Zack Glaser sits down with Thomas Officer and Scott Kelly co-founders of PatternBuilder, to discuss document automation, advanced content management, and what NetDocuments sees in their company AfterPattern. Learn how they are continuing to innovate in the automation space and what new features we can expect in the coming months.
Links from the episode:
If today’s podcast resonates with you and you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free!
Thanks to Posh Virtual Receptionists, Clio, & LawPay for sponsoring this episode.
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Zack Glaser (00:34):
Welcome back to another sponsored Lawyerist podcast episode, but we’re joined by legal voices and companies to discuss the newest features, happenings and trends in the legal world. Today we’re joined by Pattern Builder, co-founders, Scott Kelly and Thomas Officer. We’re talking about using automation to put your knowledge management platforms to work and how Pattern Builder integrates into Net Documents. So now here’s my conversation with Scott and Thomas.
Thomas Officer (01:04):
Hello, this is Thomas Officer, one of the co-founders of the company, which became Pattern Builder. I am an attorney, but I’ve been working in primarily legal tech startups since I graduated law school. I was a design lead at the company that became Pattern Builder and I now work as part of the design team at NetDocuments.
Scott Kelly (01:23):
And hi, I’m Scott Kelly. I’m also one of the co-founders of After Pattern, which was acquired by Net Documents and now lives on as Pattern builder inside the Net Documents platform. I’m also an attorney by training, used to be a civil rights attorney and now am a product manager in that document.
Zack Glaser (01:40):
Guys, thank you. Thank you for being with me. I’ve talked to y’all individually, collectively many times since the previous iterations and frankly, I remember when you guys got purchased by Net Documents, I called one of you, I don’t remember which one, but I was like what’s this going to do? Is it everything going to be okay? So I remember doing that. So it’s really nice to get you guys to come on and to be able to talk with y’all and share your knowledge with the world because y’all have a lot of deep information and experience in the document automation and really just broad legal tech sphere. So thank you guys for being with me.
Thomas Officer (02:19):
Thanks for having us.
Scott Kelly (02:20):
Yeah, thanks for having us Zach.
Zack Glaser (02:21):
So first off, let’s set the stage. You guys are the designers and co-founders of community.lawyer, which became After Pattern, which now has become a really stellar part of Net Documents and it is a document automation platform. It is not your grandpa’s document automation platform, but that’s what we’re talking about is this document automation platform that is inside of the net documents platform. So I guess really I’ll ask the obvious question. What makes After Pattern Builder kind of special and especially with Net Docs, like why Net Docs kind of bringing Pattern Builder into the system?
Scott Kelly (03:07):
I think that’s a great question and I think one that when we were a startup and occasionally we would have a company come to us and sort of start to poke around and inquire were we interested in partnering with them or working with them? One thing we always had to ask ourselves was what’s the value add of the two of us together? What’s the one plus one equals three to use? The kind of trite analogy and in a lot of cases it wasn’t obvious what it was, but with the document management and a content management platform like Net Documents, it really solved the biggest issue that many of our users had, which was that they didn’t want to jump between the place where they’re storing all their content and another spot solution to get their work done. What they want is just one kind of flow state, one platform to do all their work, not have to worry about the security or anything like that, and we just couldn’t offer that. And so by teaming up with Net documents and really going beyond just teaming up but building our technology directly into the platform so it sits natively inside of it, I think we were able to offer that kind of flow state to legal professionals so that they could automate their workflows, their documents in a all lived within one platform.
Zack Glaser (04:29):
I think it’s interesting to make that kind of integration with something like Net Documents because it’s document management platform, most document automation platforms have been going and integrating with your case management and I assume that you guys had had people talk to you from the case management area. Why is the document management area more prime for you guys being in than the case management area? I think that’s an odd match. It’s just different than where a lot of others went.
Thomas Officer (05:03):
I remember when we were having some early conversation with Net documents and we had checked out their product and we were framing to them what we saw and net documents, we use the expression, they feel like an invisible document management system like an attorney who has a laptop provided by their law firm and they use net documents every day in theory could get to a place that they’re like, oh, my computer’s just set up in a way that my work is saved and I can always find what I’m looking for versus a product that is very opinionated and this is how you’re going to march through your legal matter. That documents is something you could just consider to be part of the infrastructure of working at your law firm. That was very appealing to us.
