Welcome back to this series looking at the process of automating documents. Check out my previous post (available here) if you missed it. This post will focus on the first step to automating documents - preparation.

It is crucial to do the ground work prior to commencing any automation process. At CC Dr@ft we have automated some of the most complex documents in the finance industry. Depending on their nature it takes time and the attention of various teams in order to deliver a successful product. To make sure you are in a strong position you need four things:

  1. A strategy
  2. Effective automation specialists
  3. Templates ready to automate
  4. Team alignment

Let's take a closer look at these.

A strategy

Often the biggest hurdle to rolling out an innovative product is achieving stakeholder buy-in. It is therefore important to have a plan on how to achieve this in a way that doesn't put stakeholders' noses out of joint. There are many reasons that you may come up against opposition to automation (e.g. lack of faith in the technology, fear of redundancy, etc.), it is therefore key to ensure that you take your stakeholders along for the ride, manage expectations and provide appropriate reassurance. 

At CC Dr@ft we recommend to our clients to start small with a proof of concept document such as a non-disclosure agreement to showcase the benefits of the technology. This provides a cost effective means of validating the concept of automation. From there you can either gradually increase the size and complexity of documents or, if people are bought into the strategy, go for something more complex such as a customer supply agreement, loan documents, security documents, etc. where you will likely see more dramatic benefits. Whichever option you choose, make sure that your stakeholders are aligned with the approach (or are at least prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt!).

Effective automation specialists

Good automation specialists will be able to bring three things to the table. 

First, they will be able to work with you to identify those opportunities in your legal processes that will yield the greatest benefits. 

Second, they will understand the subject matter and ideally have previous experience in a non-automation context. At CC Dr@ft we are all former practising lawyers and so have a strong understanding of contractual provisions (in particular in the areas of finance and capital markets but also in corporate, HR and other commercial areas). This experience is key as we can speak the same language with different stakeholder groups (translating being half the battle). 

Finally, they will be able to deliver and will have a tried and tested approach to rolling out contract automation. Many vendors will try to just sell you a product for you to start automating yourself but the real challenge is being able to complete the automation and start deriving benefits. 

Make sure you choose wisely!

Templates ready to automate

Identifying templates to automate is one thing, but that doesn't mean that we should jump straight into development. If your templates haven't been reviewed and updated for a while then this may be your first step. That said, if it is a simple template, you may wish to crack straight on with automating it first to allow your business teams to start deriving some efficiency gains and leave the review until later.

If it is a large and complex template or if you want to amalgamate several templates into one with a higher level of optionality – update it first and get your stakeholder sign-off before you start to automate. Skipping this step can lead to confusion and potentially significant delays in delivery.

WARNING – don’t fall into the trap of getting part way through the automation and then trying to update it – any changes will likely be out of scope and, more importantly, it gets very hard to reconcile the partially-coded template with the updated, un-coded version and to reflect the required changes.

If in doubt, your automation specialists should be able to advise you on the best approach and timelines.

Team alignment

The final key ingredient for automation is team alignment. 

By this I mean ensuring the respective teams feeding into a project have capacity to do so. In the case of a relatively simple template like a basic confidentiality agreement a member of your legal team may be all the contact required for the document to be successfully automated so this is quite straightforward. However, if that confidentiality agreement template has a high level of optionality in order to give a business user the ability to negotiate with their counterpart (whilst still operating within the parameters set by the legal team) then you probably want some members of the business team involved to understand how the template is used and also to "road test" the questionnaire that will be presented. Both those teams will need to be willing to put some time into testing the automated document. 

Once we start looking at facility agreements, final terms for debt securities programmes, etc. then you may need to bring in an operations team, a treasury team, credit sanctions team, outside counsel, etc. In order to coordinate all these stakeholders we recommend that clients appoint a dedicated project manager to coordinate each team and to act as the point of contact for the automation specialists. This can be extremely cost effective.

Hopefully that has given you some food for thought in terms of gearing up for automation. If you have any queries please do get in touch and I'd be happy to answer any queries.

For the next article in the series, we'll move onto Scoping, an area that we put a great deal of importance on this in the CC Dr@ft team.

Get in touch

If you've found this article helpful and would like to discuss our approach to template automation further, please get in touch by emailing sales.ccas@cliffordchance.com.

Article Series

How to automate documents - Part 1: Introduction

How to automate documents - Part 3: Scoping

How to automate documents - Part 4: Development

How to automate documents - Part 5: Testing

How to automate documents - Part 6: Sign-off

How to automate documents - Part 7: Maintenance