In 2021, every forward-looking business should be looking to create, manage and store legal documents online. But how do you actually get started?
We see a future where all contracts are browser-based - but we know that we have a long way to go, with millions upon millions of legal documents still living in in-trays, boxes and filing cabinets.
Legal is not always the fastest-moving industry when it comes to embracing change and digital innovation, but there’s no point being left behind. Sales doesn’t have a desk-based rolodex anymore - they use a CRM. HR teams don't keep laminate training documents and keep them in folders - they use an intranet.
In a few cases, legal documents stay offline because they need to - there’s a limited universe of contracts that still need a wet signature. But generally speaking, eSignature is globally recognized, and there’s very little in the way of regulatory barriers stopping contracts from becoming digital.
The benefits of doing so are that your contract process will become:
- More secure: cloud-based secure storage is safer than desk drawers
- Faster: no more waiting for documents to by physically delivered
- More collaborative: it’s easier for teams to work together online
There are a host of other benefits too - so if contracts are at all painful, it's well past time to move legal documents online. But how do you start?
Before you start
Let’s start with a few preconditions to clarify who this is aimed at. Almost every business and individual in the world is affected by contracts, and while making the effort to move them online would benefit most people, the biggest returns are for those working regularly with decent volumes of contracts.
Let’s assume that you are:
- Handling a fairly predictable contract workflow - you need new contracts regularly, and they’re often the same kind of contract
- Working with contracts is part of your role - you’re an in-house lawyer, or in HR, sales operations, procurement or finance
- The volume of contracts you see every month is enough that handling them manually, offline, is becoming painful (10-20+ contracts a month)
Sound like you? If so, you could definitely benefit from moving those legal documents into a collaborative process online. Let’s go!
Moving contracts online: how do you start?
First it’s important to be clear on what exactly it is you want to do. If your goal is simply to have your existing, fully signed contracts (in the form of PDFs or Word documents, let’s say) available somewhere online, then you don’t need any particular specialist technology to make that happen.
A common first step that sole counsel or legal teams take is to use an Excel or Google sheet to create a rudimentary contracts database (here’s a free contracts database Excel template), and then drag and drop the contracts themselves into a shared drive, or similar.
A slight step up from that would be a more collaborative, feature-rich digital platform for knowledge sharing - something like Notion or Airtable, for example. This would give you a few more options when it comes to arranging and linking your existing legal documents together.
If you’re ready for something more comprehensive, you can use Juro’s contract reader to drag and drop your PDFs into a Juro workspace. Juro uses AI to read and parse your contracts, after which you can manage them the same way you’d manage a digital contract created natively in-browser. If you’re interested, get started with a free Juro account.
But if your aim is not just to store old contracts online, but have templates online from which you generate contracts, then you’re looking for a more comprehensive process. Here’s how to make it happen.
How to move legal templates online
If you’re aiming to set up a browser-based end-to-end contract process, the first thing to do is to find some software for legal documents. The good news is that there are lots of solutions out there. Contract automation is increasing in both popularity and adoption, amongst legal but also beyond.
It’s important to choose a vendor with an intuitive platform, because you’ll need it to be adopted by a wide range of people - contracts affect users across the entire business, not just legal. You’ll also want a provider that’s truly browser-native, rather than being effectively a plugin for Microsoft Word - moving contracts online shouldn’t be a halfway house between something new, and a manual process involving Word and email.
Next you’ll need to start at the template level, to make sure that you’re not just storing but creating legal documents online.
Get your legal templates together
To start with, choose the legal templates that drive the highest volumes of contracts in your business, and are ideally the lowest in complexity and negotiation. This is because moving legal documents into an automated workflow online is all about speed - and the efficiency gains you’ll see are magnified when your contract volumes increase.