Zack Glaser (05:39):
Yeah, that’s interesting. I remember having a conversation with TOMA back a year or so ago about After Pattern being a tool as opposed to a thing that told you how to work and you guys have been really thoughtful about making this into something that helps you do your work as opposed to corrals you into a particular way of doing your work.
Scott Kelly (06:02):
Thomas Officer (06:03):
Exactly. No, and Scott uses expression all the time. We’re a toolkit when we approach attorneys. We’re not telling them how they should automate their work. We’re saying we have this toolkit you could use. What is the right automation for you? It’s going to be different than another attorney.
Zack Glaser (06:17):
Scott Kelly (06:18):
And to your point about the fit with a document management system, I think what’s interesting about document management, particularly a platform like Net Documents is it’s used by attorneys in all segments. So it’s not just we’re practice management, you really see a specialization, this is the practice management solution for solo attorneys and this is for 10 user firm and 20 users, and then there’s a whole different set of practice management solutions as you kind of go up in size net diamonds plays everywhere and it supports legal professionals globally everywhere. We felt like that was really compelling because we didn’t want our tool to just be a niche tool in a segment. We wanted to serve all legal professionals and I felt like in that documents we had that opportunity.
Zack Glaser (07:12):
I think keeping it as a tool allows you to be a little more broad in who you’re able to help, but then integrating with somebody like Net Documents that does it lets you kind of stay a little bit broad. What is it that Net Documents has gained from this integration, this bringing pattern builder and y’all’s perspective into the system?
Scott Kelly (07:35):
Yeah, I think the simple thing it’s gained is the ability to automate documents and workloads. I mean, yeah, before Pattern Builder there was no native capability within that documents to generate documents and just have them automatically saved back into the D M S and talking to some of the leadership on that documents like Josh and Dan and Jill, they were like, customers would frankly be shocked sometimes they’d be like, wait a minute, you can’t generate a document and have it saved back in. And so they realized that that gap existed and they also realized the complexity of solving that problem and so that’s why I think they looked for a startup like ours where we had shown over the course of many years that we were very serious about solving this problem and solving it with the specific needs of legal professionals in mind with the, I have to have my Word document, have this exact right formatting and I also need to be able to automate PDFs. That’s something I think we had shown a lot of competency around and just fill that gap nicely for the platform.
Zack Glaser (08:42):
Right. Well I think one of the things though that sets after Pattern Pattern Builder, I still haven’t been a while and I still haven’t gotten used to calling it Pattern Builder, but one of the things that sets Pattern Builder apart from some of the others, and I think it’s a direction the document automation is going or has gone is this idea of apps of automating the document and dealing with the document outside and tell me if this is a decent way of framing it outside of the document, you know, kind of work on it before it even gets created as opposed to this mail merge style, here’s a form, here’s a template, let’s put the information in. How is it that works? Or have you found that that concept works better with a net documents as opposed to a practice management solution?
Thomas Officer (09:33):
Earlier you asked about what net documents gains and absolutely it’s first and foremost people who use net documents now have the ability to automate documents. But one of the other things they gain, which gets that to your question in kind of an oblique way, I like to ask, have people think about a document automation, a pattern builder app that doesn’t produce a document, which is a perfectly valid kind of app. We would talk to people when we were first getting into document automation and frame it as the difference between a fill in the blank document automation, oh this, I have a bunch of names I need to populate throughout this document first something more complex that would result in a paragraph being inserted or removed. And that complexity could be a legal question and that legal question is something now that your app is helping you walk through. And so you can imagine a world where you have an app that doesn’t actually produce a document because as you answer its questions it says, well actually you don’t need this document at this moment.
Zack Glaser (10:29):
So it it’s answering the question and it could be answering the question internally, it could be answering the question externally, but it walks somebody from point A to point B and I think that’s what fascinates me right now about this moment and kind of creating document automation platforms is that from my perspective, somebody that just looks at it from the outside and kind of seeing where document automation is going, it’s really we’re starting to take the word document out. These are becoming automation tools or I really like y’all were the first ones I think at least for me that used the word app kind of internally in the platform and thinking about these things as an app, as a way to produce something, as a way to get from point A to point B as opposed to a way to fill out a simple will. And I think that’s fascinating to see you guys doing that and putting it into the document management sphere.
