Do-It-Yourself Document Assembly

Do-It-Yourself Document Assembly

September 10, 2018 by Will Robins0
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DIY document assembly

Document assembly (or “document automation,” if you prefer) involves the work you do to create electronic documents. As a lawyer, you probably create electronic documents all day long. Some of you do it by hand, from scratch, every time. Others open the first similar document you can find “on the system” and draft away (you shouldn’t do that, by the way).

Related The Lawyerist Podcast, Episode #47: Automating Your Documents, with Barron Henley

But useful tools exist to help you design systems and workflows that use pre-existing text, automate conditional text, and reduce data entry and human error. Some of these tools live inside of your law practice management software or elsewhere. Others support your do-it-yourself document assembly efforts. But the DIY options take a little work, and you probably aren’t sure where to start.

So here are three options to get you started with do-it-yourself document assembly.

Docassemble

Difficulty level: Hard.
Requirements: An Amazon Web Services account or similar.
Time to set up: 2-3 hours.
Upsides: Customizable and secure. Docassemble is an all-in-one solution, so your data is stored in one place. You’ll reduce the risk of client data being intercepted in transit from service to service.
Downsides: Requires some programming knowledge and setup of a virtual machine on a service like Amazon Web Services.

Docassemble is a true all-in-one solution for creating an expert document assembly tool. It is a complete “full stack” application that can do anything from simple PDF generation to machine learning. It also boasts a massive amount of documentation. If you only want fillable PDF documents, Docassemble is a bit like driving a supercar to the grocery store. But if you need functionality and flexibility, Docassemble is probably the best tool for the job. And if you’re scared off by setting up a virtual machine, Community Lawyer is a handy service that can set up and run docassemble projects for you.

Typeform + Zapier + Webmerge

Difficulty level: Moderate.
Requirements: Accounts with Typeform, Zapier, and Webmerge.
Time to set up: 1-2 hours.
Upsides: Easy to use and set up, and generally simple for creating basic PDF forms. Can be really affordable (almost free, even), depending on what services you use.
Downsides: Using multiple services means data flow from one service to another. You may want to gauge your risk tolerance for using this system for capturing client data.

Typeform is a survey tool that builds nice, clean, and conversational online forms. Webmerge is a powerful tool for creating fillable PDFs that you can host online. And Zapier is the stationmaster that sends everything where it needs to go. You can create a useful document assembly workflow by chaining these three services together, and can likely do it for free (or close). A critical constraint on this type of workflow is that a small change can mean changing things in three applications instead of just one.

Document Assembly in WordPress

Difficulty level: Moderate.
Requirements: WordPress.
Time to set up: 1-2 hours.
Upsides: A solution that lives on your existing website, assuming you use WordPress.
Downsides: Cost, primarily, although using conditional logic (which this setup requires) can slow things down considerably, which may be bad for your website’s performance and SEO.

If you run a WordPress site for your law firm, you may want to consider your options for hosting a document assembly tool on your site. There are several alternatives for generating PDFs inside WordPress, although most of them require some subscription fee. Two of the most common are Caldera Forms Pro ($15 to $550 per month) and Gravity Forms PDF (free, but requires Gravity Forms at $60/month). These tools run as plugins on your WordPress site, so setting them up is relatively easy.

The “right” solution for your do-it-yourself document assembly depends on your needs. If you only need to automate one or two forms, something like Typeform + Zapier + Webmerge might work really well for you. But if you are interested more complex workflows and being able to customize everything fully, Docassemble may be the best choice. Have a different solution? Respond in the comments!

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Will Robins

Writer For Search Engine Journal and known guest blogger, Will focuses on helping clients rank sites. Have a great marketing project? Will is the person to talk to.

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