HotDocs has been available to create extraordinary document automation systems in an online mode for nearly fifteen years, first via HotDocs Server, and more recently via HotDocs Document Services and HotDocs Cloud Services. It supports innovative service delivery methods that combine the power of machine intelligence and network distribution.

For legal service providers, cloud-based assembly doesn’t just make document creation more convenient; it opens up new ways to allocate work to the most appropriate resources. Document apps in online portals support full or unbundled service delivery. Clients can fill out questionnaires and produce drafts with or without lawyer review.

Most document drafting applications – online and off – still involve solitary users. One person at a time interacts with software to enter information or generate documents. Sometimes people take turns working on the same matter or transaction. For instance, a lawyer has her secretary input basic data. Or has clients interact with intelligent questionnaires via an extranet to reduce the cost of data gathering and to dispense background guidance.

These hand-offs raise interesting possibilities, such as 'templates built for two,' in which different experiences surface depending on the user's role as a client or service provider. Client-facing versions of intelligent questionnaires – or entire sites and apps – can use appropriate vocabulary and be personalized. The very language can be switched – say from English to Japanese – based on a user’s profile or momentary preference.

Imagine an estate planning system in which attorneys see this:

 

after clients supply basic information and provisional decisions in an interface like this:

 

(This example is based on a Legal Systematics SpeedMatters™ application.)

This sequential client/lawyer scenario is an example of the “co-production” of legal work.

Co-production happens now in corporate law departments that provide do-it-yourself contract assemblers for field personnel. And in non-profit, pro bono, and “low bono” contexts where people unable to afford commercial rate lawyers take advantage of unbundled services like ghostwriting.

Document systems can also be engineered for cooperative work among lawyers. For example, they can be modularized to allow specialists to focus on distinct aspects of a large transaction: tax experts here, environmental law gurus here, intellectual property folks over here. Lead counsel can review the consolidated input and make final adjustments. Such systems can usefully support the partner/associate relationship. Associates may do much of the answer configuration and drafting, while supervising partners can access features for quick review and commentary.

Virtual practice and e-lawyering are hardly all-or-nothing propositions. In-person, face-to-face meetings will (thankfully) be with most of us for the indefinite future. But interacting with clients, colleagues, counterparties, and decision makers through electronic media is increasingly convenient.  And those media don’t just overcome limitations of time and space. They enable rich forms of human engagement, some that are impracticable if not impossible in the physical world.

 

Marc Lauritsen, author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools, is president of Capstone Practice Systems and of Legal Systematics. He’s a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and co-chairs the American Bar Association’s eLawyering Task Force.