By Grace Hart November 9, 2020

Why traditional document automation isn’t giving law firms a good Return on the Lawyer (ROL)

The managed real estate market grew to $10.5 trillion by the start of 2021 (MCSI, 2021), despite a year of unprecedented challenges. The market has grown [160%] since 2010 and, as you would expect, digital transformation has gathered pace to keep up with the opportunities and challenges presented.

Why traditional document automation isn’t giving law firms a good Return on the Lawyer (ROL)

Document automation toolkits are failing to improve firms’ return on the lawyer (ROL). It’s time to embrace intelligent drafting technology.

What’s your Return on the Lawyer (ROL)? Are you making the best possible use of fee earners’ valuable time, freeing them from routine, mechanical, and inefficient drafting and enabling them to focus on higher value strategic work?

Unsurprisingly, fee earners bring in the most revenue when they focus on client-facing activities. However, lawyers spend too much of their time on drafting alone—despite the widespread introduction of document automation toolkits.

These toolkits habitually underdeliver. Instead, firms looking to maximise their ROL should discover intelligent drafting technology.

Why has document automation failed to deliver better ROL?

While virtually all of the top firms use some form of document automation, these toolkits provide minimal impact on efficiency, productivity, and performance. Indeed, it’s estimated that only 7% of firms have achieved a high level of adoption of document automation.

Traditional document automation toolkits are behind the curve: an outdated technology with an outdated approach. Let’s explore why.

Shallow automation

If a legal document has, for example, 500 automatable elements, firms using traditional toolkits typically automate only 50 to 100 of these, leaving the more advanced elements to freehand drafting. This is due to the trade-off between automation depth and complexity. With traditional document automation toolkits, deeper automations take longer to implement and tune, require more complicated logic, and are harder to maintain.

Firms therefore tend to opt for a minimal viable product, achieving only a shallow level of automation. This ultimately provides very limited value in the way of improving efficiency and margins.

Lengthy implementation

Time is a major constraint holding law firms back from achieving a better ROL. Time to value can stretch to months or even years because traditional document automation toolkits usually require a lengthy implementation period, especially if firms are looking to build and maintain deep, comprehensive automations. This is a major reason for the prevalence of shallow, low-value automation projects.

What’s more, once implemented, automated precedents must be kept up-to-date on an ongoing basis in order to retain their value. This applies to both forced changes due to evolving law, and desired enhancements requested by fee earners. This means that an internal automation team can end up spending the bulk of its time updating existing projects, rather than working on new ones.

Skills and capabilities gap

Building automation projects from a traditional toolkit generally requires specialist technical skills and logic creation ability, for example to be able to create nested IF/THEN/ELSE statements within a document. This is on top of the legal expertise required to understand the documents to be automated and how they are used.

Firms usually struggle to find someone with both the requisite legal and technical automation knowledge to complete this task. Even if there is somebody who possesses both of these skill sets, they’re unlikely to be able to dedicate themselves exclusively to the project— and what happens if they leave the company? That usually means that the project will be significantly delayed (or sometimes even abandoned).

Lack of support

Many automation projects stall, fail, or are abandoned simply due to a lack of proper support and guidance.

In many cases, software providers adopt a ‘Lego bricks’ approach—delivering the toolkits and leaving firms to assemble the pieces themselves. Moreover, some providers use third-party tools and don’t own their software.

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There are also consultancies that can help with the automation process, but these come at a cost and use third-party automation toolkits—raising questions of responsibility when problems arise.

So, firms are faced with doing it all themselves or hiring a consultancy, often on a time and materials basis. The solution is to work with a technology partner that owns their own platform and not only provides the software, but builds, implements, and maintains it, ensuring that your desired outcomes are achieved. Very few software providers offer managed service delivery, but this approach leads to a greater ROI by delivering optimised automation projects on time and on budget.


Ease-of-use is crucial when implementing new tools. Persuading fee earners to change their drafting habits isn’t easy, and it’s made even harder when they’re faced with complex, clunky interfaces. This is likely to cause them to revert to their tried-and-tested ways, however inefficient these are for the firm.

Many document automation toolkits, for example, insist that questionnaires are completed in a specific order—but the information isn’t always sent over to the fee earner in that order.

Faced with a block, frustrated lawyers have been known to print out document automation questionnaires and complete the information by hand, as they receive it! This makes the task cumbersome and defeats the purpose of introducing automation.

Why intelligent drafting is different (and better)

Clarilis intelligent drafting technology frees up your fee earners to focus on high-value work. It automates the drafting of complex documents, cutting drafting time by up to 90% on the first draft, and up to 100% on ancillary documents.

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The matter-based platform understands legal documentation and excels at the complex automation of entire suites for matters such as SPAs, employment contracts, and lease agreements.

Freehand drafting is drastically reduced, with the platform automating not just basics like name, address, and party details, but also advanced elements including data, entities, definitions, advanced logic, formatting, repeating sections, and cross-referencing.

Unlock your fee earners’ potential

Intelligent drafting technology has the power to transform your ROL — allowing fee earners to focus on high-value activities and optimise the way they work. Removing repetitive, manual processes also helps to foster better working practices and higher morale.

Ultimately, when lawyers spend more time on high-value legal and advisory work tasks, they are doing more of what they trained for and more of what interests them within legal practice. This means greater job satisfaction, so that they are less inclined to move on, can develop more fruitful client relationships, and enjoy a more fulfilling career.

Key takeaways

  • Document automation toolkits require lengthy, complex implementation and create an unmanageable maintenance overhead, especially when automation projects are trying to save significant time or generate a suite of documents.
  • Moreover, they lack the functionality needed to transform your ROL.
  • By implementing intelligent drafting technology, you’ll be able to quickly produce the full suite of complex documents in line with the latest precedents.
  • Free up fee earners to focus their valuable time elsewhere.
Screenshot 2022-07-25 at 12.33.23

Deep automation delivers to the bottom line

The managed real estate market grew to $10.5 trillion by the start of 2021 (MCSI, 2021), despite a year of unprecedented challenges.