SimplyLaw is a document production and file management system designed by Phillip Graham and written by a Computer Programmer for use by Lawyers and para-legals engaged in private legal practice. It is the program used by Graham Legal to interface with Microsoft's Office package of word processing, database, spreadsheet and email programs.
SimplyLaw is an invaluable tool both for Lawyers who are already comfortable with a keyboard and for those who still fumble their way across the keys. The SimplyLaw program has many single key features designed to encourage and enable Lawyers to set aside their pens. When used in conjunction with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, there is no longer any need for Lawyers to delegate their typing to their assistants.
The SimplyLaw experience begins at the moment the Lawyer receives instructions to act for a client. First, SimplyLaw allocates the next available client matter number for the file and then guides the Lawyer through the instruction taking process by prompting the Lawyer to obtain all necessary instructions relevant to the particular field of law involved in the retainer.
As the Lawyer enters the client's instructions into a SimplyLaw designed form, the entered data is immediately referred to the relevant precedent Instruction Sheet causing the program to display only those data fields that are relevant to the task at hand. SimplyLaw prompts the Lawyer to obtain each and every relevant instruction and, by that very process, does not allow a Lawyer to forget to ask the client a relevant question.
Consequently, the specialist experiences of particular Lawyers in the firm are encoded into the relevant Instruction Sheet making the initial client interview a complete and entirely professional experience. Clients actually save money because there is no need for follow up attendances to obtain additional instructions not requested at the first interview.
When the instruction taking task is complete, SimplyLaw causes a Word document to be formatted and available for editing or printing. At the same time SimplyLaw saves each and every data entry into a Microsoft Access Database that may be immediately accessed by all network users.
In the course of taking instructions the Lawyer has the ability to extract extensive information already saved in any one of the various SimplyLaw databases including:
- a database of the instructions taken in all previous files by that same client;
- a database of Victorian Lawyers (including their postal and Ausdoc addresses and contact particulars such as telephone and facsimile numbers);
- a database of Melbourne and metropolitan Real Estate Agencies;
- a database of Melbourne and metropolitan Banks and other lending institutions;
- a database of Australian postcodes.
All of these databases may be easily modified by the user to amend particulars already saved or to add details, for instance, of new Real Estate Agents or lending institutions as the experiences of the firm require. All of these databases may also be easily searched permitting, in the case of the client matter database, a search for any conflict of interest.
Once the instruction taking process is complete the Lawyer is ready to access more than 1900 precedents that have been meticulously drafted, formatted and encoded. The user is able to identify the required precedent either by its name or by searching by key word description.
SimplyLaw has provision for more than 4800 data fields all of which are accompanied by detailed help text that automatically appears as each field is accessed. Once a precedent has been selected, SimplyLaw presents the user with a list of only those data fields actually required for completion of the particular precedent. Sequencing of the data fields has been carefully orchestrated so as to present fields in the most logical order.
SimplyLaw precedents are constantly revised to ensure that they are accurate, informative and, in the case of correspondence to the client, expressed in terms easily understood. This enables the Lawyer with competent or even the very basic of typing skills to self-generate numerous letters and documents as required over the life of the client's file and to keep the client appropriately informed regarding the progress of their matter from beginning to end.
The days of a firm needing to employ a legal secretary every time it wishes to employ another Lawyer are over. The days of Lawyers scribbling illegible and inadequate file notes and failing to provide clients with regular written updates on the progress of files for fear of overburdening the typing pool are also over. Lawyers can do it all on their own and they can do it immediately or whenever their timetable permits.
The SimplyLaw advantage to clients is that their legal advisors are able to act immediately upon their instructions. Lawyers do not have to wait for the typing pool to refer work back for checking. Most Lawyers find that it is simply easier to prepare the client's documentation immediately following the client consultation and whilst the task is fresh in mind rather than to have to go back to things at a later date. This is achieved without the Lawyer having to leave his or her desk and without having to interrupt his or her Legal Assistant.
Consequently, the role of the Legal Assistant in a SimplyLaw office has changed dramatically. Whilst he or she may not have as many co-workers as was formerly the case (with obvious reductions in firm overheads), repetitive typing is a thing of the past and more time may be devoted to file management and providing direct telephone assistance to clients. Legal Assistants now have file and practice management skills that time did not permit in the past. The result is a much higher level of office efficiency and client satisfaction.
SimplyLaw includes comprehensive Checklists in many areas of common practice that not only guide the experienced and the inexperienced Lawyers through the legal process of the matter, but also assist the Lawyer in locating precedents relevant to the task at hand. These Checklists (as drafted by the firm's senior and most experienced Lawyers) are also designed to provide a simple and convenient means of tracking the progress of a file from beginning to end.
Letters and documents created by SimplyLaw are saved on the network server and, if required, are available for subsequent editing by any network user. Matter data can be easily modified at any time as circumstances change and, as this data is also saved on the network server, the data changes once made are in place for the benefit of all users.
Lawyers regularly find it useful to access saved letters and documents in responding to clients' queries. For instance, a client ringing for an update on their file is able to speak to their Lawyer who does not have to call for the client's file in order to provide the client with the latest up to date information about their file.
The Lawyer merely enters the client's surname into the SimplyLaw program, selects the particular client matter, and, by reading the SimplyLaw document history of date sorted file notes, documents and correspondence, brings the client up to date not only with respect to work undertaken by the firm but also such letters and documents that have been imported to SimplyLaw after being received from another party.
Graham Legal has used SimplyLaw (and its earlier versions) since 1988.
Having client data for every file opened since 1988 makes the opening of new matters for existing clients an easy task. Clients appreciate that their Lawyer does not have to go through boxes of archived files to find particulars about them that may be relevant to the present matter. For instance, clients who give instructions for the sale of a property where the firm acted for those clients on the purchase are pleasantly surprised when their Lawyer does not have to leave his or her desk to extract details from the purchase file.
The SimplyLaw Instruction Sheets, Checklists and library of over 1900 precedent letters and documents are capable of continual upgrade and extension. Because all of these exist in the form of editable Word documents, as changes in law, legal procedure and forms occur the SimplyLaw precedents can be easily modified as required. New precedents, including new precedents designed for new areas of legal practice, are also easily added to the library as the experiences of SimplyLaw users grow and diversify.
SimplyLaw introduces to Word a markup syntax that allows the System Administrator to draft precedents that will automatically include or exclude from the output document other sub-precedents and sub-paragraphs by reference to the data entered in the matter database.
SimplyLaw also inserts or omits Word tables by reference to the data entered in the matter database and permits conditional text within table cells again by reference to the data entered in the matter database.
SimplyLaw is written in Borland C++, using Object Orientated Methodologies. The main document production subsystem employs recursive thread-safe coding which allows deeply nested and complex expressions of logic to be embedded in the precedents.
The same complex expressions of logic often need to be used in many places over many precedents and SimplyLaw elegantly handles this by allowing the expression to be stored globally or by being attached to a particular Office, Author, Operator or matter type. Similarly, SimplyLaw allows the storage of data globally or by being attached to these different scopes enabling output document production specific to that Office, Author, Operator or matter.
The SimplyLaw Rules database contains more than 3000 complex expressions.
Database access is via Borland's Database Director which allows SimplyLaw to connect to many database systems. SimplyLaw has chosen MS-Access because, even with 29 years of stored data, the response times are fast.
SimplyLaw benefits Lawyers by giving them higher accuracy in document production, greater efficiency in file management, faster file turnaround, centralised control and audit ability all contributing to greater client satisfaction.