July 20, 2016 – The rise of nonlawyer legal service providers, along with pressure from clients on firms to deliver more services for less, are forcing law firms to find innovative ways to become more efficient with their time and deliver a better product.
Whether your practice is litigation or transactional in nature, as an attorney you spend a lot of time generating documents. From client intake questionnaires and representation agreements, to motions, briefs and contract drafting, all of these documents take time to accurately produce for each client. Therefore, it is not surprising to see an increase each year in document automation options marketed to attorneys in an effort to increase attorney efficiency and accuracy.
A New Document Assembly Program for Estate Planning
In April, your own State Bar of Wisconsin entered the document automation arena with a new product aimed at assisting attorneys with generating estate planning documents. The product is called WisDocs Estate Planning and is offered through HotDocs Market from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®.
com brent hoeftlaw Brent J. Hoeft, Cleveland State University 2006, is a solo practitioner with Hoeft Law LLC, Madison, where he practices in the areas of business law, estate planning, and real estate.
HotDocs Market is document automation software that has been around for decades. The software automatically generates documents derived from information the user enters into questionnaires. Based upon the user’s responses to the questions, the document and document lists will grow and shrink accordingly in length and complexity. After the user completes the questionnaire, a completed Microsoft Word Document is generated where the user can further customize and make edits.
WisDocs Estate Planning pairs this HotDocs document automation technology with the estate planning forms contained in the extremely thorough and complete State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE book, Eckhardt’s Workbook for Wisconsin Estate Planners. Any attorney practicing any estate planning should at least be familiar with Eckhardt’s Workbook and the forms that book contains. Therefore, the forms generated by WisDocs will seem familiar to many attorneys. The State Bar gave me early access to this new offering in order to conduct test cases and provide a review of my experience.
The User Experience
To begin using the software, the user must first purchase it from HotDocs Market and register with the website, which then provides instant access to the WisDocs Estate Planning software. There is no additional software to download or install since the software is completely web-based and accessible from any internet connected computer.
WisDocs is intended to be used after estate planning intake has occurred and client information has been gathered. The user interface is easy to navigate, and any attorney who has filled out a fillable form before will be familiar with the functionality. The questions asked in the interview are pretty self-explanatory. Certain questions have a help section available, indicated by the presence of a “lightbulb” image. Clicking on this image will provide additional information on that question. The user’s current progress in the interview can be saved at any time and easily returned to at the user’s convenience.
A Well-designed Interface
Once the user gets into the “interview,” the interface is well-designed. On the user’s computer screen is a workspace divided into two sections. The main section is where interview questions are asked and the user inputs the answers. The second section is a side bar next to the main section that displays the user’s progress in the interview process, including sections already answered as well as upcoming items.
To begin generating the documents, the user opens the questionnaire session, assigns a unique file name under which to save the estate planning progress, and begins answering the questions presented. The questions begin with asking about attorney preferences and documents needed for the specific estate plan being prepared. Based upon the user’s answers the questions, form context, and document list will be added to or subtracted from accordingly. The software takes the user through questions specific to each of the requested documents.
Once all questions have been answered, the user has the ability to generate the entire plan as a Word document as well as export all of the answers to the interview as a data file. Once the documents are generated as Word documents, the user can further edit, format and make any desired changes.
The Product’s Limitations
During my testing of the product I did encounter two small issues. The first occurred when getting started with what the system calls the “interview.” Instead of simple and obvious icons making it clear how to begin the process, the user is presented with a sort of file tree from which to select your product. There is simply an item listed as “Estate Planning Interview,” which does not seem to be the clearest way to indicate that this is where the user should start the process.
The second issue was with the functionality of the progress bar. If there are enough documents in the estate plan list that it goes beyond the viewable area of the sidebar, the user is unable to scroll up or down to see items in the list hidden beyond the viewable area. Fortunately, I assume these issues are able to be addressed with a future update should the designers decide to do so.
Overall, I believe WisDocs Estate Planning document assembly system to be a quality product that has potential to save attorneys time and money all while increasing attorney accuracy and efficiency in generating estate planning documents.
After using WisDocs, I found the interface to be user-friendly and self-explanatory; however, it does have its limitations. As mentioned earlier, WisDocs uses the forms from Eckhardt’s Workbook – which means that the attorney is locked into using those forms, and the formatting and presentation they contain. When the documents are generated as Word documents, the attorney is able to edit and rearrange things as desired. If the attorney only has to make a couple alterations to the generated estate plan documents then this process works fine and provides substantial benefit to the attorney preparing the plan.
However, if the attorney is accustomed to having estate planning documents presented in a certain way, or always substantially alters the provisions in Eckhardt’s Forms, then having to make these edits for each and every plan generated can quickly become unwieldy, and the system subsequently loses its time-saving and efficiency benefits.
Additionally, since the document automation is limited to these estate planning documents offered through WisDocs, this is not the product for the attorney that is looking to add document automation universally to their law firm. More customizable document automation options exist that can be applied to any firm document, albeit, often at the sacrifice of simplicity and user-friendliness in setting up the forms.
A Quality Product with Potential to Save Time and Money
Overall, I believe WisDocs Estate Planning to be a quality product that has potential to save attorneys time and money all while increasing attorney accuracy and efficiency in generating estate planning documents. It is user-friendly software based upon forms from an established, quality State Bar of Wisconsin estate planning resource.
WisDocs has an advantage over many other document automation products in that it is web-based, and therefore any updates to the software or the forms themselves are made immediately and without any user intervention.
Ultimately, because of the product’s limitations, I believe attorneys who will realize the most value from WisDocs Estate Planning are those who are already using or are looking to begin using the Eckhardt’s Workbook forms largely unaltered to prepare estate plans. However, attorneys who use different estate planning forms or have substantially altered the Eckhardt’s Workbook forms to fit their preferences with their estate plans will not see the time-saving and efficiency gains. If you are an attorney that falls into the former category, then I suggest you give WisDocs Estate Planning a try.
How to Purchase
The WisDocs Estate Planning product is able to be purchased through the HotDocs Market with the option to purchase a license on an annual basis for $299 per year or on a monthly basis for $39 per month. Upon creating a user account and payment of the applicable fee, the user is provided with immediate access to the software. The software is web-based and therefore is accessible from any computer with an internet connection without any need to download additional software. For more details about the product go to the Hotdocs Market and search “WisDocs” in the “Search Templates” field.
Please note that the application is available only to lawyers; verification will be required by HotDocs to complete your purchase.