Scott Kelly (11:29):
You’ve hit on something that I think is really important about how we thought of ourselves as a company and how we now think of this capability within the net documents platform, which is yes, we have a core focus on the automation of documents because that’s what legal professionals work with every day. They review documents, they output documents, but really if you strip away what you’re talking about is data and getting work done and content management And increasingly as more and more court systems go online, as more and more clients come online, as more and more firms come online, the need for the document itself is actually going away and we’re sort of stripping that and now we just have the data. And so I think it’s very interesting that when even at Net documents, the way we think of ourselves is we’re a legal content management system. We’re not just a document management system though that’s at the heart of everything we do and I think Pattern Builders a continuation of what that means in that yes, we can automate your documents, we’re really good at that, but there’s so much more to running a law firm that has nothing to do with the document. As TOMA said, it’s automating your processes, it’s automating your intake, it’s understanding your data, it’s reporting on it, it’s billing, all those things
Zack Glaser (12:47):
With you talking about that, it makes me think about a conversation I had with Martin Clawson in a previous podcast episode and we were talking about hyper contracts about being able to assemble contracts and make them into basically an app themselves. And in that you have to have the information, the input information, the information that the contract is dealing with in kind of digital form. And I hadn’t thought about this before, but having a automation platform built into a content manager, well now you start to have more of this stuff in a digital form. If let’s say some document doesn’t come into folder X by X date, you can have somebody who’s breached a contract or something like that but just sorry, it made me think of that and going to that sort of complexity with these apps. Quite honestly, I don’t know where I’m going with that.
Thomas Officer (13:51):
No, it’s such a crucial insight though. And let’s say you’re a law firm and you do write a new contract, it involves a new third party and then time passes six months or so and someone else asks you like, oh, tell me about that third party we entered into a contract into. You wouldn’t say, oh let me go find that document where their name and address is because that’s where it lives. It lives on that contract, it’s, it’s a piece of information that surely our firm has stored somewhere else. Maybe it came to us originally that document, but it’s going to get pulled out and now eventually it’s lifespan is going to be far beyond that document.
Zack Glaser (14:25):
It it’s kind of getting outside of this concept that even the documents that we create or even the automations that we create are really documents just moving information around and in the world. In the past, the way that we’ve moved information around is by putting it onto pieces of paper and mailing it or couriering it somewhere. And so I can see this adjusting kind of front of our eyes and I’m sure you guys can too. So before we go too much further, we had kind of said, I had been following you guys with Community Lawyer and loved that application and frankly I have a memory of talking to my wife about it at Christmas just like without you guys there we’re just driving down the road and I’m talking about community lawyer. So walk me through that. Tell me the history of Community Lawyer kind of up to Pattern Builder here.
Thomas Officer (15:19):
It’s quite a history.
Scott Kelly (15:21):
Yeah, do you want take that one? Tell No, I feel like there’s a lot there. I
Thomas Officer (15:25):
Can kick us off. Yeah, 2016 Brooklyn, I don’t know Scott, he doesn’t know me. We are both participants in a tech incubator called Blue Ridge Labs, which has a theme it runs once a year and it’s always trying to tackle some big problem immigrants working families. In 2016 the theme was Access Justice. And so Scott and I are both techies with a legal background and so we found ourselves there and over the course of a six month reality show experience, we teamed up and formed Community Lawyer.
Scott Kelly (16:00):
I think one of the interesting things about that program that we went through was in addition to having to figure out what you wanted to build, which usually is all you’re concerned about when you’re building a company, we actually came in as individuals and so we had to figure out who we wanted to build with. So there were 20 other fellows there from all different sorts of backgrounds and there for all different sorts of reasons. And I remember it was kind of late night, one night maybe we’d had a couple of drinks and Toma and I were talking and we kind of looked at each other. We were like, are you ready to build something for the next 10 years? Because I don’t know if everyone here wants to do that, but that’s what we want to do. We want to work for not a lot of money and just be rejected a whole bunch, spend years building something that probably everybody will hate in the end and build a business. And I remember there was, we sort of bonded over that because I think we both saw each other something that we were looking for and we had another founder as well who was with us for a very long time and helped along the way. And so it wasn’t us, wasn’t just us, there were many other people who contributed, but that was the initial colonel I think of getting started.
