Automation 101: Merge Form Data into a Document

When you collect information from your clients you can automatically insert it into a document! You just have to have the right tools and know how.  For instance, if you are creating an estate plan you can take information gathered via an intake form for decendants, property addresses, etc. and insert it – without retyping it – into a document. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, from practice management and CRM tools, Zapier connections or just merging data from an online form into Microsoft Word.

CRM/Practice Management Applications

In a standalone legal CRM (Client Relationship Management) application like Lawmatics you can create intake forms and custom forms to gather information from your clients and potential clients. This information, once shared with an integrated practice management application, can be inserted into a document template via the built in document automation function. Some practice management applications, like Clio, PracticePanther and ZolaSuite already have CRM functionality that lets you collect and reuse information gathered from clients. Explore what you are already using to see what type of automation you can leverage to reduce re-keying information.

Document Automation Tools

Another option, in addition to legal CRMs or practice management applications or as an alternative, is to look at some of the features in document assembly/automation products that let you create a client facing survey or “interview” and merge the responses into a document. Document automation tools like HotDocs, Documate, DraftOnce, Form.one, Aurora (from the FormTool) and many more have these features built in. Or, use a form tool like Gravity Forms or Google Forms and Zapier to move information into a document assembly engine like Woodpecker Document Automation.

Online Forms and Microsoft Word

For firms that do not currently leverage practice management, CRM or document automation applications, you can still take advantage of some automation with free/low cost tools and software you already have.

First, you want to gather some data from your client. You may be currently using a Word document or PDF to request data but the information you collect is not readily parsed into another program for use. For that you will want to create an online form. There are many online form tools to choose from, but one that is especially easy to use, flexible and incorporates different security options is Jotform. Jotform is free for limited use and is appropriate for collecting sensitive data by applying end to end encryption to the form.

mailmergeOnce you have collected the information, most form tools will output the responses to a spreadsheet or .CSV file.  In Microsoft Word (and WordPerfect!) you can then create a template and use the Mail Merge features to insert data from spreadsheet into the document. Mail Merge is a misnomer, because you can merge ANY data from a spreadsheet into a Word document, not just mailing addresses. As long as there are column headers in the spreadsheet the data can be merged into a Word document. For a video tutorial on using Mail Merge for this purpose, plus creating templates and leveraging other features that are native to Microsoft Word for automation see this video.  If you want to get even more sophisticated you can add rules for conditionals, filtering and more into the mail merge!

Conclusion

There is no reason to retype information gathered from clients to use in your documents. Learn to leverage the tools you already have to get a productivity boost and spend more time practicing law or working on client development instead of doing data entry!