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Hot Docs and Its Discontents.
Hot Docs used to be the dominant application for document assembly. Back in the day, when you thought of a smooth Q&A interface for automatically drafting a contract, Hot Docs pretty much was the first thing that leaped to mind. Today, Hot Docs has been sold off and has missed out on the general direction of moving software into the cloud so users can avoid installed software maintenance headaches and easily take advantage of the latest upgrades. Hot Docs was never installed and used as widely as it should have been when it was a cutting edge application, and now new document assembly providers that offer some terrific features such as Contract Express and Direct Law are not used enough, either.
Technology lawyer enthusiasts often debate when we will hit a tipping point and lawyers will finally embrace productivity enhancing solutions like document assembly software. Recently I interviewed a prominent in-house attorney who remarked that the state of legal services is very much like the state of consulting and IT services 20 years ago, but the tremendous pressure to strategically source legal services combined with the greater emphasis on metrics to predict and determine value will eventually hit a tipping point requiring widespread improvements in legal productivity. At that point, one would think that we will see much greater interest in efficient technology adoption, at least among large law firms who are under pressure from sizable corporate legal department clients to join this new, metric based world.
On the other hand, I’m wondering that we might not see big law firms leading the way, blasting off into the long hoped for legal space age of widespread technology adoption. Instead, we might see a grass roots change in legal services, where the 600,000 or so U.S. small firm attorneys who are increasingly billing clients on a flat fee basis turn to technology to enhance productivity so they can increase their flat fee profit margins. For instance, here in New Jersey every residential real estate lawyer (which are almost always in law firms of 4 attorneys or less) performs closings on a flat fee basis. Any technology they can use that would let them put contracts together faster is very attractive.
Regardless, I think we need widely accepted metrics and benchmarking data focused on assessing what constitutes affordable quality in legal services. Perhaps a new organization will emerge that will evangelize on this issue and provide greater metrics reporting to lead the way.