Guide: Law Firm Document Automation Made Easy; a man sits at a desk pointing to a graph icon.
Learn Why Organizations are Switching to NetDocuments.

A Guide to Document Automation for Lawyers


“So much work, so little time.”

It’s a constant refrain in law firms, and it’s no exaggeration. The demands on lawyers’ time are perpetually growing — meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking away.

As law firms and legal professionals look for better ways to maximize their efforts, more and more are turning to technology for the solutions. Many of these future-thinking organizations are trading in time-consuming manual processes for efficient automations.

And the results are pretty impressive.

But what do you need to know before getting started with legal document automation? This guide has the answers, including key benefits of document automation, different software options to consider, essential features to look out for, and guidelines for how to select the right solution and get a great ROI.

What is Legal Document Automation?

Automation is a rapidly-growing trend in the legal industry — and for good reason. By using technology to execute tasks, processes, and workflows without (or with reduced) human involvement, automation allows law firms to deliver legal services faster and at a lower cost.

So what is legal document automation, really?

Legal document automation refers to automating legal document work — particularly the labor-intensive, tedious tasks that take time away from more interesting, high-value work. With legal document automation solutions, law firms can automate workflows like generating contracts, agreements, applications, opinions, pleadings, and even entire sets of documents.

Legal Document Automation vs. Document Assembly

Is there a difference between legal document automation and document assembly?

Some argue that document automation refers specifically to the template development process while document assembly describes the process of generating customized documents from a template.

The truth is, many people in the legal industry use these terms interchangeably. You may also hear the term “ document generation” used. But ultimately, they’re all describing the same thing: building templates that can be auto-populated to create custom legal documents.

Most Legal Organizations Are Already Using Automation

Odds are, you’re already using automation. Electronic signatures, online intake forms and queries, contract lifecycle workflows… These are all forms of automation that help lawyers and legal professionals work more efficiently.

Because legal work begins and ends with documents, adding automation can have a big impact on just about any lawyer’s day-to-day workload.

6 Benefits of Legal Document Automation

Consider these six key benefits of legal document automation for lawyers and law firms:

1. Save Time on Administrative Tasks

The data doesn’t lie: automatable work fills as much as 23% of a lawyer’s day. These are tasks that don’t actually require human intervention, such as administrative work and other rote processes.

And let’s be honest: no one goes through all the hard work and expense of law school hoping to spend a quarter of their day copying and pasting text, scanning documents, or printing out pages for wet signatures.

Automating administrative tasks saves time that lawyers can instead spend on meaningful, revenue-generating activities.

2. Improve the Quality of Work Product

Errors happen — that’s just a fact of life. But when it comes to legal work, even small errors can turn into costly mistakes, both for law firms and their clients. Fortunately, automation can help reduce the occurrence of errors and improve the overall quality of work products.

For example, legal document automation software can pull data directly from the client relationship manager (CRM) or practice/case management system into a standardized template. This easily eliminates the tedious challenge of transcribing case numbers, party names, necessary dates, and other straightforward details. Then, lawyers can focus the majority of their time and attention on any unique or complex aspects of the case.

The final result? Prompt delivery of high-quality products.

3. Reduce Stress

Tedious, time-consuming tasks can significantly increase stress and contribute to burnout, especially when they detract from more meaningful work.

Automation, on the other hand, can reduce the amount of administrative tasks on a lawyer’s plate and free up time. Whether that time gets spent on higher-value tasks or improving work-life balance is their choice.

4. Increase the Number of Clients You Can Serve

As legal services become more commoditized, the number of clients a firm can serve will directly correlate with how efficiently it can deliver legal products.

Using automation, law firms can templatize many routine legal work products such as leases, wills, employment contracts, uncontested divorces, incorporations, etc. Instead of monopolizing valuable time, simple matters can be dealt with quickly and help lawyers to establish new client relationships effortlessly.

5. Impress Your Clients

Automation doesn’t have to be relegated to behind-the-scenes work. In fact, it can be quite impressive in client-facing applications.

Consider an automated client intake process. Using a self-service form, the client inputs all necessary information which is then automatically merged into a templatized engagement letter and passed to the client for electronic signatures. The entire process can be completed within minutes. Meanwhile, your firm is shown to be fast, attentive, accurate, tech-savvy, and modern — and that can make all the difference when it comes to winning new and returning business.

