Document Automation 

An interview with Harry Shipley, Assistant Executive Director,
The Iowa State Bar Association

Iowa State Bar Association Interview (Part 1)
Iowa State Bar Association Interview (Part 2)
Iowa State Bar Association Interview (Part 3)
Iowa State Bar Association Interview (Part 4)
Iowa State Bar Association Interview (Part 5)


Why should a State Bar Association create an automated template library for members?

I see the answer to this as twofold. First and foremost, as a member benefit and second of all, as a revenue stream for the association.

In regards to the member benefit, the bar associations have a major responsibility and that is to assist their members in practicing and then part of that is to make them practice more efficient. And I think a template library in an automated document assembly program does exactly that.

So, rather than members searching around for old documents to modify for a new client or similar things of that nature, they simply go to a library, they choose the template, they start from scratch and input their answers, those answers are then utilized from one form to the next without retyping that information.

That’s simply how an automated system works and it reduces the time of practicing specifically when it comes to documents from hours to minutes and that, that first and foremost is one of the reasons why I believe an association should be looking into a similar service of this nature.

The other reason is I think as associations were always looking for non-dues revenue and I think if a system is created successfully, you will create a new revenue stream and strengthen your budget for years to come.

So, those in a nutshell, those are the two simple reasons why I think any and every state bar association should be considering the creation of an automated template library for member use.


How did you identify which forms to include, and how do you keep the templates updated?

Well, the Iowa State Bar Association has been very blessed in in the fact that we’ve been doing document automation for approximately 25 years now. And prior to that, we had printed our forms in a hard copy format, put them in a tablet and members would then just take forms out of those tablets, fill in the blanks and utilize them. So we’ve probably got about a 40 year history in creating and providing documents and templates to our members.

So long, long ago we created an overall what we call a legal forms committee. This legal forms committee is a committee of anywhere from 10 to 15 attorneys from a variety of different practice areas with some expertise in all practice areas to make sure that we’re getting the right coverage of the content as well as the law is being updated and the templates are being updated. So, the legal forms committee is solely responsible for the updating of these templates that we include in our system.

In recent years, because the demand has become so strong for increasing the content of our template set (I think Iowa is now up to about 600 forms, that’s overwhelming to have 15 people oversee), our approach now is that that committee oversees the entire program, but they coordinate with the various practice area sections.

So if a section wishes to have their content included within the system, they will approach the legal forms committee, they have to make a commitment to update those templates on an annual basis, and then the legal Forms committee oversees and assures that that is occurring.

So long story short for the Iowa State Bar Association, our experience has been, to have one committee oversee the entire program, but to coordinate that with the various practice areas to include content.


What kind of support do you receive in the new environment from XpressDox and Docugility?

Recently the Iowa State Bar Association switched document assembly platforms from the HotDocs platform to the XpressDox platform partnering with Docugility to do so.

As you can imagine this was not a decision that we took lightly. We had been using the HotDocs platform for 20 plus years. However, concerns arose, and we started to do our due diligence and ran across the XpressDox platform and Bethany at Docugility and just decided that that was the direction we wanted to go for our program into the future. We’ve now been up and running with that service for a year.

Members couldn’t be more pleased with the change. We went from a desktop version that most members were using to a web based version, minimizing the problems that our members might encounter through installation because those changes are now done in mass.

But as far as the service model, it’s just night and day with XpressDox and Docugility. Obviously XpressDox is the platform that we use and Docugility is our partner in the creation of the content and making necessary modifications in coordination with XpressDox. And there are things in our previous platform that we had started talking about five years ago and were promised five years ago and they are still not in existence in the prior platform.

Those issues don’t exist in our partnership with XpressDox and Docugility when we request a change, or we request an enhancement. Enhancements obviously are a little more difficult because that’s a core change to the XpressDox platform but they’re very open to those changes and oftentimes those changes occur within 2-3 months to the platform itself rather than years as we were accustomed to.

The template management is handled by Docugility and Docugility has been tremendous in the expediency in which they make those changes. I’ll use for example last Friday I had an issue. One of my members reached out to us, we had a child support calculator, and the template was creating an error. I reached out to our contacts at Docugility and within two hours that template was not only corrected, it’s uploaded and every member has access to it. Once again it doesn’t require that installation or anything of that nature because of the web based but that’s our experience with both XpressDox and Docugility. It’s that the expediency of our requests are there.

We’ve cut the time for modifications from years, to days and and that’s all we can ask for and we look forward to what the future brings with this partnership. We’ve got big plans. XpressDox and Docugility are listening and we’re glad to have them on board as partners with the Iowa State Bar Association.


IowaDocs is very successful as a template library service. How did IowaDocs grow its client base so effectively?

You know, I think that the main reason that our program has become so successful, and I think it’s something that associations sometimes don’t take advantage of, is that we have loyalty of our members. So anytime that we put out a product, our members are going to automatically favor that over, some competitive programs out in the market.

That being said, I’m not aware of any competitive program to the IowaDoc’s program for Iowa attorneys. So that’s also a nice thing in that we somewhat have a monopoly in providing this content, but the content has been available for almost 40 years. So, we do have extreme brand loyalty to the content itself.