This is why businesses often start with simple contracts like NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), MSAs (master services agreements) and offer letters. If a particular type of contract is always going to be heavily negotiated (a partnership agreement worth millions each year, for example), then the upside from being able to generate it quickly is less compelling, as it’ll move slowly anyway due to the negotiation process. It’s best to start with legal templates that will deliver the biggest ROI and time-savings.
When document automation first emerged as a business practice, templates had to be ‘coded’. This involved lots of technical work, under the hood of Microsoft Word documents and mail merge software. Nowadays, you can use a no-code editor in Juro to build a legal template that looks much like one you’d see in Word:
… but the key difference is that it’s built in a browser-native JSON editor that creates digital documents. This makes automation and collaboration much easier.
Digital-first legal templates
As part of your template setup, you’ll format certain key fields in the document as ‘smartfields’. These are metadata containers - they denote fields that contain important values which change from contract to contract, like the name of the party, the length of the term, the price, and so on. Users will fill these fields in for each contract generated from the template.
Remember that this is now a digital document, so you can take advantage of functionality that doesn’t exist for offline documents: GIFs, animation, high-quality images and branding, and various other rich text or multimedia features.
You can also use advanced features like conditional logic to create fallback positions for your contract. So for example, if a deal being above a certain value means that you’re willing to soften another term, like the indemnity clause, then you can create this hidden ‘logic’ in Juro. This means that when people create new contracts, the template will choose the correct terms, based on the value of the deal being put together.
In this example, the relevant jurisdiction is conditional, and will be selected based on other contract data.
The idea behind defining contracts at the template level is that colleagues who need a contract can ‘self-serve’ from the template, generating a document with the right legal terms, and without needing to copy and paste.
To make generating the contract as simple as possible, we advise those moving legal document preparation online to set up a question and answer (Q&A) flow. This means that users don’t have to scroll through the document looking for the fields they need to fill in. Instead they answer a series of natural language questions. Those answers populate the smartfields we mentioned above.
Once all of this is set up, your template is ready to use.
Which types of legal templates work best online?
If you configure your templates properly, and you’re clear on the objectives of the contract automation project, then almost any contract can be moved into an online workflow.
However, for the reasons mentioned above, it’s best to start with those use cases that involve high-volume, low-complexity contracts, to maximize the gains you’ll see due to time savings.
Here are some of the most common use cases for online contracting. If you click through, you can find our deep dives on how to handle particular tasks with each contract. Businesses typically start with:
For more online legal document examples and to understand the different types of legal documents, head to contracts.juro.com.
What happens next?
Once templates have been built online, you’re ready to start taking contracts through the lifecycle.
This can be summarised as follows:
Create: users generate a contract by navigating through the natural language Q&A flow, to fill in smartfields and product a watertight legal document.
Collaborate: users can use comments, mentions and tagging to make edits and suggestions within their team or organization. You can find a deeper dive on in-browser collaboration in this article on Contracts in Word vs Contracts in Juro.
Negotiate: counterparties can make comments and suggestions too, all within the browser. Make sure your contracts platform can toggle between internal and external comments, so counterparties can’t see your discussions.
Agree: contracts are securely eSigned, with a valid electronic signature that has a robust audit trail. If you’re using Juro, parties can securely eSign on any device, including mobile, after which parties are automatically emailed a PDF copy of the contract for their records.
Manage renewals: instead of having to mark your calendar with the renewal date of the contract, you can set custom reminders in your contract automation platform to warn you a defined period ahead of the contract’s renewal (or expiry) date.
Track: online legal documents benefit from the ability to track analytics and key metrics about their lifecycle. Use analytics and data visualization to spot bottlenecks and pain points in your contract process.
The advantages of moving contracts online
Creating a browser-based, digital workflow for your legal documents brings a whole host of benefits. Online contracts should be:
- More efficient
- More collaborative
- Easier to use
… and can benefit your business in many ways. To speak to a specialist, hit the button below and find out what contract automation can do for your business. If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of contract automation, read more in this explainer.