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Comment: Poor Document Quality – Does it matter?

By Joanne Humber, marketing consultant, LCT4

I recently posted on LinkedIn my experience of receiving a badly formatted document that I had been sent by the solicitor acting for the people buying my house.  It was truly a disgrace and if I were their client, that is the last time I would instruct them.

However, on talking to others in similar situations it would appear that I am not alone.  The quality of documents is so poor in many cases that it is positively laughable.  A friend told me that she received an important legal document from her corporate lawyers full of metadata for another firm.  In my case, the five pages were formatted in columns so the only way I could have completed it was by printing it, handwriting my answers and scanning it. It was in Times New Roman and created in Word 97-2003!  As it was a Word document, I could change it myself, deal with the nightmare of their multi-level numbered paragraphs and could then answer their questions and return it online.  Would they have noticed if I had amended the text as well, I wonder?

My experience of working with law firms delivering IT projects over the past 25 years or so should have made me less surprised. I had hoped that things might have improved. My speciality is training delivery, of course, but this is not just about training – it says more about the lazy, arrogant way that law firms think they can carry on charging huge fees for poor quality work. 

Some time ago a survey of law firms showed that few believed that poor document quality would lose them a client, however the clients surveyed disagreed and said that they would fire a firm for poor documents.

90% of law firms said they have never been fired; 51% of legal departments said yes, they have been fired solely for poor document quality or delivery.

2012 ALM INTELLIGENCE AND MICROSYSTEMS – IDENTIFY DISCONNECT BETWEEN LAW FIRM / LEGAL DEPARTMENT COLLABORATION

Does anyone really believe that this situation has improved?  With lawyers working from home, without desk-side support and still needing to improve their skills, it is almost inevitable that poorly laid out precedents and other documents are being used over and over. Over-use of Save As…maybe?

LTC4 has provided extensive guidance by providing industry-accepted standards for efficiency. Their Learning Plan “Working with Legal Documents” is designed to provide a structure for training delivery with the goal of achieving a more competent workforce – both among lawyers and their support staff.  All the LTC4 Learning Plans are workflow-based, ensuring that they reflect the way people actually interact with the software they use every day.  Security awareness, proper management of documents and emails, effective collaboration and communication are also included in the set of 9 Plans which can be found via their website www.ltc4.org .  LTC4’s Certification of competence is also offered and can give added reassurance to clients.

LTC4 is also taking the lead in an unprecedented collaboration called the Effectiveness Project. As the legal world moves toward productization and efficiency, clients, legal professionals and those who evaluate their fees are met with the same challenge time and again: How do we know that the time invested in creating legal documents matches the value received?

Legal professionals and legal technologists have sought to address the problems hinted at in this question through automation. But jumping to automation offers a solution before naming the problem. The release of this Project’s milestone document and supplemental materials should rattle a few cages and let’s hope it will lead to law firms looking again at their documents and the skills of those who are working with them.

Law firms need to much more closely monitor the quality of the documents they create and distribute to clients and should enforce a policy that ensures out-of-date precedents are never used. 

Overall, the legal industry must invest much more time and energy into effective technology training. It can now be delivered in a variety of ways and take up very little time.  In spite of the mistaken idea that modern software is so intuitive that training should not be needed, from my experience there are far too many legal professionals who simply do not have the basic skills they need to do their job competently.

Joanne Humber has been marketing consultant and the face of LCT4 since 2016. LTC4 is a not-for-profit organisation created to be the global industry standard for legal technology skills.