What is document automation?

Put simply, it’s where a computer system builds the content of a document rather than a human.

For some time, word processing programs such as Microsoft Word have featured simple routines like mail merge, which add data into documents. However, none of these tools have the sophistication or intelligence to build more complex, rules-based documents such as legal agreements and forms. With their complex permutations of clauses and the names, dates, and values within those clauses, legal agreements can quickly become very long and complicated documents that require time, specialist knowledge, and great care and expense to draft. Enter document automation, also commonly referred to as document assembly. Solutions like Contract Express enable organizations to quickly automate the creation of complex documents and dramatically reduce the human effort, time, and costs involved while simultaneously improving compliance with drafting standards. Document automation software abstracts users from the underlying legal language of a document template and instead presents them with a questionnaire that collects data and guides them through the document creation process. A questionnaire might ask for example, who is the counterparty, what is the effective date, etc. Based on the input provided by the users, the appropriate data and clauses from the template are then automatically inserted into the document, which is generated by the system and then returned to them. In addition to building the required text, the system will also apply the appropriate document styles and numbering to give a perfectly formatted product.

Modern document automation questionnaire

ContractExpress5 Questionnaire

Another disadvantage of document assembly solutions that require IT specialists to automate templates is the difficult and time-consuming maintenance process that requires re-engaging the players involved in the initial implementation for each update (which can be frequent). In these circumstances, it would often be easier to abandon the system and draft the new document from a ‘flat’ template than to generate one using the outdated system and apply the planned updates manually. This obstacle to template maintenance significantly undermines the long-term viability and ROI of document assembly projects.

Contract Express has solved these problems and does not rely on IT specialists to deconstruct and automate legal templates. It allows lawyers to automate templates right inside Microsoft Word. By using simple mark-up that is akin to marking up a document with a {red pen}, it is possible for a lawyer to automate a document in a fraction of the time it would take in a prior-generation solution.


Traditionally, document automation systems consisted of three parts: the questionnaire program, the document program, and the metadata program. A team of template programmers and IT specialists was required to create and connect all three with input from lawyers. A common complaint of these early systems was that the questionnaire would collect data that was not always relevant to the final document being generated. This was because the document program, which determined the clauses that would be included in the final document, was created separately from the questionnaire program.

Finally, the metadata program was responsible for storing the data that was entered into the questionnaire for downstream use. As with any process that is the sum of complex moving parts, old document assembly was often slow and inefficient. To make matters worse, IT specialists were frequently required to interpret the language in the templates when writing the various logic bits without a lawyer’s help. This resulted in incorrect documents being generated from templates with distorted logic.


Contract Express Author eliminates the need for creating a separate questionnaire, document, and metadata program. After a lawyer marks up their template, Contract Express processes the Word file and automatically generates the questionnaire. This streamlined approach results in a couple of key benefits:

  • Automation becomes a quick and painless process.
  • Lawyers trust the generated documents because they are the ones doing the automation.
  • The questionnaire is dynamic, only collecting items relevant to the final document.

For organizations that draft many thousands of documents each year, enterprise document automation can be a transformational technology. It has the capacity to transform the economics of business processes by significantly reducing the time and costs involved with drafting documents. Other benefits include raising the consistency and quality of document content as well as freeing humans from the more tedious aspects of repetitive document work.

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