Poor Quality Legal Documents & How to Avoid Them

Poor Quality Legal Documents & How to Avoid Them

Since a full-time staff is not always an option, the lesson here is to make time for regular training by experienced professionals.

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Poor Quality Legal Documents & How to Avoid Them

“None of our products offer a magic button. Although legal documents may originate from templates or are repurposed, ultimately each one is unique.” This is how the conversation started, shortly after a law firm finished evaluating DocStyle a while back.

Let’s start from the beginning through. The firm had a document that was giving them trouble, so with serious time constraints they went looking for a quick fix and found us. They knew something was wrong but did not know what exactly, so we coordinated a support call.

We quickly began referring to it as The Ice Cream Document, because it resembled an ice cream cone with all kinds of different flavors piled high. We looked at this “problem document” and realized that each layer was a separate document all mashed together as one.

It was huge, 400+ pages huge! Inside we found mismatched numbering, multiple TOC’s, broken references, duplicate definitions, inconsistent formatting, you name it. A copy and paste nightmare, fundamentally it was just a bad document that happened to look okay at first glance.

The term Frankendocument is another way to describe it. Defined as “An aggregate document that is composed of other documents that shouldn’t be included as a single document. This is usually done to satisfy internal politics and reflects the inefficiency of egos and idiots in businesses and government organizations.”

Now, I’m not a fan of name-calling and I love mint chocolate chip, so we’ll stick with ice cream for now. A firm reaching out for help is exactly what we hope for during first use. The conversation however quickly turned into a discussion about how to automatically fix the problems within.

In the years leading up to designing software I would consult firms, so please allow me to offer some advice. LegalTech will never be able to make your practice more efficient if you don’t understand how Word itself works to begin with.

It can be easy to end up with a problem document. Complimentary document solutions can help accomplish tasks faster, ensure uniformity, and consistency. Tools however will never replace fundamental best practices.

The learning curve they were struggling with was with Microsoft Word itself. Typically, larger law firms have Document Processing assets and Office Training resources available. These resources are invaluable and a real competitive disadvantage for smaller practices.

Since a full-time staff is not always an option, the lesson here is to make time for regular training by experienced professionals. Yes, it is an additional expense, but will save countless (non-billable) hours trying to repair documents that may look good but do not behave properly.

Not only will ice cream documents delay your internal turn-a-round, when you send them out, they reflect poorly upon your firm. Contrary to popular belief, poor document quality will cost you clients. Especially as consumers of legal services become more tech savvy.