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Document Assembly Automation Through Google Docs/Google Drive

I'm a legal assistant in a two-person office - the attorney and lil 'ole me.

I'm working on streamlining our office. We're transforming to paperless and we're working a lot from home on our laptops, iPhones and iPads in our pajamas - not together....um....

When it comes to productivity, I spend an inordinate amount of time on filling in the same information over and over again in the various documents needed for, say, a divorce filing.  There's software out there for document assembly, I know, but I don't like the closed off nature of the software, I want to go Google all the way.  

Google Drive, formerly Google docs has a form builder that populates a spreadsheet that you can then download as an excel file. I just found it yesterday and I'm in love!  Here's a link to the one I'm working on:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Au3RpH2lM9hOdGNreURhZmFJaGg5MDI3czFNNU5WVWc

Here's what I'm thinking:

Let's use an uncontested divorce case as an example. The client is sent a link to our  Google Drive Domestic Relations Questionnaire form to fill out online.  All the questions are in order as they appear on the court's website when I fill out the information to e-file.

The client fills in all their information that I need to get started on the paperwork (with the exception of social security numbers which are against Google's Terms of Service).  When they submit the form it populates a Google spreadsheet and sends me an email.  I go to Google Drive and download the spreadsheet in Excel format.  Now I have everything I need   in a format that I can use in many ways.

I then use the excel file to automate my document assembly.  I'm building a single Word mail merge document template for that client's "file" that contains every "document" typically needed for the case from start to finish.  I'm inserting mail merge fields on every page beginning with the client information sheet through the complaint and agreement and child support forms.

The one document template also contains pages with typical letters that might be sent: welcome letter, court date reminders, the thank you letter sent with the final decree -- everything.  And it all gets filled in for me automatically with the merge sequence, then saved to their folder on Google Drive.  I can pull out pages and then convert to separate pdf's for filing and storage.

I can print whatever I need to -- hopefully not much!  The attorney can see the documents on his iPhone.  

What do you think?  Has anyone tried to use Word's mail merge feature this way?  I could use some input. Also, I don't want to run afoul of confidentiality with the way the form is worded, sent, accessed and saved.

Comments

  • thedanshermanthedansherman Maple Plain, MN
    That's pretty slick!

    If you wanted to get even more automated, you could set up a Google Apps Script to automatically fill out a document with the data (like a mail merge). It would cut out one more step, but your forms would have to be simple enough to use as Google Documents, since the editor is so basic. 
  • I'm not tech savvy enough to answer your questions but I just wanted to mention the following:

     

    "Were there children under 18 years old  in your household as of the date of separation or the WIFE expecting?" neglects to consider those couples who are expecting a child through a surrogate.  And yes, there has been litigation resulting over the parentage and support of children being carried by a surrogate at the time of the divorce proceedings so it is probably something you want to know about. 

    Additionally, you would want to know if there are any frozen embyros from prior IVF attempts, since you will need to figure out what to do with those.

  • Dan Sherman said
    That's pretty slick!

    If you wanted to get even more automated, you could set up a Google Apps Script to automatically fill out a document with the data (like a mail merge). It would cut out one more step, but your forms would have to be simple enough to use as Google Documents, since the editor is so basic. 

    I wondered about that.  Google Apps is the paid version, right?
  • Catherine Tucker said
    I'm not tech savvy enough to answer your questions but I just wanted to mention the following:

     

    "Were there children under 18 years old  in your household as of the date of separation or the WIFE expecting?" neglects to consider those couples who are expecting a child through a surrogate.  And yes, there has been litigation resulting over the parentage and support of children being carried by a surrogate at the time of the divorce proceedings so it is probably something you want to know about. 

    Additionally, you would want to know if there are any frozen embyros from prior IVF attempts, since you will need to figure out what to do with those.

    Thank you, Catherine.  Never considered that!  I'll re-word...somehow...
  • thedanshermanthedansherman Maple Plain, MN

    I wondered about that.  Google Apps is the paid version, right?

    There are paid and free versions, paid gets rid of ads in gmail and adds a few more features. Google Apps for Business is the paid version. But any account (even plain gmail users) can use the Apps Script stuff. 

    If you don't have a Google Apps account at your firm, you should probably set one up if you are going to use a form like that. Your attorney, even if he doesn't know it, probably doesn't want "coopergirl@gmail.com" to be the owner of that form or the data it collects. And you probably don't want it on your own account either; it is too much responsibility.
  • Adam LillyAdam Lilly Cumming, Georgia
    I am so trying this. I hate going through the forms and pasting the same info 50 times.

  • Coopergirl, this is really great. You should have a side gig setting up google forms like this for businesses.
  • Coopergirl I think you are brilliant in doing this.  I do have one question about confidentiality though.  When the person submits his/her answer to the questionnaire, what keeps the access to the answered spreadsheet from being seen?  Do you tie this into Google Sites for security?

    I would love to know the answers if you wouldn't mind sharing.
  • What you want is the form tool pro.  If you have this type of automation through google docs figured out, using that tool will be a snap. 

