By Paul Dansey October 5, 2022

Grand Designs: Build vs Buy - What's the best approach for your firm? | Clarilis

When we talk to law firms pondering whether to self-build complex document automations, we liken it to trying to construct your dream house yourself – what you could term the ‘Grand Designs mentality’.

Grand Designs: Build vs Buy - What's the best approach for your firm? | Clarilis

We’ve all seen those self-build property TV shows where the couples think they can build a top spec, eco-friendly dream house themselves. They buy some land, stock up on bricks, hire a cement mixer and have a back-up plan to get some builders in to do the tricky bits. Then the winter comes, and they race to get the roof on before the weather closes in, or the money runs out and they have to start making significant compromises with either the design or, more commonly, the budget.

Every show includes the moment when the property owners realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Inevitably, it ends with them handing over to the experts to transform the neglected shack they bought for over the asking price into their dream home. And there, watching on, is the presenter looking relaxed and ever so slightly smug. They have, after all, seen it many times before.

How hard can it be?

With a standard document automation toolkit, you supposedly have the technology to automate any legal document yourself. However, you’ll have to invest considerable time and expertise to put it all together. The toolkit approach can work well for simple contracts – an NDA, for example, can be cost-effectively automated inhouse. But for something like an SPA, lengthy real estate documents, or complex banking facilities agreements, it could take many months or years to self-build a fully functioning deep automation.

Returning to the property analogy – having built a garden shed previously, you decide that building a house can’t be much more of a challenge… can it? It also seems that very few stop to consider that they’ll have to live in a caravan next to the skip and scaffolding until they (eventually) move in.

As a result, despite the success you can have with simpler automations, law firms often have to resign themselves to accepting that complex automations they have built using a toolkit are unlikely to match up to their expectations and anticipated time savings. There is one key trade-off: the time it takes to deliver something versus the value that it will actually provide. Firstly, to get something out in a reasonable timeframe, firms typically launch with only cursory level automation and accept that considerable manual drafting will still be needed, i.e. the value provided will be minimal. The alternative is to invest more time to create a richer automation which provides more value. But this can take years, and even then these automations are often so cumbersome to update and maintain that they quickly become neglected and out of date. In both cases, lawyers lose faith in (and patience with) the systems, adoption falters and usage declines. And so does the ROI.

Why not just get the house built for you?

Getting the architects and builders to design and build your dream home for you would surely be easier, but will the bills spiral out of control? Unforeseen complications and delays can quickly blow through the budget, and fixing the costs feels like a fantasy.

The same can be said for automations. The time, effort and investment involved in self-automating complex suites of precedents is often underestimated by law firms. There’s nothing worse than realising part-way through, and many tens of thousands of pounds in, that you don’t have the necessary time, budget or expertise to deliver a solution quite as extensively as you’d hoped. By the time you give in and buy in the skills you need to make a complex automation work, it ends up costing you significantly more than the ‘new build’ (a Clarilis intelligent drafting solution) would have cost in the first place.

Clarilis is a document automation platform and a lawyer-led managed service that is entirely focused on delivering outcomes. Our experienced PSL-led team average over 15 years PQE and are from a range of top law firms. They manage the design, implementation, testing, delivery and ongoing maintenance of automation projects, with unlimited amendments – all included within a fixed licence fee.

Clarilis takes drafting efficiency to the next level by enabling fee earners to produce high quality first drafts in a fraction of the current time. For example, lawyers who use Clarilis produce the first draft of an SPA, or investment suite, and all ancillaries within two hours. Complex banking facility agreements can also be drafted in under two hours, and in real estate a lease plus common ancillaries can be drafted in a matter of minutes.

Clarilis offers both custom automations that are built based on your firm’s precedents, and a growing list of pre-automated options for M&A, share reorganisations, facilities agreements and commercial leases. So, to return to the property analogy, with us, you could just move into your ideal fit-for-purpose home without having the stress of renovation, an out-of-control budget and months of eating cold baked beans in the caravan.

Ready to talk about your project? Arrange a chat with our team.

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Despite the success you can have with simpler automations, law firms often have to resign themselves to accepting that complex automations they have built using a toolkit are unlikely to match up to their expectations and anticipated time savings.

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