HotDocs Cloud Services is a Document Generation Platform as a Service (DGPaaS) designed to deliver interactive HotDocs interviews into 3rd-party applications targeting vertical niches. The strategy behind Cloud Services is based on the notion that many different types of applications require complex document-generation interviews delivered on point within structured processes, but that most such web applications lack the ability to handle complex, highly interactive interviews, let alone use the resulting data to generate complex legal documents.
Data First vs. Document First
There are lots of tools out there that allow you to create web forms for gathering information, including BPMs, CCMs, ECMs . . . You get the idea. But virtually all of them take a data-first approach. In other words, you first decide what data you want to gather and then place a field for each data item on a form. This approach works fine for many applications, but falls far short in respect to automated-document-generation applications, which require a much more sophisticated approach to data gathering, a document-first approach. In other words, with document generation, you first build business logic into the document. Then, you build a sequence of data-gathering forms (an interview) that asks all the right questions at all the right times.
With document generation apps, this document-first approach to data gathering is essential for two reasons: (1) it’s virtually impossible to predict what specific variable information you might need in a complex document (say, a contract or set of incorporation documents) without first automating the document, and (2) the business logic you build into the document template must be reflected in the interview. Otherwise, the interview would have to include every variable used in the business logic of the document template. (Consider, for example, that a document template for a commercial loan agreement might include thousands of variables, accounting for every possible case scenario, while any particular case might require only a few hundred questions to be asked.)
Actionstep, A Cutting-Edge Legal Practice Management Application
Actionstep is a legal Practice Management technology that is unique in its ability to allow legal professionals to create ad-hoc workflows around specific cases or matters. Not only does this approach give legal professionals more flexibility in managing their practices, it also increases efficiency and yields better work product. In addition to allowing a law firm to create custom workflows, Actionstep includes many prebuilt workflows that can be used “as is” or modified to meet specific requirements.
Like virtually all legal practice management tools, Actionstep allows users to create data-gathering forms. However, Actionstep also allows its users to integrate HotDocs interviews directly into workflows, a functionality that takes Actionstep to an entirely different level as a tool for managing a law practice.
Utilizing Cloud Services’ REST API, Actionstep allows law firms to call a HotDocs interview at any point in a workflow. Relevant data already available for a particular matter can flow into HotDocs interview fields, and the interview will present the system user with questions for all additional data necessary to complete the document in question. This additional data can then be saved back out to whatever data storage system the system user chooses, and the resulting document can be profiled into a document management system or ECM.
The HotDocs/Actionstep alliance is the embodiment of the Cloud Services vision—a vertical web application developer delivering HotDocs interviews indigenously—and a great example of how two disparate companies can work together to provide a powerful solution. It's this HotDocs Cloud Services vision, by the way, the has likely led to recognition from high places of late, such as Gartner best-of-breed and vendor to watch designations for ECM in 2013 and a Gartner Cool Vendor distinction for content management in 2014.