The term template appears all over the place these days. In a good many of the applications it’s something of a struggle to see how the concept being described makes use of anything recognizable as a temple at all.
A quick look at the online Cambridge Dictionary defines a template thus:
- a pattern made of metal, plastic, or paper, used for making many copies of a shape or to help cut material accurately
- something that is used as a pattern for producing other similar things:
- a system that helps you arrange information on a computer screen:
To be honest the first definition probably chimes with most people. Was not the first time we all heard the word template when making something out of cardboard to draw around as a child at school!
Not surprising then the confusion that reigns in many a listener’s mind when IT people start talking about templates.
So let’s take a look at the second definition something that is used as a pattern for producing similar things, yes this gets us closer, much closer.
Finally the third definition, well we are system developers, so this makes sense to us, but really it’s the second definition that suits the best.
Benefits of using templates
So now we have a definition let’s take a look at the benefits of using templates.
- Reducing error – stands to reason, if we use a template, things that need to be all based on the same pattern will be similar. Therefore we reduce the risk of them being dissimilar, which we can take to mean we reduce the risk of errors.
- Saving time – well if we somehow automatically push the similar values into the template and use that to produce the finished article then we get our finished article much faster, we’ve saved time.
- Guaranteeing uniformity – if similar items are all made from the template they will have a guaranteed uniformity.
- Task dissemination – if a user knows how to use a template then the items they produce will match those produced by everybody else using the template. Indeed the person who created the template doesn’t even need to be present for users to create items perfectly.
- Task de-skilling – similar to point 4, if users gets guaranteed results using the template then it stands to reason that those users need not be as highly skilled as somebody trying to work without a template.
So when do templates make sense
If we re-read our adopted definition of a template then we could say that a template is only applicable in those occasions where we need to produce similar things based on a pattern.
In other words templates make sense in those cases where we are repeating a process many times, and each time the output must conform to a common pattern.
Templates in Law Firms
So when does it make sense to template things in a law firm?
Here at CHL Software we think there are a couple of really obvious areas where templating makes sense. Here they are:
- Creating a new matter – when lawyers create a new matter they will have a set of folders they create, some standard documents they always have and so on.
Creating the folders and documents for a new matter is a perfect candidate for templating. Just think of the benefits. If you create your folder structure using a template you save time, and all matters will have the same structure, regardless of how you feel that day.
What is more, if the templates are used by everybody then everybody saves time and everybody’s matters have the same structure. Even better, this uniformity continues even as staff come and go at the firm.
At CHL Software we call templates for creating matters folder templates. We have a video about them here.
- Creating a new document (1) – law firms produce lots of documents, and a large number of them match our criteria for benefitting from a template. Namely the documents are very similar, with the same pattern, often only differing by the smallest detail such as a name or address.
Simple then, provide documents that everybody can access and use as their starting point for the creation of new documents.
The idea of providing all users with a common “set” of base documents from which they can produce their own documents in known in DocMoto as master documents. We have a video covering their detailed use here.
- Creating a new document (2) – the use case and procedure described in 2 delivers on some of our goals for templating, master documents definitely improve uniformity, reduce error and save time, and for many they represent the best return on time for the practice of templating documents.
But as most readers will know document templating can be taken to a much higher level by implementing a whole system of automatically assembling documents from templates and even sub templates. This practice is known by a number of terms, but the most common term is Document Assembly.
When used correctly document assembly can deliver in a big way on the benefits of templating we defined earlier. It can produce highly complex documents based of pre-defined patterns. It can reduce error, reduce time, and allow law firms to increase their margins by reducing production costs substantially.
DocMoto supports Document Assembly, and we have a set of videos explaining how we do it. You will find the first in the series here.
What else can be templated
We have touched on what a template is, and the likely use cases within a law firm. Being a document management company most of our templating use cases are centred around documents and folders.
But in our World at least you will find us starting to use templates for many other technology areas. For example our forthcoming email importation system uses templates to save administrators huge amounts of time when connecting to mail servers.
Basically, if it’s something that gets done often, and there’s a common pattern to all the items produced, there’s a case to template it!