IT & the Lawyer

Sonnenschein case study


  • GhostFill on every PC desktop in the firm;
  • Integrated with MS Word to ensure that every document created in Word is initiated through GhostFill;
  • Integrated with MS Outlook;
  • Replacing the use of VBA Macros;
  • Providing efficiencies and time-saving in the creation of general office correspondence;
  • And enhancing firm-wide standardization of style and layout rules for company documentation.
This Case Study documents the implementation of GhostFill Document Assembly and Document Management software at the U.S. law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP ("Sonnenschein") during 2003.

The software was implemented as part of the law firm's migration to Office XP. Sonnenschein opted to use GhostFill Document Assembly software, rather than convert a series of VBA macros that were previously in use for the preparation of standard forms such as letters, faxes, memoranda and court forms.

Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP is a large, full-service law firm with offices in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., St. Louis, Los Angeles, Kansas City, New Jersey, West Palm Beach and San Francisco. The firm has approximately 1,600 PC users, including about 600 attorneys.

Sonnenschein had scheduled to roll out Office XP during 2003. As a result of mergers with other law firms, the firm had different versions of Microsoft Office in place across their various offices and they wanted to standardize firm wide on XP. As part of the rollout, the firm also planned a move onto Microsoft Outlook for management of email and contacts. Their previous email/contact management system was Lotus Notes.

One of the elements of the rollout entailed either upgrading or replacing a system within the firm for preparation of standard letters, faxes, memoranda and other commonly used documents. The previous system was developed as a series of VBA macros that accessed information from Lotus Notes. It also utilized a third party application for generating Bates labels (sheets of file labels).

A team was assembled to review the options for upgrading or replacing these macros. One possibility was to rewrite the macros in Office XP and, in doing so, to integrate with Outlook rather than Lotus Notes. Another option was to consider the implementation of a formal document assembly system that could integrate with Microsoft Outlook and provide the additional flexibility that would come from such a system.

In considering the upgrade the following issues were raised by the team:
  • Using VBA macros adds a significant memory footprint in Word and can be the source of extensive support issues.
  • Development of macros is very time-consuming.
  • Macros may not be transportable to future versions of Word, or may require conversion.
  • A customized interface to Microsoft Outlook would have to be developed (using macros).
At the time of this review, GhostFill software was already being implemented elsewhere in Sonnenschein in a specific practice area. As a result, Sonnenschein IT staff were aware of the features of GhostFill. They approached GhostFill Technologies Inc. ("GTI") to prepare a prototype using a standard letter template. Sample documents and screenshots of the existing macros were provided to GTI for the exercise.

GTI built a prototype that demonstrated GhostFill's native capability to assemble standard correspondence using a link to Microsoft Outlook for selection of contacts. In presenting the prototype to Sonnenschein, GTI was able to show that:

  • Templates could be coded in Word using GhostFill scripting with much greater ease than using VBA.
  • Similarly, dialogs for capturing information could be fast-tracked in GhostFill and tailored in appearance more easily than would be the case in creating similar dialogs with VBA. The prototype incorporated the logo and color schemes of Sonnenschein, giving users the sense that it was a Sonnenschein application.
  • GhostFill templates can be in Rich Text Format (RTF) or Word .DOT format. RTF templates are assembled very quickly and can be opened in multiple versions of Word, thereby providing more upward compatibility with future versions of Word.
  • GhostFill had a built-in interface with Microsoft Outlook for selection of contacts and use of data in GhostFill templates.

As a result of the prototyping exercise, Sonnenschein commissioned GTI to automate a series of templates for implementation as part of their XP rollout. Some of their previous standard documents were weeded out as it was determined they were no longer in use and others were deferred for later implementation. Sonnenschein purchased an enterprise license of GhostFill software to support the rollout to every desktop on which Office XP is installed.

