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Document Assembly vs Document Automation: What’s the Difference?

In today’s ceaseless quest to maximize efficiency and streamline operations, automation tools that streamline document creation are incredibly important for legal organizations. Although most firms understand the benefits of automation, they don’t always make a strong distinction between concepts like “document automation” and “document assembly.” The terms are frequently used interchangeably despite referring to different concepts. It falls to LegalTech developers to build automation solutions that integrate document assembly features so they can meet the diverse needs and expectations of their customers.

The Origins of Document Assembly

To understand the distinction between document automation and document assembly, it’s helpful to first know a bit about the history of the terms themselves. Document assembly software was first developed in the early 1970s as a way of streamlining contract creation.

 Researchers at BYU Law School recognized that the type of information lawyers typically used to create legal documents was highly structured and rules-oriented. This made contracts an ideal candidate for automation because they resembled the same type of decision-tree (Boolean) logic used in computer programming. They used this knowledge to build the first incarnation of document assembly software.

These programs stored a collection of document templates with conditional or variable text that could be replaced automatically by the software to generate a new contract. Over time, this process became more streamlined, allowing developers to build contract management tools that could use data drawn from questionnaires and databases to populate document information as needed. The process greatly reduced the potential for human error and streamlined contract creation.

The Expansion of Document Automation

Since document assembly software automated key aspects of drafting contracts, the terms “document assembly” and “document automation” were often used interchangeably. A divergence emerged with the development and growth of cloud platforms and APIs that created increasingly distributed IT and document management systems. 

Traditional document assembly software was mainly an “on-premises” technology that still relied upon word processing applications to actually generate document files. The information they pulled in had to be stored within the on-premises system, and even after the contract was assembled, a series of manual steps were often still needed to store, send, and sign new documents.

As legal organizations turned to comprehensive LegalTech solutions that integrated different areas of their practice, document assembly software was subsumed into a larger document automation workflow process. While assembly typically consisted of only the creation of documents, this new automation framework also included the creation of templates, the gathering of data, the redlining process, and the distribution of documents.

Document Assembly vs. Document Automation: How They’re Used Today

Today’s legal organizations have implemented document automation tools that create a more seamless workflow. Rather than switching between separate solutions for different aspects of the document creation process, everything works together as part of a cohesive whole. Information is gathered by processing structured forms and extracting text with optical character recognition (OCR) tools. That data can then be routed into database storage until it’s needed for document assembly.

At this point, document assembly integrations take over. The distinguishing factor here is that assembly is no longer a standalone process, but rather a distinct step within a broader document automation solution. Templates still serve as the basis for the assembly process, with conditional information being plugged in programmatically depending upon the needs of the specific contract. Today’s document assembly tools are sufficiently advanced that the entire contract can be generated automatically without having to open it with a word processing application to make manual adjustments.

In older, standalone document assembly software, this would have been the end of the process. When integrated into a larger document automation solution, however, the assembly tools can easily hand the newly created file off to the next step in the workflow. This could be a viewing or editing integration that allows multiple parties to collaborate on the document via annotation markups. Since the document never has to leave the application environment, the risk of version confusion is substantially reduced. Viewing and editing authorization can also be restricted to ensure privacy.

Once the document is reviewed, edited, and revised into its final form, document automation tools allow the relevant parties to digitally sign it before finally delivering or printing the completed version. Thanks to cloud computing architecture and API integrations, the document automation workflow may incorporate multiple software integrations that play an important role in the contract creation process, even while the document itself remains safely stored within the secure application environment.

Implementing Document Assembly Features with PrizmDoc Editor

For LegalTech developers looking to integrate document assembly tools into their web-applications, Accusoft’s PrizmDoc Editor makes it easy to compile, control, and customize documents within a broader document automation solution. Utilizing a powerful set of REST APIs, PrizmDoc Editor works with DOCX file templates to programmatically create new contracts by inserting necessary information and clauses wherever they’re needed.

Once the document is assembled, it can be rendered in HTML for review and editing within the browser. Each viewing session is configured with a unique session ID, which helps to minimize unauthorized access and avoid version confusion. Thanks to the customizable user interface, developers can select the items that will be most useful to their customers for the toolbar and menu.

Accusoft’s PrizmDoc Editor integrates smoothly into LegalTech solutions that help firms to automate their document and contract workflows. Try a hands-on demo today or download a free trial to see how PrizmDoc Editor performs in your unique application environment.