No cost contract automation is awesome. How I got started.
Last year I saved 600 hours and over $100,000 on legal fees by using no cost contract automation. The journey wasn’t easy but the result is awesome and everybody can implement it.
How I started
I had been working as a lawyer for over 10 years in both private practice and as an in-house counsel. As a corporate lawyer in private practice I worked on billion dollar deals. As in-house counsel those types of deals usually don’t come around too often. But there are different challenges. When I worked in law firms we had lots of admin help and advanced software. I could send a dictation overnight and collect it in the morning. Or send a message down to the print room to have the team prepare 100s or 1,000s of documents. Working in companies you rarely have such luxuries — you are constantly hacking your way forward with limited budget.
At one job I had there assistants to help us with admin tasks. But after a few years I saw how admin assistance was being reduced or eliminated totally. The thing was, my admin tasks were not going away. All of a sudden I had all this extra admin work on my desk. I know it’s important to archive but personally I wasn’t very happy about spending 3–5 hours a week of my time on this admin usually after all my other work was finished. And I didn’t think it was a good use of my time. I wanted to be doing juicy deals and difficult transactions. An expensive lawyer who is printing and hole punching pieces of paper and putting it into a cupboard that nobody looks at. But mostly I was thinking about myself and the amount of work I needed to do. I already had a demanding and time consuming job and now I needed to do even more work.
More time at work meant less time at home with family. My marriage was suffering because I was at work too much. I didn’t get to see my kids as much as I wanted because I was at work during dinner and bedtime. I had read that I needed to get at least 20 minutes a day of personal time with my children — I was lucky if I had that time all week. As my personal relationships were failing my performance at work started to suffer. I wanted to be successful in my profession and my personal life. But I was heading in a downward spiral that didn’t have a good ending. In the legal profession there is a high awareness of mental health issues that come from a stressful and demanding job. I needed a way to stop the spiral and recover as I was staring at a cliffs edge. Note: if you are suffering depression or know someone who is then please get professional help. Personally I find this site has good resources: How to ask someone are you ok | R U OK?.
I knew I needed to work more efficiently — to do more in less time. I thought perhaps that some software could help. Something that could automate my work. But I had no budget to buy anything. I thought back to the law firm about the types of software I used that really helped speed up my work and wondered if I could re-create them. The first one I remembered was how I used to insert standard clauses into my document with the click of a button. Magically the standard text would be taken from a central repository and inserted into my document.
After some painstaking research and a bit of trial and error I managed to stumble upon macros in Microsoft Word. I know that Visual Basic and macros is “older” technology but it what started a turn around both in my personal and professional life. I managed to put together a really simple macro which inserted the name and address of the company I worked for. The same day I finished it I used it 5 times and it saved me 20 minutes. I thought this is amazing! Can it really be this easy to start automating my work?
I kept on thinking about the types of macros I could make that would automate my work. In a few months I had managed to build a document generation program which had a Visual Basic form to generate an agreement template. I went further and created the ability for my colleagues to also use the document generation program. This was a fantastic feeling. Not only was I automating my own work but I could now also automate the work of my colleagues. They kept asking for more and more features. However, I didn’t have the knowledge or expertise how to achieve this and they quickly lost interest.
There was a sticking point. I couldn’t expand on the idea or technology for almost two years. There were several limits in how the macro worked and how complicated it was. One thing is to record a macro. It is totally different to write the code for an entire document generation system. Luckily for me technology does not stay sit idle. Just over two years ago new “no code / low code” technology was introduced by several vendors. My colleague introduced me to Microsoft Power Automate (previously Microsoft Flow). I tested it out and created something really simple in about 5 minutes. I usually give new technology about 30 minutes to see if it is for me. In that time I had a built a concept for a new automation for archiving contracts.
It took me two months of trial and error until I had built the contract archiving system. This was a huge moment. I could e-archive documents automatically. I mean, this used to be about 50% of a person’s job. Now it was being done automatically. I managed to convince a few of my colleagues to email scans of signed contracts to me with a reference number in the subject. This triggered an automation I had built which archived and tagged the documents. Bam! Job done. Contracts e-archived and tagged. Now I finally had more time for my family. I was happy and really proud of myself. From this moment on I knew there was no other choice than to continue creating automations for my work and that of others.
So automating my archiving work was one thing. Nobody really paid much attention to this new breakthrough. And as a result my work performance was not improving — nobody cared about me automating my work they just wanted it done. In order for this to be truly useful I had to convince other people to use the automation. I had 100s of calls to try and get people to see the light of why they should use my new tool — Henrik’s Tool. In those calls there were only a few people who showed any interest. Mainly people did not want to change the way they were working. I felt disappointed. For me this technology could improve the lives of everyone just like it did for me. However, I couldn’t find a way to show people how useful it was.
My second big moment was when I understood I needed to listen to the user. One day on a call someone asked me if I could build an automation for approvals. They were fed up with the approval process which used to be people sending emails to 5 people asking for approval. Then sending one email with either an email chain or 5 separate emails attached. In the end it was impossible or extremely time consuming to check if something had actually been approved. So I took up the challenge and in one evening built a no/low code approval automation using Microsoft Power Automate. Now when I had my calls people were impressed, they said “You mean we don’t need to send all those emails anymore?”. I answered “no it is done automatically now. And, by the wa,y the approval is recorded and can’t be changed”. From that moment I had sold the automation to others and now it and several others are used by thousands of people every day.
These two successes gave me the confidence to build the automated process that saved me 600 hours of work this year. Agreements are automatically generated, signed and archived. The only legal work that is remaining is to review the details and purpose of the document — something that takes less than 1 minute. In the next year I will expand on my concept by automating the remaining 1 minute using predefined logic and AI.
I truly believe all companies can benefit from the business process automation. It doesn’t need to be contract generation. It could easily be recording certain tasks are completed when an email arrives which triggers another notification or process. The best thing is that 85% of companies already have licenses to use the automation software from Microsoft — so there is no extra cost just lots of opportunity.