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The penny has dropped for many law firms that they must readdress their document review processes as part of a wider risk reduction strategy encompassing the use of tech. This is hardly surprising as errors in drafting come at a price; you need only look at the facts when it comes to insurance claims.
In a recent whitepaper, a leading insurer explained that drafting errors have accounted for one claim in eight in the last six years. However, over the same period, these claims have accounted for almost a third of the total of settlement payments. Most claims arise from simple typographical or editing errors that could (and should) have been picked up by proofreading. The reality, however, is that simple typographical or editing errors alone can change the meaning of a sentence, raise some ambiguity and at worst, bring the legitimacy of a legal document into question. In the worst case, this can result in litigation or a heated exchange of letters, at best it damages the professional reputation of a firm or individual lawyer. With more people involved in the production of increasingly complex documents and the market becoming increasingly competitive, the risk element is now greater than ever.
In a survey conducted by LexisNexis, 33% of respondents admitted to skipping proofreading regularly. It can, after all, be an arduous task, especially when under pressure to deliver “more for less” in an increasingly competitive industry. The reality is, even when proofreading does take place, mistakes can and do occur.
Part of the problem relates to how the brain assimilates information by attempting to work in the most efficient way possible when processing text. We can see words that we expect to be where are they not, and can miss errors that we don’t expect to find often because they are so obvious. Simply stated, when having worked on a document for over several hours it is easy for anyone to miss simple errors, something witnessed time and again at proof of concept days when we work with lawyers to run Lexis Draft over live documents.
In the UK’s top 20 law firms, the majority of business services managers know that lawyers skip proofreading tasks, but some are doing very little about it. While many are beginning to investigate how to use technology to reduce risk, there are still constraints around developing a business case for investing in proofreading tech.
What is evident, is that it is hard to justify reliance on manual proof-reading alone, when the data tells us that doing so puts the firm and its clients at risk. Ensuring documents are accurate is fundamental to good legal practice; it is a ‘must have’, not a ‘nice to have’. By failing to embrace technology, which requires minimal financial investment, yet vastly improves this part of service delivery, firms are letting down their clients as well as exposing themselves to unnecessary risk. To paraphrase the words of a lawyer recently, when speaking about the LexisNexis Draft: “just one error could justify the price tag.”
One of the fastest growing use cases for drafting software is in-house legal departments checking the quality of the documents produced by their panel law firms. There is, therefore, a mounting commercial pressure on law firms behind the drafting tech curve to catch up with the early adopters who are already embracing it.
Unfortunately, the risk of a rather awkward client conversation has already become a reality for some top tier law firms whose clients have uncovered errors by checking documents with drafting software. Such revelations damage relationships and cast a shadow over the value and quality the law firm is delivering for their business across the board. After all, if transactional documents contain basic errors or, worse, citations referring to out-of-date legislation or case law, how confident can a client really be that they are receiving high-level service overall?
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