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Gavel Automation Specialist: Michael Ellis

Hire Gavel-certified document automation developer Michael Ellis to help turn your templates and forms into intelligent document assembly apps.

Michael Ellis is a Gavel Expert and document automation specialist with over 20 years of document automation and document assembly experience.  He is particularly skilled with converting HotDocs templates over to Gavel, and speaks fluent Hmong.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Having worked as a HotDocs template developer and consultant for nearly 20 years, I’m a recent Gavel convert. I studied English and Legal Studies at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, respectively, and most recently, I received an MBA from Western Governors University. As a paralegal, I worked for a couple years in a family law practice back in the days of WordPerfect and find and replace, copy and paste. Then I discovered the world of document automation and have been there ever since. My love of writing, consulting, and training people how to use technology better led me recently to start a legal technology consulting business called Ellis Legal Tech. I offer consulting and template development services, and blog about document automation, legal technology, and the small law practitioner.

What is your document automation experience?  

Before I discovered Gavel and Docassemble, my world was HotDocs. I joined the LexisNexis Automated Forms Team in 2001 for my paralegal skills, because I could look at a legal document and tell the developers how to automate it. It wasn’t long before I was developing templates too. While at LexisNexis, I worked on all the California Judicial Council products, including the CALCRIM and CACI Jury Instructions. I also helped to develop the initial version of the California Wills & Trusts product. Most of my foundation in HotDocs that served me well as a consultant came from my experiences at Lexis. For the HotDocs Group, I have worked with many clients: government, insurance, banking, real estate businesses, and of course, legal. Lately, I have been more involved in Presales, working with prospective clients to craft document automation solutions for them.

What areas of law or documents do you have experience in?  

Using HotDocs, I have developed template sets for just about all areas of law, including estate planning, family law, probate, real estate, bankruptcy, and business. During my 12 years at LexisNexis, I developed mostly official, statutory forms as PDF templates, but since becoming a consultant in 2013, I have worked mostly with Word document templates.

Can you describe your process for how you build a document automation workflow?  

Meeting with the client at the beginning and understanding and defining requirements for the project is key. Once the project is started, then I provide updates on the progression of the template development as often as the client requires. If the project lends itself to demonstrating portions of it to the client along the way, then I do that too. I prefer to have markup from the client to define what should be automated in the document, especially to have instructions regarding conditional logic. I used to start developing the document a section at a time, but in the past few years, I have grown to appreciate developing the interview first, and then the document. The interview is what the user experiences first, so getting the client’s approval on the flow of the interview is a good milestone in a project. Through it all, I do my best to work efficiently and deliver value to the client.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a document automation specialist to have when working with a client to automate their templates and forms?

Experience allows you to present possibilities to a prospective client at the beginning of a project so that the scope of the project can be defined and managed professionally. Patience and having a smile in your voice helps you maintain a positive and enduring relationship with the client. Personally, I also value the characteristic of being teachable. Even though you’re the “expert,” you can still learn something new every day. Finally, I strive to make the client’s experience one that they will want to keep using my services.

What is your proudest moment?

In the grand scheme of things, it was a small win, but one of my hobbies is to write fiction. I published a short story titled “Moving On” in a small literary journal here.

What do you do for fun?

Read classic and contemporary fiction. Write fiction. Learn to code. And when discretionary funds allow, I buy old manual typewriters and clean them up.

Anything else we should know?

If you didn’t know if already, Gavel is awesome! I’m looking forward to developing templates with a tool that has so much potential to disrupt the document automation industry.

What other languages do you speak?

Other than English, I also speak fluent Hmong.  I translate on the side, and plan to Gavel some of the Judicial Council Forms in Hmong.

Want to hire Michael Ellis as your document automation specialist? Email us at [email protected], so we can connect you!

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