Thomas Officer (17:16):
It’s an important, not obvious question. We are now also alumnis of this program and we’ll go back and talk to the incoming class and my favorite question is, are you ready to start a small business? I want to start a startup. Exciting, fast, super success like startup sounds fun. Small business sounds like a grind that’ll take a long time and probably won’t work out. Sounds
Zack Glaser (17:36):
Like a loans. Yeah. Yeah. Well, so you know guys came up with a issue and decided yes, I do want to grind it out as starting a small business. How community lawyer, how did you come across the concept of the idea of community lawyer?
Scott Kelly (17:55):
Yeah, so it’s interesting. We actually built a platform first that helped attorneys connect with folks in their community who needed a lawyer. So it was referral network technology and we actually spent a year and a half for two years building that out and the product still exists today and actually powers a lot of bar association lawyer referral services. So it’s still there ticking along. But I think at a certain point we realized that our passion really lay in sort of taking the networks of attorneys that we were building and we thought wouldn’t it be great if there was some way that they could share that expertise in their mind and it could be leveraged across many different attorneys. And so we had this kind of kernel of an idea, which was why don’t we give them the ability to build software, software automations, and we started with the document as the thing that we want to automate, but always with this idea that there was a lot more to being a legal professional than just the document experience. And so that’s how we transitioned into building the product that became After Pattern and now exists as pattern builder in the Net Documents platform.
Zack Glaser (19:16):
It’s interesting because I think in the after pattern platform and all that, there is this essence of sharing this knowledge and I know when it was as community lawyer I in my head envisioned this ability to almost monetize your own templates to be able to sell that to somebody else and the idea of sharing that information, but you put it into a decent sized practice within Net Documents and that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re able to templatize a process and share that information within your company.
Scott Kelly (19:53):
I mean I think it’s a great point and something that we didn’t really appreciate until later, which was that we wanted to build a marketplace and in fact we did build a marketplace where folks could build apps and then they could share apps and other attorneys if they wanted to, could duplicate them and leverage them in their own law practice. But while there was some of that, people did publish things and duplicate things. What we realized was there was a lot of reticence within the legal community for understandable reasons to share that sort of expertise. But with larger firms, the opportunity exists to build a solution for yourself or your department and then have that scale across let’s say 2000 other attorneys and paralegals and other professionals who work at that law firm. And that’s what we’re seeing now in that documents where there’s these great law firms doing amazing work and now anyone at that law firm can develop a solution that then scales across the whole organization. And we’re also seeing that because of the Net Documents platform, you can create something that can then be transferred to another law firm. So there we actually have the infrastructure at Net documents to facilitate duplicating of automations across law firms. So if law firms do want to share their expertise, that is still possible, which we think is really exciting and is something that in the future is going to get even more robust. Yeah,
Zack Glaser (21:23):
I mean the idea, I think the marketplace of templates and marketplace of apps is a really, really interesting thing and necessary, but the idea is scary and it is one of those things we’ve got to get people across the chasm first and I hadn’t recognized until someone recently that aspect of kind of community lawyer is still in this because it is still sharing that information. So well, before we get too far into or just go down the path of talking about the history of Community Lawyer after pattern and pattern builder, let’s talk about the actual platform a little bit, and I know y’all have some new updates because as you roll this into net documents, I assume you had to tear things down a little bit and then bring in the quintessential aspect and then bring in the things that you want and so you’re constantly updating this and moving this forward. What’s, what have we seen recently that’s kind of coming out?
Thomas Officer (22:22):
So the beating heart of Pattern Builder is the app editor where you create what we call an app, which I like to say is a really advanced online form. If you’ve ever used an online form and you surely have, that’s essentially an app, we mean web app, which got us in trouble initially with some people thinking, how do I download this? It’s just a really powerful website, but that really powerful website will work by asking you some questions, perhaps applying some legal rules to the responses you give it and then maybe producing a document at the end. And the first thing we released as Pattern builder was the app editor allowing you to build apps that could do all those things and conclude by giving you a document. And what’s great is you can file it exactly where it needs to go in that documents, but what was missing was the ability to save all the discreet answers the app collected and used to produce that document. That is something we’re very excited to rollout now.
Zack Glaser (23:13):
Okay, Scott, how is that, how’s that happening? What does that look like inside the Inside Net Docs? Inside Pattern Builder?
