License to print money (reposted from HotDocs listserv)

  • 3/25/2005
  • Marc Lauritsen
If time = money, as it often does, then we in the legal services online document automation community have a license to print money. Or at least its equivalent.

Consider: Most of you have the means of turning a modest amount of your own time into a significantly greater amount of time savings for other folks. Low-income people trying to handle a legal problem on their own. Staff advocates. Volunteer attorneys and students.

With some HotDocs software and know-how, you can create and distribute an intelligent little tool that many others can use to get legal work done more easily. Chosen wisely, a simple tool project can return many hours of benefit for each hour you put into it. How's that for leverage?

For example, we've recently heard that a set of divorce templates reduced the average time for certain documents from nearly two hours to just 30 minutes. If a program does just a hundred of those documents in a year, that's a considerable amount of valuable staff time liberated for other purposes. When the templates are used in multiple programs, the benefits climb.

Savings need not be dramatic to be worth considering. The other day I spent about an hour building a simple "letter of intent generator" for the upcoming round of TIG applications ( ). If that little app saves a dozen people half an hour or so each that they would otherwise have spent searching for information, organizing, and formatting, it will have delivered a healthy return on investment.

Of course, these benefits seem striking compared to the marginal costs of producing them. A lot had to be spent to get us to where we are. The Legal Services Corporation has invested several hundred thousand dollars in recent years to support activities culminating in our national server and educated developer network. LexisNexis has donated a comparable amount in desktop and server software. And local programs have invested heavily in human resources.

It'll take lots of time-liberating templates for the full cost of our national efforts to be repaid in benefits to those who need but can't afford legal services. But we have the wherewithal to deliver streams of labor-saving value that will dwarf even the full costs.

Now that we have a de facto "printing press in cyberspace," let's use it. It's time to really start turning the crank.

Originally posted on the legal services HotDocs listserv and posted here with permission

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