WHAT IS DOCUMENT LIFECYCLE?
Document lifecycle as a standalone term probably doesn’t give much insight into what it is; more specifically its meaning and application within AG.
At AG, our Document Lifecycle focus involves any technology that interacts with documents. Sounds pretty universal as you could say a law firm's product is a document so everything will come in contact with a document at some stage.
What we're interested in is how documents are made, the processes of getting to a completed product and what these documents actually say. From this it becomes a bit clearer that we look at the automation of first draft documents, the negotiation of these through to completion and then how we use these large data sets to improve other areas of the business, all whilst not losing sight of how this directly benefits our clients.
With document automation, AG already had a wealth of experience when I joined the firm in the middle of lockdown, 2020. What we looked to do when refreshing the firms approach to automation is to ensure that;
1) we are providing the best quality service and product possible; and
2) that we aren’t necessarily tied down to specific ways of working.
We were in the enviable position where we weren't wedded to a particular system out of necessity, meaning we didn’t have to crowbar every single job into one platform.
We aim to be tech agnostic so we can match the right tool to the job, rather forcing a job to work within a tool. Because of this, we have multiple systems for automation, each with their own specific purposes.
We are also always on the lookout for new tech to help, whether that be a new automation system or one that can complement our established suite of tools. Whilst I find it refreshing that a firm is willing to invest in similar systems, it does throw up one issue – analogous data is being collected on different platforms; what do we do about this?
An industry puzzle at the moment is the capturing of relevant, readable data. To fully utilise all the data we have – data that's being collected in different systems - we need to come up with something to front end this. At AG, we have in-house software developers to help create bespoke solutions and has led to one of our biggest projects.
Our most ambitious project in Document Lifecycle centres on our wealth of data - from first draft document data to completion document data and everything in between. We will collect and manipulate this data to analyse and report on to give a holistic view of the life of that document and deal. This will enable us to realise an as yet untapped potential in data – to move from providing reactive advice to proactive predictions. To me, this is incredibly exciting and I'm looking forward to seeing what trends and foresight we can provide.
The final piece of the jigsaw, a piece that I do not believe a solid answer exists for yet, is how we regain useful, relevant data when the document inevitably leaves its original platform; how do we control the document when it goes 'offline'?
The negotiation of a document and that audit trail/timeline is very interesting to us. Whilst the above project will fit the two end pieces together, having an accurate, meaningful journey from flat text precedent, through various technologies, to finally a signed document, is what we're all about. We will have to use everything at our disposal to get this up and running, from engaging with our suppliers, to working with our lawyers and creating our own software.
Having gone through the 'what' above, I want to show an example of the 'why'. Recently, the team worked very closely with the Real Estate division to set about automating a large number of documents for our REVEL programme. This involved tight deadlines and an immense amount of automation to get done, all whilst on-boarding new members in a remote working environment. The professionalism and openness to change and new ideas from both the Real Estate lawyers and the Legal Technologists meant we had the best automation launch I've seen in my career. The engagement and numbers were incredibly high for a first project launch and something that I'm really proud of the team for.
After its successful launch, the appetite and engagement hasn’t died down. Latest figures show we've provided the legal teams nearly 250 hours back in which to devote to more compelling, higher value work in just this one project. Extrapolating this to our other divisions and it's clear that this use of tech is providing genuine and substantial improvements on our lawyers' ability to spend more time on the intricate work for our clients.