Why do lawyers resist document assembly?
This post was originally published in September, 2015.
If you have any interest at all in the intersection between technology and lawyering, you should really check out this week’s podcast over at Lawyerist, where Lawyerist’s Sam Glover interviews Dennis Kennedy of the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Some of the conversation goes where you’d expect—document review, artificial intelligence, technology versus offshoring, what really constitutes “lawyering”, etc.—but then around the 13:37 mark, the conversation turns to a subject near and dear to my heart; namely, document assembly (which Kennedy apparently has had extensive past experience with).
Although Sam’s not entirely convinced of its value (at one point protesting “I am perfectly capable of automating documents, but in my own practice, I almost never bothered, because it would have only saved me 30 seconds”), Dennis Kennedy responds with what I think are some critical insights:
I think you always have to have volume and … repeatability. And so the best thing is to identify where those things make sense. So I sort of have a couple of principles on document assembly I always think about, that have been part of my learning. I think when you say, ‘What I want to do is find a way to generate the finished document all at once,’ I don’t think you can win with that. So my goal was always to say, ‘Can I use document assembly in a way that generates a really good first draft?’ And by taking the standard to that [level], I think [document assembly] can be really helpful. Although you still have to have volume and repeatability.
Kennedy mentions using Word’s Quick Parts to assemble interrogatories, as an example:
Then I also think there’s this other piece of document assembly that in ancient days people used to call ‘point and shoot’ document assembly, where you’d say, ‘I have this clause file‘ (which, you know, a lot of lawyers think they have or have but they don’t really use) … and whether that’s using, you know, the smart insertion (I’ve lost the name of it off the top of my mind, in Word [Ed. note: Quick Parts]) or whatever where I can go, like, BOOM. I just use a hot key or I click a menu option and I pull those standard clauses in, and I can kind of assemble pieces of documents and other things on the fly to customize them because I do have repeatable components even if I don’t have repeatable documents. So if you said, ‘I’m using document assembly, say, for interrogatories or that sort of thing in a litigation practice,’ you can say, ‘Oh, I see how I can use document assembly for the container of those questions and if I could kind of point and shoot to the questions I want to include, then I’m going to have standard approaches, and that gives me that really good first draft that I can work with.’ And I know I have all the basic stuff, so then instead of saying, ‘Have I included all 30 of these questions or have I remembered everything that should go in here based on my memory,’ it’s all in there and you look through it and you say, ‘Oh, in this case, you know what, we need to ask this, we need to do this,’ and then I think you’re adding the value and turning it from a routine exercise into something that’s actually creative for you and helpful for the client.
At this point, Sam asks a pointed question: “So, why is that we’re still talking about this, though? Like, why isn’t it more widely used and why can’t we say, ‘Okay, it’s just a tool like any other, and yeah, of course lawyers should use it, and they are’?”
Sam and Dennis (starting at the 19:47 mark) take a stab at answering that question in their interview. But what do you think? Why do we see so little document assembly in law firms nearly three decades after that technology’s introduction? Do you agree that many lawyers’ resistance is rooted in a misguided expectation of what document assembly should accomplish (produce a final draft rather than a first one)? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments (click through to the full post here).