During development, GTI resolved a number of complex issues, such as:

  • The ability to link to both Outlook's standard user contacts and Outlook's global address list (GAL). In the case of the GAL, a mechanism was devised for producing a cached GhostFill list of the following values for all SNR intranet users: name, email, office location, direct telephone and title. The cached list provided quick access to these values at run-time.
  • A "recently selected profiles" drop-down list was included in the correspondence dialog. This list gets built and maintained dynamically at run-time, and stores the details of the last 5 users accessed from the GAL (and/or manually edited).
  • Self-populating lists were included in dialogs where appropriate, for example in storing the typist's initials.
  • GhostFill profiles were used to retain where appropriate the "last used" values of certain optional fields.
  • Sonnenschein were able to discard the third party software they had been using for the production of Bates labels. These are now produced by GhostFill and the facility has been enhanced through some GhostFill scripting that enables the appearance on the label of sequential numbers at any position within a piece of pre-defined text. GhostFill enables users to pre-define the actual range of numbers and to elect to increment them column-by-column or row-by-row.
  • Implementation in a Citrix environment to support remote use of GhostFill.
  • A rigorous template styling scheme was devised and meticulously applied to ensure consistency across the firm.
  • Sophisticated review of dialogs to ensure a high level of functionality and ease of use.
  • Suppressing Word's prompt to convert RTF documents generated from GhostFill while retaining the prompt for other documents. The Word compatibility setting for the generated RTF documents was consistently set to "Word 2002".
  • Documents that are assembled can optionally be saved to Sonnenschein's document management system (Docs Open).

Sonnenschein conducted extensive tests on the GhostFill solution to ensure compatibility with their XP rollout. These included lab tests where GhostFill was tested in combination with Office XP, Docs Open and other applications in their standard platform. The software was also beta tested with a selected group of end users. The feedback from those users resulted in optimization and refinement of the dialogs and templates so that workflow could be maximized. This included creating defaults for numerous values and allowing users to reselect from commonly used recipients to speed document assembly. GhostFill was also tested in their Citrix server environment.

Sonnenschein conducted a thorough review and determined that GhostFill document assembly software provided many advantages over using Word VBA macros for implementation of standard templates.

After completion of thorough testing in their lab, GhostFill is now being implemented on every desktop in the firm.

Sonnenschein have configured the installation so that GhostFill replaces MS Word's "File Open" function; which implies that every single new document created in Word will be initiated from within GhostFill. This has enabled Sonnenschein to enhance firm-wide standardization of the group's style and layout rules for most of its documentation.

Whereas document assembly has traditionally been implemented only within specific practice groups, the concept of using it more broadly for standard correspondence preparation can result in significant timesaving for users. Given that many large law firms generate thousands of pieces of correspondence (letters, faxes, memos) per day, introducing efficiencies in this process can result in significant cost-savings. Studies have shown that, in general industry, the average cost of producing a typical letter through standard means (including normal postage) is approximately US$20 per document. This can be even higher in the legal industry where extra care must be taken to ensure legal accuracy of the content. Using GhostFill, standard correspondence can typically be generated in a minute or two. Most correspondence generated in a law firm has short messages (sending copies of documents for review, notifying clients of events, etc.). So providing an efficient mechanism for generation of such documents can bring about substantial savings.

Having GhostFill on every desktop will also facilitate on-going projects to automate specific practice areas within the firm.

In summary
Using a combination of firm-wide rollout to every desktop for standard correspondence and practice-specific applications for more complex templates (such as estate planning), Sonnenschein is making effective use of document assembly technology. They recognized that the key is finding documents that are assembled most repetitively within their firm and automating those documents to the greatest degree possible.

Comment from the Client
"GhostFill is approaching document assembly with an innovative solution and technology that provides seamless integration within our environment. GhostFill will help us sustain our competitive advantage by delivering a standard and faster way to produce legal documents. The standardization of Firm templates within our Office XP initiative is one of the three projects we have undertaken with GhostFill since 2002. In each, GhostFill has been a key element to our success, providing expertise and recommendations for a successful rollout. In some instances, when faced with unforeseen issues and/or change in project scope, GhostFill met the challenges, finding intelligent and innovative solutions. We continue to be impressed by GhostFill's responsiveness, flexibility and willingness to work as a partner".

GhostFill website

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