Clarilis' Head of Legal, Emma Fear, looks at what the key foundations of a successful automation project are.
As Head of Legal at Clarilis, I’m often asked about the automation process, what it involves, what state the documents need to be in and significantly, how much involvement is required by our law firm clients. These questions all underpin the most important question – how can we ensure our automation project is successful?
My answer always centres around the people – processes – technology framework. All of these elements play an important role in an automation project and it is the careful combination of all three that leads to success.
The Clarilis managed service team includes a large team of PSLs, who were all previously senior solicitors in private practice or in-house legal teams. Their experience covers a range of practice areas including corporate, finance, banking and real estate. The PSLs are supported by document analysts and technical automation specialists who are all experts in logic, questionnaire design and optimising automation projects.
Robust processes are key to a successful automation project – from the selection of the right precedents to automate, through to implementation of the automation and subsequent integration into your fee earners’ practice. If those processes are discussed ‘lawyer-to-lawyer’ before the tech plays a part, this makes a wealth of difference when delivering complex automated document suites.
Our processes are a direct result of this experience. Think of it as ‘best practice’. We don’t just license the technology and leave you to it – it is a collaborative and consultative approach – and we work with you to advise on the right approach from defining scope and preparation through to development, implementation, and beyond. We then combine this experience with the best LegalTech platform for complex matter automation to create your Clarilis solution.
If you have not worked with us before, here are answers to some of the questions I often get asked.
Richard Gaston – Head of Knowledge, Addleshaw Goddard
Experience has shown us that advocating a blanket approach to automation is not the best approach. Each automation project should, in the majority of cases, be justified in terms of the ROI delivered to the firm, prioritising those delivering the greatest benefit to the practice area. In other cases, the priority may be the mitigation of risk or the competitive edge that increased speed of document turnaround will give you.
The Clarilis PSL team use their automation expertise combined with their many years in practice to advise on the automation “sweet spot” – the optimal level of automation. We work with you to identify and advise where the greatest automation value lies.
At Clarilis we have automated a wide range of precedents, from standalone documents such as engagement letters and settlement agreements, through to more complex suites of documents, including share purchase agreements and ancillary documentation, finance suites incorporating facilities agreements, security documents and associated ancillaries and real estate suites catering for various types of leases and client-specific requirements.
Often, the more complex the precedent, the better suited they are to automation. Take legal opinions as an example. They are by their very nature complex and often contain a lot of moving parts, assumptions and many hundreds of permutations of logic to ensure that all the usual risks and those specific to the relevant transaction are dealt with. Legal opinion projects need to be provided in a structured format with guidance and risk control at their very heart. All these factors make them the perfect candidate for automation.
Suites of documents are also great candidates. Being able to produce a Share Purchase Agreement and all the relevant ancillary documents from a single Questionnaire is a huge time-saver. Remember the deeper the level of automation achieved, the less freehand drafting is required, which also significantly reduces the risk of human error.
At Clarilis all communication is lawyer-to-lawyer and from the outset clients will have a dedicated Clarilis PSL who will be your single point of contact. We strongly encourage clients to also appoint a single point of contact who is responsible for providing us with instructions and can marshal comments from a wider team (if any) of interested parties on your side.
Experience has shown us that the project is usually best led by the member of your knowledge management team responsible for the precedent(s) being automated. Fee earner involvement is most commonly seen in the final client review phase but there is merit in a degree of fee earner involvement earlier in the process.
Sophie Brookes – Partner, Gateley Legal
There is no requirement for the precedents destined for automation to be ‘perfect’ or ‘signed-off’. As a general guide, if the relevant precedents are being used by your fee earners on live matters, then they are suitable for automation.
The Clarilis process simply involves giving your dedicated Clarilis PSL the precedents that have been selected for automation, together with any relevant riders and drafting notes. The experienced team of Clarilis PSLs and Document Analysts will then carry out a very detailed review of the precedents in order to create the Questionnaire and prepare them for automation. As part of that process they may seek clarification on certain aspects of the drafting or to better understand your preferred approach. Part of the review involves ensuring all your precedents conform to your house style. The Clarilis team may also, where appropriate, merge multiple versions of your precedents for you, in order ensure consistency across the suite.
Our clients tell us that the review and harmonisation process provided by our PSLs and Document Analysts is a really valuable aspect to our service that adds a great deal of value before the automation is even launched. We also understand that when the automation is rolled out, you only have one chance to make a first impression on the fee earners using the automation so you want the highest possible quality first draft to be produced.
Emma Jackson – Client Innovation Manager, Mills & Reeve
Testing is a key aspect of our process and about a third of the time we spend creating the automation is actually spent testing, from testing the technical logic, through checking the document quality, to our PSLs running example scenarios through it. All this means that when it is sent to you for review, via the pre-release platform, most of the hard work has been done for you.
Our rigorous internal testing processes mean you can focus your time on ensuring that the automation meets your requirements from a practical perspective. It may be that you would like to build in some more user guidance to ensure junior fee earners are able to fully engage in the automation. Or perhaps to set out your firm’s policy or best-practice through the use of pre-selected answers or advisories and warnings.
Once you have completed your review, we will incorporate any suggestions from you into your automation, before you sign-off the suite and go-live.
Ongoing maintenance of the automations is often overlooked but this is key to a successful project as precedents do not stand still. Think about who is going to be doing the maintenance. You need a plan in place so that users do not revert back to their old ways, which defeats the object!
Our built-in feedback function provides fee earners with an easy way to send their feedback to your precedent owner – not just on the precedents themselves but also the automation. This in turn enables the precedents to be continually improved upon and the automation to remain current.
Post-launch amendments are all included within the Clarilis licence at no extra cost; simply send a mark-up of the relevant document and we make the relevant changes.
Having been involved in managing automation projects for several years now, as well has having used the automation in practice, I believe the above points are paramount, particularly when considering more complex automation projects.
But I would have to say that I think the overriding success factor in any automation project is the quality of the tech platform, combined with the experience and communication skills of the professional support lawyers involved. These elements are not mutually exclusive!
The tech platform and managed service that Clarilis offer is incredibly important to our clients. I say this based on experience when I hear about firms who consider ‘building this themselves’ – you need great tech to underpin the legal experience involved. You may have great legal brains and infinite resource but you need the Clarilis tech platform to underpin everything. The need for good communication is also paramount – the better we understand your needs, as well as your precedents, the better we can translate them into the automation. Our clients appreciate this too, at all stages of their relationship with Clarilis.