Correspondence is an integral part of legal work, and always requires human intervention. Or does it? At the early stages of developing our case management software, we recognised that integrating letter templates was essential to improving case efficiency. We started discussions with mediators about a flexible system, capable of easily generating emails, letters, forms and reports using templates. The featureset needed to include :
- Complex forms including tables with images for reproducing official Legal Service documents
- Simple letters and emails
- Complicated reports documents for viewing in MS Word
- The ability to pull information from a case and insert into the correspondence using ‘tags’
This led to the development of the template engine in Progress Mediation, which reads specially designed templates (created using XML), replaces template tags with client data, and generates the output ready for printing, emailing or editing.
A key feature is to ensure your generated letters, emails or forms are distinct and flexible whilst still using templates. Thus, a Memoradum of Understanding for one mediation service doesn’t have to look the same for another mediation service.
This has created a powerful tool that enables correspondence to be created within a minimum of two clicks. The system also caters for customising correspondence in special scenarios. However, where possible we try to ensure that letter templates are available to increase efficiency and reduce administration.
How it works… (the techie bit)
The majority of people, just want to switch on a gadget and for it to work. There are, however, a few who want to know how it works – and some may even want to take things apart to understand it further… so here’s a little more information that will help explain the ‘engine under the hood’.
The template tags enable the automation of dynamic letters and emails
As a template is requested the following sequence is triggered :
- A Parser is used to look at each line and substitutes a template tag with case information.
- This is sent to an RTF generator, creating the final formatted document.
- This final document is then opened up in the appropriate program – whether that is Word for documents, or Excel for spreadsheets, or email.
The Parser is effectively the ‘brain’. This extracts ‘live’ information from the database and converts it into a format for the templates. Thus dynamically creating letters, emails or forms which look personalised and distinct.
By defining lots of template tags, we can access a lot of information from the database. This includes names of children, ages, dates of previous mediation sessions, to name a few. Using the title of a client or partner, we can even insert gender specific phrases. The wording of these templates can then be designed to utilise these tags.
Extract from a template :
I have written to #[#partner_title#]# #[#partner_surname#]# asking #[#partner_himher#]# whether #[#partner_heshe#]# is willing to attend a meeting to find out more about mediation.
The template tags (shown in bold) are substituted for case information as they pass through the Parser:
I have written to Mr Jones asking him whether he is willing to attend a meeting to find out more about mediation.
You define your templates
When designing Progress Mediation, we realised that each Family Mediation service is different, and requires its own set of letters. Therefore the system can accommodate a different set of letters, forms, email or report templates for each mediation service.
Reducing case administration is key to bringing efficiency and maximising profit. This is the principle at the heart of Progress Mediation. Templates are a vital part of this process. With each template you can be distinct, but still benefit from automation. The control is placed firmly at your finger tips.