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Co-authoring legal documents – challenges and pitfalls

“There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content” said Fred Rodell, the ‘bad boy of American legal academia’. But that was in the 1980s.

Legal Writing has come a long way since then. It has overcome many challenges in style and content, movements have been put in place for clearer ‘legalese’ and now the legal world has embraced some excellent technology to further enhance its document creation and management process. Document Co-Authoring is a definite need in creating legal documents, and legal firms have experienced and qualified personnel to take care of this critical process. But there are still some challenges and pitfalls when it comes to co-authoring legal documents.

Let’s have a look at some of them and learn the solution to each.

Challenge 1: Confidentiality & Compliance

Confidentiality and compliance is of particular importance when it comes to legal documents, as most information contained in these documents is of a sensitive nature. Any information leak or regulatory non-conformance can lead to lawsuits and can potentially have a significant impact on your company’s finances and reputation. In co-authoring a document the document changes hands, leaves a copy on users e-mail and laptops, and the more eyes privy to the information, the more the chances of a leak.

Solution: Single source document and Added security

Your document should not only be kept safe from unauthorized individuals, it should also be an online single-source document that don’t download locally unless the user is authorized to do so. Along with fine grained access on section level, time restricted access, access based on your workflow role and a complete audit trail for any change, a cloud-based solution eliminates the risk of leaks that arise from transferring files and ensures compliance for various laws and regulations.

Challenge 2: Formatting Discrepancies

Formatting legal documents isn’t about publishing skills. There are specific format and editorial requirements for drafting different case documents, complaints, interrogatories and jury instructions, Articles of incorporation, contracts ranging from employment of individuals to security of goods, plea agreements, appellate briefs, and writs of habeas corpus – each demanding a different format. Many legal documents also need to be translated and proofread, adding to the number of handlers. Getting files together from all the collaborators and into a standard format can be exhausting and prone to errors.

Solution: Ready Templates and Auto Formatting

Imagine if all these formats were ready and done; all you needed to do is fill in the details. Your co-authoring tool should give you customized templates for all the documents that your firm will need. It should also provide a Composite Content Management feature, where the same content can be used and updated in different documents. For efficiency, the system should also allow for auto formatting and layout which can make your drafting quick and efficient.

Challenge 3: Tracking Paperwork

When there are multiple people working on and modifying a document, it can get quite confusing to understand which version is which, and whether the most current version includes all approved changes. Losing track of records and not knowing where an error occurred can means some heavy malpractice claims.

Solution: An efficient “Paper trail”

An important part of Document Co-Authoring is to keep a record of all changes, revisions and versions. To avoid the confusion of too many versions, only the latest version of the document should be accessed by all co-authors.

Challenge 4: Managing deadlines

Missed deadlines are the leading cause of malpractice suits. Collaborators need to be on top of it and ensure that each person’s task is complete at the right time. One delay in deadline can domino into major problems.

Solution: Scheduling, teaming and Real time Collaboration

Teams should be able to work on the same document at the same time and the system should keep track of every task and comment.  Instead of files, the system should provide the ability to work on an online virtual document where portions that are being worked on can be locked for editing and the rest of the document is free to be worked on by others. It should also allow for Scheduling to ensure that the whole process is on track for delivery by deadline, even when inviting external contributors into the process.

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Resources

http://www.plainlanguage.gov/whatisPL/history/locke.cfm

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