6. Improve Your Organization’s KPIs

Given all these benefits, it should come as no surprise that automation can lead to big improvement for your firm’s key performance indicators, or KPIs.

Fewer avoidable errors? Check. Increased efficiency? Check. More (and happier!) clients? Check. Better talent retention because lawyers aren’t burned out on menial tasks? Check, check, check!

Measuring Document Automation ROI in Legal Organizations

Given all the possible benefits of document automation, it’s no wonder the legal industry is taking advantage of this technology. But how do you know you’re getting the value you want from document automation and assembly tools? How do you ensure you get a strong return on your tech investment?

Measure Your Results

The most obvious answer, of course, is to measure. First, you’ll need to establish benchmarks for important key performance indicators, such as: How long does it take your team to compile documents with their existing manual workflows? How many documents are you manually creating?

Once you’ve set up your document automation processes, take each measurement again. Ideally, your drafting time will decrease (even if you’re only able to partially automate the process), and you’ll see a significant time savings that your team can put toward more meaningful work.

If you’re able to set up client self-service, you may end up producing more documents per month as well. This can dramatically increase your ROI as it allows you to deliver a higher quantity of work at a lower cost to your team.

Maintain Your Templates

Another way document automation can deliver ROI for your organization is by helping maintain your template library.

Most law firms have a sizable repository of past cases to draw from — in fact, that precedent bank is often considered a strategic advantage and competitive differentiator. But that can also mean digging through dozens of variations of the same type of contract when you’re trying to manually assemble a new one. You’ve also got to continuously review and maintain your various templates to ensure they’re up to date.

Document automation can drastically improve that process by consolidating all the various permutations into one master template. Using conditional logic, the document automation software can add or remove content to fit the needs of the case. When there are changes to legislation, it’s also much easier to update citations in your master template than to go through each template variation individually.

As with drafting time, you can also measure time spent maintaining document templates before and after automation to see how it improves.

Reuse Your Data

Almost always, the same data is used repeatedly throughout the pendency of a case or matter within different sets of documents. To maximize the ROI from your document automation, you will need a system that allows you to reuse the data that has been input in order to build automated documents. To leverage the data repeatedly, the data must be stored in data tables. Having data tables means names can easily be modified and data reused to create additional automations and workflows.

Manage Your Reputation

While harder to quantify, another source of ROI can come through improvements to your firm’s reputation and client relationships.

Among the key benefits of document automation are increased consistency and decreased drafting time. In other words: better legal services delivered faster.

And that’s exactly the kind of thing your clients will rave about.

Law Firm Document Automation May Not Be Suitable for…

Make no mistake: automation can’t replace an astute lawyer. But while there are many day-to-day processes that are well-suited to automation, some workflows can only be partially automated. And of course, there will always be the unique and sensitive matters that require bespoke treatment by the best talent your firm has to offer.

So how do you determine when automation is the right approach?

When you’re trying to decide if a task or process could or should be automated, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Is the process manual and repetitive?
  • How much time does this task consume on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis?
  • Is time spent on this task billable?
  • How much time and/or money could you save by automating all or part of this task?
  • Does the process follow standardized and predictive rules?
  • How often do you run into unusual circumstances or conditions during this task?
  • Are you already using document templates or other tools to streamline this task?
  • Do you have the right tools and applications to automate the process, or will you need to find document automation tools?

What Are the Types of Document Automation and Management Systems?

To get started with legal document automation, you’ll need to find the right software. There are several varieties to choose from. It’s important to understand the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of each option so you can select the best solution for your firm.

Practice Management Software with Document Automation Features

Some practice management platforms provide basic document automation features, such as client intake portals, e-signature, and the ability to populate documents with data from the practice management software. However, they do not include the complex legal logic necessary to complete most legal documents. These solutions are best suited for simple document automations of a more administrative nature.

Standalone Assembly Software

Standalone document assembly software solutions may offer more advanced or specialized document generation tools than those included in a practice management suite. For example, they may offer template libraries for specific jurisdictions and/or practice areas. Or they may have additional tools to review, approve, or e-file the created documents.