The delivery method has changed multiple times over my 28 year tenure here at the Bar Association. Previously, it was just a template that we printed in our printing press in the lower level of the Iowa State Bar Association. We put those in tablets, sell those tablets for a quarter a form. Members would then just simply fill out the form by filling in the blank. Then we created our own automated system. Then we converted to the HotDocs platform and now we, are using the XpressDox Docugility platform, to this day.

You know some of the ways that we’ve built our system, other than just its longevity, is obviously we market it and we provide training. We have ongoing trainings specifically, every time we launch a new program. We actually do trainings and go throughout the state, 10 different locations, invite members to attend free of charge to get a solid hour training so that they can become efficient at using the program. So training is key.

One of the other things that we’ve done is that we provide the service to our law schools and law students. So those that are working in the legal clinics will have access to these documents, therefore when they get out into the field of practice themselves, they’re familiar with it. And if the firm that they go to work for, or if they start their own doesn’t have the program, it’s something that they will then explore and request.

Other ways that we promote the program and try to increase its use, is there are a few paralegal classes at the various community colleges throughout the state of Iowa. We also share this program with them, so it becomes part of their curriculum, once again putting people out into the workforce that are familiar with this service. So therefore, if they go to work for firms that aren’t utilizing the service, you’ve got people on the ground to advocate on behalf of the bar association to implement this into their practice.

So, there’s a variety of different ways, but I think the other main issue is simply the content. You know, for members, our forms that we provide into this format actually have the bar logo on it. So, every time a non member, or non user receives a form from another attorney, it has that logo. I think it peaks their interest and, and then they follow up and contact us to consider purchasing the product.

At this time, we have over 1300 firms using it. So, there’s a strong word of mouth out there as well. It’s a combination of things any and all of these can be successful for any future endeavor that others might have. But that’s the story of the Iowa State Bar Association and how we integrate our IowaDoc’s program into the marketing scheme of the association.


What advice would you give to other State Bar associations who are considering developing a system like IowaDocs?

It’s a great question. And frankly I’ve been doing this so long that I fear that I might oversimplify it. But one of the first things that I think you have to do is you have to educate your staff, yourself and your leadership as to what a document automation program can provide to your members.

You know, one of the biggest issues we run up against in assisting other state bars that have considered this as leadership, is why do we need this? We already have our own templates and and so on and so forth. Well, the question I have for them is how can you not afford to look into a program of this nature?

You know the templates that you have are Word templates or PDFs that people have. You fill in the blank, move on to the next document, fill in the blanks, so on and so forth. And that’s one of the resistances we run up against too when we’re pitching this to other members as well. Its, as you know, “I already have all these templates”. Yeah, but can they do this and I think that’s the key is educating your members, your staff and your leadership as to the benefit that this system provides.

You know, obviously if you’re doing Word documents, you’re typing in information multiple times from one Word document to the next. But with a document automation program it creates a database of your previous answers which then can be applied to any future documents for a particular client.

It also allows you to build in some automation as to the firm information or the attorney information. So, you’re not redundantly typing that information each and every time. So, I think the key is educating all parties as to what the value of such a system might bring.

I think the next bit of advice that I can give you is the hardest part about creating a system of this nature. It is creating or obtaining the content. So, I would suggest that you look within your organization. You have a variety of different practice manuals, a variety of different CLE events that have been hosted. If there’s content within those documents, that’s where you start. You’ve got forms that might have been produced in your probate manual, your real estate manual. Gather that information, get the leaders of those various sections to buy into what you’re doing to help you update and modify and commit to updating and modifying those templates into the future.

Then the next piece of advice is build your product for the masses. Obviously, you’re going to have somebody who comes to you with some forms that are particular for their practice areas or for their firm for that matter. You’ve got to stray away from doing that because then they become too personalized to one firm or one individual and, I think you have to build your content, you know, under the 80% rule where they work for 80% of the people, 80% of the time.

The real beauty about document automation is you can add that other 20% into the document. Each individual can do that or you can build those contingencies within the template so you can overcome that 80%. But I think just in general looking to build that for the 80% is a good rule of thumb.

So, those are some of the key factors that I think you need to consider if, you’re going to do this, you know, that this process isn’t going to be easy, but it will be beneficial both to the member and to the association. Obviously, the member will become more efficient in what they’re doing and you’ll be providing a greater service as an association. It will help with member retention. But also, it creates a non-dues revenue stream for you.

Our experience here at the Iowa State Bar Association is, we have general practice attorneys throughout the state. And that would include most of our rural practice attorneys and who happened to represent about 60-70% of the bar association. Those folks, they see our product as the most important benefit that the Iowa State Bar Association has to offer.

Therefore, each year when it comes to dues renewal, they’re the first ones to send their checks in and they’re the first ones to renew their subscription for the products. So, you know, in short, those are the tips and tricks that I would consider if we were to be starting this process over again. Educate the staff, find content from within and then build the content for the masses of your people.

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