, does this field even exist in my database? If it doesn't, then obviously the first step is to add it to the database structures. Which again, is kinda a whole another ballgame. If you're familiar with modifying your database structures, that should be easy for you. If not, you may want to just seek some specialty training on that. But once you've identified that, if the field does in fact exist in the database structures or if you added it, then what you can do is add that field to your ALF file.

And you do that same way. So you would just come here to documents, setup ALF files, choose the ALF file that you want to add it to, and then once you get into the ALF Editor, you would need to choose the prefix section that you would want to add that field to. So, in other words, here's the prefix section for our client fields.

As an example, let's say I wanted to have client shoe size - obviously, that was not a field - that would be my default [inaudible 00:25:04].  You would add that to your database and then once it's added to your database, you can add it to the list of ALF files. Then, that field would be mergeable inside of the program.

Does the version of Word or Word Perfect have any effect in customizing letters?

It can, that's very possible. Word and Word Perfect are different programs run by Microsoft and Corel. It is always in your best interest to stay up-to-date on any 3rd party programs that you are using in connection with your other programs to ensure everything is updated - there could potentially be some interface differences. Inside of your Word or Word Perfect programs, the Insert Merge button may be on a different tab.  In the end, the functionality should actually be the same.

How do you create a prompt that will have people fill in the information to generate information specific to the document each time? For example, a retainer agreement prompt for a client named retainer amount.

if the user needs a prompt to say, "Hey I need to fill this form out," what you do is create an event on the calendar. For each of your events, you are able to attach forms to them - you have the ability to assign forms to an event. If I need to remind, or prompt, my paralegal to generate the retainer agreement, I can attach it directly to an event and they'll be alerted to do that and will know which form to use.

As far as what fields get entered into the form itself, that's going be done automatically for you so you will not need a prompt. Assuming that you have designed the letter appropriately, these fields should actually auto fill in for you.

Let's say in the name screen inside of the client record, you did not have the dear field filled in, the system is not going to put anything there.

There is no prompt to warn you about that. It is up to you to just do your due diligence to make sure that the form looks accurate once you've filled it in.

If we create a new field, where would we add the new information for the file to pull it from?

Again, back to that ALF file question. 

You need to know if this field exists in your database - That's the key. If it's a wacky field like shoe size, that has to be added to your database structures first. This is an admin only function because you are editing the database when you do this. Once you add that field, or at least determine that it does exist in the database, to add that to the merge files, the ALF files, that's under your documents, set up ALF files. Choose the ALF file that you want to add that field to, open it up, and then right here, these are the prefixes that you would see in that men: Beneficiary underscore address, client underscore, dear plaintiff underscore, first name, etc. So, you want to choose the prefix that you want to add that field to and then click your edit button so that you can see the list of fields that currently reside underneath that prefix.  Then, add any additional ones from your actual database, field database [structures 00:29:55].

Again, check the Reference Guide out. Remember, your Reference Guide's under the help menu, you can open those in Adobe and they are searchable. So you can get into the search menu there and type in ALF and it will take you right to the ALF help section.

Want more Free Training Friday? Register for upcoming webinars here