Scott Kelly (23:20):
Yeah, so what we’re rolling out and I think by the time this recording goes live, it will be in fact already live in the platform. Great is essentially if you’ve used product like Airtable or any kind of database solution where you can store whatever data you want and then just reuse it across your automations, it’s very similar to that. So it’s a way not just to save an answer file, which I think is a kind of traditional document automation concept. It’s like, I’ve got this answer file, I want to jump back into the same document automation, maybe make some tweaks and generate the same documents. You can definitely do that with data tables, the function I we’re releasing, but you can go way beyond that and say, you know what? I’m actually going to reuse that data in another document automation or I’m going to use it in to power some intake workflow I need to check up on the client every two years.
And so I might ask them to update their details. Great use cases there. The other thing that we think is really powerful about data tables is so much of document automation right now within the Pattern Builder product is powered by that online form that Tomo was talking about. So someone has to fill in an online form before they can get the document outputs, but with data tables you can just pull in data from whatever data sources you have, push a button and get your documents automated. You don’t have to necessarily use a form to collect it if you’ve got it somewhere else, a CSV or a third party database that you want to push it in from maybe a law practice management system. This is a great way to store that and then just use it across all your workflows.
Zack Glaser (25:00):
Okay. That’s kind of the natural aspect of document automation is you’re going to be collecting information. I mean you have to because you have to then use that information to create the document or create the answer or whatever, and so you guys are creating a mechanism or have created the mechanism by the time this comes out to store that, reuse it, manipulate it, and then use it in other ways as well, not just to create these documents or decisions.
Thomas Officer (25:27):
What’s great too is because we’re approaching every automation as a discreet app, your data table might have a ton of information. Let’s say you’re a law firm, you’ve been using this product for a while, and you have all the information possible about, you know, represent a client who has a ton of business locations all across the country, and so you have information about every single one of those locations. Now, someone could in your firm, could come with a new app that answers some very specific legal question because some rule changed in Oregon about if you’re operating a business in Oregon now, you could run that app on your data to instantly get a response as it relates to the information you have about your client’s business addresses. You don’t need to answer any more questions you already have everything you need. You can just now run it through this discreet app that answers a legal question.
Zack Glaser (26:14):
Yeah, so we’re talking about content management. Again, we’re still kind of in that area that Scott was saying about what net docs as a whole really is a content manager, and that’s great. Before I let you guys go though, y’all have a lot of information, a lot of knowledge in the document automation area, but you also have a lot of insight into the document automation area. What are you guys seeing around how Lawyerist are using document automation and kind of these apps? Is there anything that stands out right now?
Scott Kelly (26:51):
Yeah. I hate to probably beat what is now a dead horse in the legal tech world, but I’ve heard of this thing called OpenAI
And G P T and generative ai, and I’ll say this, we’ve publicly disclosed in that documents that we’ve been building on G P T and the bleeding edge models offered by OpenAI since last year. We think there is immense, immense potential in the capabilities offered by these systems, but particularly when paired with your content, right? A lot of people worry about hallucination and fabrication with generative ai, right? The best use cases by far about analyzing your text, your data producing documents from your precedent and as a content management system like net documents. We have that data, we have those documents, and we have the workflow capabilities with pattern builder to really power some really interesting use cases. So let’s just say it’s an area we’re very interested in and we hope to be unveiling some things in the coming months.
Zack Glaser (27:58):
Okay. Exciting. Fantastic. Doma, anything different or to add to that?
Thomas Officer (28:03):
I’ll just say I’m excited. I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of law students, which I enjoy very much, and the questions they always ask me is, should I be worried so much is changing in the legal profession? Should I be worried? It’s fine. I talk to a lot of attorneys as well. There’s nothing but excitement and optimism, and that’s what I would like to share with any law students. Getting into the profession is it looks like a lot of change and it is, but this is one of the best times to be an attorney and certainly the best time to build automations as an attorney.
Zack Glaser (28:31):
Yeah. Fantastic. Fantastic. Well guys, I really appreciate y’all being with me. This is, it’s always nice to talk to both of you. Now, if people want to learn more about Pattern Builder and what it can do for their firms and what documents can do for their firms, they can just go to net documents.com and poke around for Pattern Builder, see some demos and look at all the information there. We’ll also drop a link in the show notes to make sure that people can get to it directly. Thank you guys. I really appreciate your time and expertise in coming here.
Thomas Officer (29:04):
Thank you, Zach. It’s good to talk to you again.
Scott Kelly (29:06):
Yeah, thanks so much, Zach.
Zack Glaser (29:06):
Absolutely, absolutely, and hope to see y’all again soon.