     

    -Mike

  • uclaw2000uclaw2000 Dallas, Texas
    Is there something comprable to The Form Tool that works on Mac?
  • Mike, I think that the Form Tool is a good product, but what we're talking about here is a different animal.  Using the form builder tools that CooperGirl is doing allows for online capture for things like questionnaires that can be tied into other pieces from Google.

     

    For instance, for our full service (non VLO) clients, we're experimenting with using Google Sites with tabs for things like calendar, contact us (with automated appointments etc), a document filebox and a notes/messages tab.  But we're still stuck using uploaded forms for questionnaires. 

     

    CopperGirl's questionnaires might be a good fix.

     

    This is all interim for us while we build out our own product, but so far, the Google Sites client portals are getting acceptance in our test cases.  Questionnaires might bring a bit more excitement to their usability.
  • James Sanchez said
    Coopergirl I think you are brilliant in doing this.  I do have one question about confidentiality though.  When the person submits his/her answer to the questionnaire, what keeps the access to the answered spreadsheet from being seen?  Do you tie this into Google Sites for security?

    I would love to know the answers if you wouldn't mind sharing.

     

    James,

    The spreadsheet for the form is open to public view through the link for now while I'm developing it, but once I finish it, I'll change my sharing to private, but here's the question for Google Forms users:

    Is there any security risk with using Google Forms? I think that the empty live form is accessed from a link that anyone with the link can see, but the answers/data spreadsheet sharing can be changed to private and you can't see it unless you have a password to sign in. Am I right?

  • Another thing about these forms that I love:

    Even if your client submits their information to you in non-digital form, you can go to your live form and fill it in yourself and you're all done with your data entry for that case.  

    Example: I have another form for DUI/DWI cases.  A client came in this week at closing time and dropped off the filled out paper new client form and gave us the other paperwork from the arrest.  I  stuck the wad of papers in my laptop bag and drove home.  While my husband prepared dinner (he's sweet!) I sat down with the laptop and filled in my online Google form and within 10 minutes or less I had everything I needed to file an appearance, discovery, new client information form for the file, labels, payment receipt, etc. If the city court had online filing, I could have filed everything as well. 

    I had first set up her client folder on Google Drive by copying to her folder a set of template sub-folders:

    Billing and Expense

    Correspondence

    Discovery

    Docs from Client

    Drafts

    Notes and Research

    Orders

    Pleadings

    Retainer

    This is where I downloaded the spreadsheet to perform the mailmerge.

    I then went to Gmail, entered her into our contacts and sent her an email using Gmail's "canned response" feature.  Done and done!  

    Next morning in the office I scanned in the docs she had provided and printed what I needed to set up her paper file.
  • James Sanchez said
    Mike, I think that the Form Tool is a good product, but what we're talking about here is a different animal.  Using the form builder tools that CooperGirl is doing allows for online capture for things like questionnaires that can be tied into other pieces from Google.

     

    For instance, for our full service (non VLO) clients, we're experimenting with using Google Sites with tabs for things like calendar, contact us (with automated appointments etc), a document filebox and a notes/messages tab.  But we're still stuck using uploaded forms for questionnaires. 

     

    CopperGirl's questionnaires might be a good fix.

     

    This is all interim for us while we build out our own product, but so far, the Google Sites client portals are getting acceptance in our test cases.  Questionnaires might bring a bit more excitement to their usability.

    James,

    Your website is exactly the kind of interactive site I'm thinking of building in Google sites for our firm.  How steep is the learning curve? I've built several websites in Wordpress.

  • Does Google Apps have an invoicing system that works through Google Sites?  

    Wordpress has an invoice plugin where you can send invoices via email from the website and if you want to allow access, the client can see their invoice on the web as well.
  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Thread necromancy!

    This came up in another place, and I thought it was worth revisiting this discussion.

    There is a Google Docs add-on called Mail Merge that works for producing, well, a mail merge. In other words, you can create lots of documents at once from information in a spreadsheet, and that information can come from a Google Form. For example.

    It's not ideal for one-document-at-a-time assembly, but it might solve someone's problems just the same.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited June 2016

    Ooh, found a better option. AutoCrat, a Google Sheets add-on.

    It took me a couple of tries to get it to install, and there are some quirks (merge fields in file names don't have spaces between the brackets—<<First Name>>—while merge fields within a Google Doc need spaces—<< First Name >>), but it works awesome for automating document assembly based on a Google Form.

    Lawcus has a pretty detailed guide to setting up AutoCrat.

  • thedanshermanthedansherman Maple Plain, MN

    You could use Google Forms for the questionnaire, Google Sheets to hold the data, Zapier to watch the sheet for a new row, and webmerge.me to assemble the document based on the data from the sheet. It might be possible to remove the Zapier step, and go straight to webmerge from Sheets, but I haven't checked.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    I guess the bottom line is there are lots of ways to do document assembly, and it's actually pretty easy.

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