Keep in mind, however, that to reap the full benefits of automation, a standalone software added to your technology stack must integrate with your primary document management (or practice or case management) platforms.

Law Firm Document Management Software with Document Automation

Naturally, a robust document management platform will offer a complete suite of document automation and assembly tools to support even the most complex legal logic, including calculations, lists, loops, and conditional clauses.

One key benefit of this option is that the automation is built into the same interface you’re using to manage your documents. As a result, you can automate document workflows even further — not just generating them, but reviewing, approving, collaborating, sharing, organizing, and securing them.

How is Document Automation Software Different from Legal Document Management?

Document automation software is a powerful tool for law firms, but generating customized documents is just one small aspect of document management as a whole.

Legal document management covers a broad range of essential tools and capabilities, including:

  • Secure and compliant document storage
  • Predictive email filing
  • Advanced search using custom metadata and dynamic attributes
  • Document review and version control
  • Secure sharing and collaborating with internal and external users
  • Built-in electronic signatures with automated workflows
  • Seamless integration with Microsoft Office suite
  • Advanced security capabilities
  • Granular user access permissions

… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Key Features of Law Firm Document Automation Software

When you’re considering a document automation solution — whether standalone, or as part of a practice management or document management platform — there are a few features you’ll want to look for.

Document Templates

Simply put, there is no document automation without the ability to create templates. A template will allow you to identify fields in the document that should be customized to each client, case or matter. When you generate an automated document, those fields will be filled based on source data from your CRM, practice management software, etc.

Document Library

Some document automation solutions will come with a built-in library of documents and court forms for certain jurisdictions and practice areas. This can save time, particularly if your firm has not already amassed its own library of frequently used documents.

Document Storage

Once you’ve generated a document, where will you store it? A document automation solution should offer secure storage for your documents — or better yet, a seamless integration to your document management system (DMS), so that it can be promptly stored in the correct matter file.

Conditional Logic

For documents that are the same every single time, basic document automation capabilities will do the trick. But what about document types that occasionally include extra clauses or other variations from the standard format? This encompasses most legal documents.

To automate these more complex documents, you need to apply conditional logic. These rules allow you to display additional text, fields, or clauses in a document only when specific conditions are met.

This is a can’t-miss feature because conditional logic greatly expands your document automation opportunities.


There are many ways to automate document processes and workflows, but when we talk about document automation or document assembly, this is the central point: automatically populating document fields with data from another source. In other words, no more copy and paste!

Data Tables

In order to reuse data that has been entered into the system, it must have data tables to store the data. Within the data tables, edits can be made to the data as needed, and it can be reused multiple times, negating the need to re-enter the same data over and over again. This increases the time-saving gains from your automation system exponentially.

Remote Access

Work doesn’t always happen at work, which is why all your essential systems should be accessible on your preferred device, wherever you need to be.

Electronic Signatures

When you’ve generated the rest of the document automatically, it only makes sense to automate the remaining steps of the process too. Sending the customized document off for electronic signature and then automatically and securely filing the signed document takes the process across the finish line!

Software Integrations

Some features are nice-to-haves, but software integrations are absolutely essential. Your document automation solution should integrate seamlessly with your core platforms, such as your document management system, email management system, and practice management software.

Truly seamless solutions allow you to work directly within Microsoft Word to create automations. This can make the process significantly easier as it allows your team to work within an interface they’re already familiar with.

Various File Types

Keep in mind that most automation tools specialize in either Microsoft Word or PDF formats. If you expect to use both document formats, make sure the document automation software you choose will let you automate forms and documents in both Word and PDF formats.

Client Self-Service

If you want to create happy clients without lifting a finger, select an automation solution that allows clients to self-serve. With a self-service portal or online form, your clients — new or returning — can select the services they need and generate the fully customized document they need in minutes. All that’s left for your firm to do is collect the fee.

How to Choose Document Management & Automation Software

Legal work begins and ends with documents — that’s why document management and automation software are such critical systems to get right. But with so many options to choose from, how do you select the right one for your firm?

Does the Software Have the Features Your Firm Needs?

Use the list of document automation features above to help you determine which automation features are essential. Knowing your deal breakers will make it easier to quickly eliminate solutions that are not a good fit for your team.

