We all know to get the right answer, you need to ask the right question. And when it comes to automating legal documents for lawyers, the most important question is “How does this tool create a Microsoft Word document?”.
It might seem boring and irrelevant as long as you get a Word document to work with. Most of us don’t care how the cake is baked. But this question is critical to how a lawyer can use the resulting document in one crucial respect: Cross referencing within the document.
Most of us would assume a document automation process looks something like this:
It can be that simple in many document automation workflows. But that is not to say all automation tools maintain the Word format throughout the automation process (i.e. .docx or .doc file extensions).
Many modern document automation tools (especially online cloud services) automate using the raw text of the document. This loses the code that identifies a piece of text as being a cross reference to another part of the document. They write their own code to merge the answers to a questionnaire with the text of the document. They then output that document in a format of the user’s choice (PDF, HTML or Microsoft Word).
This method is fine 99% of the time, but that 1% when it’s not – that’s us lawyers. Microsoft Word is our most important tool after email. We know how to use it like we know our car. We take the functionality that is baked into it for granted.
When we draft a document with multi-layered lists or numbering, we generally use the cross-referencing function to reliably update all other cross references throughout the document. We add or delete a clause? No problem! Select all, right click, and update field. Done.
This saves lots of time and becomes more important the longer the document is. So, when a document automation tool doesn’t afford us this convenience, it can be a deal breaker.
I spoke with a lawyer yesterday who recounted the nightmare of having to urgently edit a document for a client that was created using an online legal document template service. They had to edit the document given to them by the next morning, but they could only get the document in PDF and numerous cross references needed to be created and/or updated. They were up all night ruing their bad fortune and cursing the service that provided the automated template to their client.
Now I’m not advocating you do this to make another lawyer’s life easier, but if you are considering automating your own precedents to speed up drafting, choosing the wrong product could cause you unnecessary headaches. There are many products on the market that maintain the cross-references within Word documents throughout the automation process, but they generally don’t advertise it. We recommend asking the question before signing up, or at very least trialling the service first.
Libris specialises in creating document workflows that maintain the cross-references within Word documents. Book a consultation today if you would like to discuss how we do it.