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How to Build a Legal Intake App


How to Build a Legal Intake App

Table of Contents

Intake and document automation are the gateway drug to productization. Take the first step by building a tech tool to automate your intake and generate documents immediately.

TurboTax for Law

So you've thought about building your own "TurboTax for law", but  you don't want to hire a developer?  Well, this is your guide on how to build a powerful legal app or workflow on Gavel to gather data and generate documents at every phase of your case.  You'll learn how to create an online intake survey (like you'd create on Typeform or SurveyMonkey).  It will collect and manage client data and automatically populate into your case documents and agreements at your command.  Then, you can even add a paywall to your publicly-facing workflow to charge clients for access.

All of this - gathering client data through a questionnaire, storing the data, and generating complex documents - can be done without using any code.  

Here, we're going to teach you how to build an intake app.  This guide is comprised of three parts:

  • Part 1: Building the Intake Questionnaire (including practical tips and common mistakes)
  • Part 2: Setting Up Your Documents (including complex conditional logic, calculating numbers and dates, and special formatting)
  • Part 3: Launching Your Legal App and Using the Data to Generate New Documents

You can choose to display the documents to the client, review and send them to the client later, or store the data for use in future document sets.

Part 1: Building Your Intake Questionnaire for Your Legal App

Today, we'll automate a basic application for an estate planning questionnaire.   You'll start in the Gavel workflow builder interface, where you'll see three tabs: (1) the Questions tab, (2) the Output Documents tab, and (3) the Settings tab:

The first screen on your workflow, where you'll be able to create questions and load your templates.

Draft Your Questions

The first thing we're going to do is create all of the questions that are relevant to our documents (the data we want to enter about the client, or that we want the client to enter).  As you can see, we have a variety of different questions to choose from:

Question types we can use in our workflow.

Since we're gathering information for an estate plan in this example, we'll start with a Text question-type on Page 1 that asks the person's first name.  This means that when we launch this legal app, the user can free-type the response in the box, with no limitations.    

Add your first question asking the user's first name.

Each question we add as we're building our legal app will also get its own Variable Name.  You can choose whatever variable name you want.  However, we recommend using something that matches the question.  In the example above, we gave the question the variable name firstname because it closely matches the question, and it's understandable for us.

What are we going to do with the variable names?  Several things:

  1. Set question logic (deciding which questions in the workflow do/don't show up);
  2. Set page logic (deciding which pages in the workflow do/don't show up);
  3. Set document logic (deciding which documents in the workflow are generated);
  4. Set logic inside your document to determine the flow of your documents and which paragraphs/phrases/etc. show up in your documents;
  5. Calculate numbers, equations, and date calculations in your documents.

Build Question Logic

Let's start with question logic.  Let's say we asked a multiple choice question about the user's marital status, like in Question 2 below.  Then, immediately afterwards we want to ask the user's spouse's name.  However, we only want to ask the user's spouse's name if the user is married, not if they are single or divorced.  

So, we'll toggle over to the branching logic arrows on the left of the question (you can switch between Edit and Logic).  Then, select Show if ... maritalstatus ... is ... Married.  

Now, when we run our workflow, we will only see the question about the "spouse's name" if the user selects that their marital status is married.

Build Page Logic

When you are asking the end-user multiple questions, you will want to break up the questions between multiple pages.  Each page can have questions dedicated to the topic of that page.  For example, you might have a page about identifying information, another page about the spouse's information, and others about children, stepchildren, executors, alternates, etc.

Page logic will be set exactly like question logic, but at the very top of the page.  Page logic will allow you to dictate conditional logic for entire groups of questions in your legal app, like this:

Page logic allows you to show or hide entire sets of questions in your app based on conditional logic.

Part 2: Setting Up Your Documents

Now, we're done setting up the questions we want to ask to gather the relevant client data for this legal app.  But we don't just want to gather data - we want to generate smart documents.  In this case, since we're building an estate planning legal app, perhaps we want to automate a Will, a Power of Attorney, and a Health Care Directive.

We'll set up our documents directly in Microsoft Word, where we already have our templates.  To do so, we'll use the Gavel Word Add-In (which works on all versions of Microsoft Word - online, for PC and for Mac).  Because we're in Microsoft Word, formatting we already have in our documents (e.g., pleading paper, logos, headers, field codes) will all remain intact in the final version.

What can you do in your documents?  Several things, which we'll show you below, including:

  1. Set Simple Variables.  This is the most basic level of automation and simply means that the data entered in response to your questions will be directly inputted into a specific location in your document (like mail merge).
  2. Set boolean conditional logic to specific phrases and paragraphs in your document.  This allows you to set conditions based on which certain phrases or paragraphs will appear in your document.  Such conditions could include gender (his/her/its) or entire clauses or pages that you want to remove from your documents.  Any numbering in your document will also automatically adjust to account for removed paragraphs.
  3. Set numerical calculations to perform equations on number variables that you gathered in your questions.
  4. Calculate dates to calculate the number of days, months or years between two dates, or calculate a date that is X number of days, months, or years from today.
  5. Format words or numbers.  You'll be able to set special formatting, like capitalizing certain instances of a company name, setting your numbers to appear as currency, or formatting dates in a specific format, among other customizations.

To use the add-in, you'll highlight your paragraph in the document and then select the conditions you want to set around it.  In the example below, we are setting a conditional paragraph, which means that the paragraph will only appear in the document when the conditions in the sidebar are met.  These are variables that we used in our questionnaire:

We'll highlight the paragraph with our cursor. Then, we'll set the conditions to the paragraph.

Now we've set up our first document.  We will set conditions, nested conditions, calculations and formatting to all of the documents we want to generate at the end of the workflow.  Then, you'll load the documents to Output Documents.

Part 3: Launching Your Legal App Into the World and Reusing the Data

Ok, now comes the exciting part.  You've set up your questions, you've set up and loaded your documents.  Now, you're ready to launch your legal app into the world.

Click "Run," and here you go:

Our web-accessible workflow is ready as an online form.

When you click "Run," the legal app you built will open up in another tab.  You can share the link to your legal app internally, send it out to your clients, or embed it on your website.  Every entry will then be stored in your Data Manager on the Master Dashboard.

As you can see below, the Data Manager stored an entry by our client Jane Doe on 10/16/23:

The entries from our clients are flowing in.  Using Data Manager, we have several options.  We can:

  1. Open the client's existing session to pick up where they left off and finish questions that were unanswered by the client.
  2. Change the client's answers and regenerate the documents.
  3. Open a client's answers into a different workflow to generate another set of documents.  Their answers are stored as a virtual "answer file" that can be used for future documents in the case.

Final Thoughts and Other Reading

What Are Other Attorneys Building?

How have other law firms built legal apps in various areas of law?  Check our our case studies page to read more.  

Want to Hire Someone To Build Your Workflow?

Now that you've gone through this tutorial, you know how to build a legal app.  Most lawyers think Gavel's document automation software is easy to use and intuitive.  But you don't have to do it yourself. If you don't have time or just have too many forms to automate yourself, let us know!  We can connect you with a developer (one of the Gavel Automation specialists - or "Gavel Experts" - on our platform).  They'll take over and build everything for you.

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