If you’re looking for a document management system with document automation built-in, you’ll also want to explore the other features of the DMS to ensure it offers all the capabilities you need. Keep in mind that a cloud-based platform will offer the most flexibility when it comes to ease-of-access, third-party integrations, and more.

Is the Software Within Your Budget?

The cost of document automation software can range from inexpensive tools with basic features to higher-end products offering a robust suite of advanced automation capabilities. Pricing can also vary based on how many users you need, as well as whether you choose a standalone product or one that’s part of a practice management or document management platform.

Depending on your firm’s typical caseload, fee structure, and goals, the ROI on document automation can be significant for saving time, replicating expertise, improving work-life balance, and attracting and retaining top talent. You’ll also want to take these things into consideration as you go through the software selection process.

Does the Software Fit Your Current Tech Stack?

When it comes to document automation, you want a solution that fits well into your existing tech stack. If you choose a standalone product, having a strong API connection to your core platforms is absolutely essential. Without seamless integration, there will still be manual steps to the process as you transfer documents from the automation software to your document management system.

Alternatively, you can choose a document automation solution that’s built directly into your document management platform. With this option, your users can create fully-automated document assembly workflows — from intake to storage — without having to learn an entirely new user interface.

Is the Software Easy to Use?

Software that’s too tough to learn often goes unused — and your investment goes down the drain. That’s why you want a no-code solution for document automation. No-code software gives lawyers the flexibility to create sophisticated, customized automations without requiring them to learn complex coding languages.

Have You Taken a Test Drive?

There’s no better way to get a feel for a software platform than trying it out. A test drive allows you to experience the software interface, explore the available features, and experiment with new workflows. Make sure to test drive any document management and/or automation software you consider adopting for your firm.

Is the Software Secure?

Any software you use to create or store confidential documents must be secure. Before selecting a document management or automation software solution, you should thoroughly vet the security capabilities.

It’s worth noting that, instead of managing all security needs in-house, many law firms are relying on third-party providers to support security and compliance. By selecting a DMS with robust built-in security, firms gain pass-through compliance certifications, more advanced capabilities, and quicker security updates.

Start Automating Your Expertise

Getting started with document automation can seem a bit daunting, but here’s the thing: it can be an absolute game changer for your firm. And besides, just because your legal expertise is extremely valuable to your clients doesn’t mean it has to be extremely laborious for your team.

With document automation, you can deliver high-quality legal services at scale while reducing the burden of tedious tasks. In fact, automating all that expertise is truly a win for everyone — your lawyers, your clients, your firm as a whole.

(Everyone, that is, except your competition.)

It should come as no surprise that automation is a fast-growing trend in the legal industry. And there’s no time like the present to take advantage of all the benefits document automation has to offer.

Discover PatternBuilder: No-Code Legal Document Automation by NetDocuments

If you’re interested in exploring the possibilities of legal document automation at your firm, there are many software options available. One solution worth considering is PatternBuilder by NetDocuments.

Built directly into the cloud-based NetDocuments content management platform, PatternBuilder is a no-code legal document automation solution with advanced capabilities including conditional logic, end-to-end process automation, multilayer security and compliance certifications, and more.

Explore what PatternBuilder can do for your firm – schedule a demo.

"Great company, great products, great leadership, great people, great culture!"
"I love my team and peers. We are family, and we respect each other."
"NetDocuments encourages a good work/family balance."
"I feel respected and valued by leadership and my team."
"We work together and support/encourage each other to do our best work every day."
"From start to finish, my leaders are willing to guide me and let me try new things. This keeps work fresh, exciting, and fun so I don't burn out or get bored."
"I have clear direction in my work tasks and priorities. I also feel encouraged to put my family first and maintain a healthy work life balance."
"I work with highly motivated individuals who are smart and allow me to learn from them!"
"NetDocuments is committed to exceeding customer expectations by building leading products hosted in rock-solid environments."
"I'm empowered to try new things and think through processes and campaigns strategically. I can lean on my boss for support, but I'm not micromanaged, which is appreciated."
You Might Also Be Interested In…
A white right arrow icon.
A white right arrow icon.
A white right arrow icon.