Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tools for Creating Legal Documents

This post collects a few odds and ends about either online or computerized programs for creating legal documents. I use HotDocs to run my practice - perhaps too much - but I have no personal experience of the programs discussed below. I have two points to make with this post - one for lawyers and one for non-lawyers.

For the lawyers: here is our future. I do not think this can be denied any longer.

For the non-lawyers: do not stake the outcome of whatever legal proceeding you are undertaking solely to any computer program. They are a start of a conversation with a lawyer and that is all.

Let us start with AdamsDrafting 's review of BaselineNDA—A Tool for Reviewing NDAs

BaselineNDA will knock provisions out of, or drop provisions into, a given draft, but it isn’t able to critique those provisions in the original that are retained. But BaselineNDA doesn’t intend to remove the reviewer from the process. Instead, the goal is to bring a document to an acceptable starting point by deleting objectionable standard provisions and adding those standard provisions that had been omitted but that the user wants in the document.

All told, what interests me most about BaselineNDA is the snapshot summary it produces and its ability to process an NDA using a customizable Playbook. I’m less interested in the built-in knowledge in the form of standard provisions and the Knowledgebase, as I have my own views on such matters.

Would I use BaselineNDA? That’s too theoretical a question. For one thing, I’m not a practicing lawyer. Even if I were, an answer would depend on my NDA workload and my willingness to either rely on the built-in knowledge or construct my own. I’d also want to know the price, which hasn’t yet been determined.

In any event, I think that BaselineNDA is certainly a worthy addition to the information-technology tools available to those who toil in the contract process; I encourage you to check it out. It’s a tough field, and a number of seemingly plausible entrants are fighting what appears to be a losing battle against inertia. I’ll be checking on the fortunes of BaselineNDA and the Baseline concept generally.
Mr. Adams makes this point: "but it isn’t able to critique those provisions." Therein lies the reason I say for non-lawyers that computer programs are a place to start a conversation with a lawyer.

I was asked this question a while ago: Is it safe to use ''Quicken's Will Creator'' to create a generic will to cover guardianship of my two children? My answer lead me to this article, Law and the Internet, Part 1: A Little Self-Help which makes the following points:

The benefits of these different document services lie in the eyes of the beholders. The major benefit is that consumers cut their legal bills -- usually by a significant margin. Also, they can complete the process more quickly than trying to find time on a busy lawyer's calendar.

There are some shortcomings. Many documents they offer address laws that are set at the state level, which can vary widely. As a result, there may be instances where the wording in a document does not mesh with local regulations. Also, the law constantly evolves, and there may be cases where documents become outdated.

Some legal professionals think online documents shortchange consumers. "At some point in the legal process, a consumer should consult with a lawyer," said Ryan Sabia, president of Interactive Technologies, which operates OnlineConsultant.com. "If you needed an operation, you would see a doctor, not perform it yourself," he told the E-Commerce Times.

More for any lawyers reading this post is RealDealDocs. The site has this to say about itself:

Over the past eight years, we built a proprietary, patented categorization engine which efficiently organizes huge libraries of professional documents, including deal agreements and litigation work product. We combined it with a blazing fast full text search engine and refined it by reviewing the results over millions of professional documents. Importantly, we have also presented this application in an easy to learn search interface so that users can figure out how to get to the information the first time they use it. So whether you’re trying to find an example of an employment agreement for a financial executive at a bank in North Carolina or an obscure pricing clause for a supply agreement out of Asia, you’re going to quickly be able to figure out how to find it.

Yes, a bit top end for those of us who are solo attorneys but ask yourslef what do you do to preserve and reuse your work product? Also think aobut how this levels the field for small firms.