3-minute read, 10-minute exercise
#Efficiency #Effectiveness #HumanIntelligence
Do you sometimes get frustrated and stressed reading legal documents? How much time do you spend just wading through a poorly structured document to find information relevant to you? We are trained to read complex documents quickly, imagine how non-lawyers feel.
Your documents don’t have to be made up of all the same elements, like bricks in a wall. But each of your documents does have to have enough structure to be a strong document on its own or an integral part of a package of documents.
Why Using Human Intelligence to Add Some Structure to Your Documents is Important
Humans are creatures of habit. We thrive on routine and structure and get stressed by chaos. Routines and structure should not be inflexible or suffocating. Routines and structure are best when they are flexible and incorporate periods of freedom and creativity, then allow us to go back to what is familiar. For example, as much as we love travelling, we also love coming home. That’s opposed to the chaos of not knowing what is happening around you, what to do, and how you’ll manage.
Having a good structure in your documents means that your readers can follow a logical sequence to read your documents to find relevant information. They’ve done this before for other documents in other areas of their life, which is why this is the routine way readers attempt to read new documents. For example, you would generally expect to see your name and details somewhere at the start or end and expect to see detail about what to do under an appropriate heading. Having a good structure also means there is no chaos in your document, such as having important information in places where the reader would not expect to see it. The result is that readers can better process what information they need to know while feeling confident and stress-free.
Think about what you do on a typical day. There’s a good chance that you probably have the same morning routine and same bedtime routine that you’ve had for years. Sure, there’s a little variation for weekends and on special days, but for the most part, you probably do the same thing around the same time in the same way. Look around at the processes in our daily life. What happens when you go to drive a car? Open the door, get in, keys in the ignition, seatbelt on, get going. It doesn’t matter which type of car you drive; they all have a similar process for the driver. What would happen if you walked out of your house and you unexpectedly had a motorbike instead of a car? Would you be stressed? Would you know what to do to be able to get to your destination?
By having a routine, we develop confidence that we’re able to complete the task. We even become more confident once we master the basics of the routine and start to incorporate elements that involve a higher level of thought. For example, reversing a trailer for someone who already knows how to drive a car is a learning curve, but not as much of a stressful situation for people who don’t already know how to drive a car!
You need to incorporate structure in your documents, so the reader gains the confidence to read them. Without structure, your reader needs to use a lot more brainpower and experiences more stress to get the same information.
How to Add Structure to Your Documents
You need to structure your document logically. Think about the purpose of your document and the main process behind that purpose. The main process needs to include everything that needs to happen to achieve a successful result. For example, the main purpose of a contract to sell a property (successful result) to another party is that the contract includes the property details for the buyer party to consider, the buyer arranges inspections of the property, the buyer has the finances to complete settlement and the parties exchange the title for money at settlement (main process). That main process should be set out in a logical order, such as the order in time that the processes need to occur. What is the purpose of your document? What is the main process to achieve a successful result?
Consider the main process and make notes on each of the clauses you would need to meet each step. For example, if your process is for the buyer to inspect a property, you’ll need clauses on who will carry out the process, what has to happen, when it has to happen and how it should happen. You’ll also need to include what makes a successful and unsuccessful result and then what happens next for either a successful or unsuccessful result. For example, the buyer must arrange for qualified tradespeople to make appointments with the real estate agent to inspect the property and report on their findings. If the buyer is happy with the findings, they must notify the seller of the successful outcome for that process and then the contract continues. If the buyer is not happy with the findings, they must notify the seller of the unsuccessful outcome for that process, and then the contract does not continue. In reality, there would be a bit of negotiation to get to a successful result, but you see the logical structure of the document.
Your document might also have a few more processes involved, but they should all come back to the main process. For example, for a commercial investment property, you might also have extra processes around leasing. You would expect that reviewing the existing leasing arrangements would occur around the time the property is inspected and acting on the leasing arrangements would occur as part of the settlement process. Write down those extra processes and the clauses you need for each of them.
Now look at those processes and put them in a logical order. The most common logical order is time, processes that need to occur before others. If there are processes that can occur at the same time, group them. You might wish to use another logical order, such as all of the processes that one party needs to complete then all of the processes for the other party to complete.
As lawyers, we have the creative freedom to draft a document for any purpose and with any main process as long as it achieves the successful result for our clients. Sure, many areas of law have accepted main processes that everyone should follow, such as in conveyancing, but you always have the freedom to add extra processes.
It’s time to test out your outline. Can you use logic to know roughly where to look within the document for the information that you need? For example, if you were looking for information about obtaining finance to purchase a property, could you guess roughly where in the document to find those clauses knowing that you’ll need finance before settlement takes place? Is there any information hiding in unexpected places? Change the order if you need to.
The final step is to rearrange the drafting of your document to match the order in your outline. If there are clauses from your original document that didn’t make the outline, consider why. Do you need to change your outline to fit them in or can the clauses be deleted? It’s okay to let go of redundant clauses.
Try It Now
Choose one of the precedent documents that you use in your practice. Now go through and determine the successful result, main process and extra processes. Then write down your outline with clauses. Test it and change it if you need to.
Now copy your document and in the new version, rearrange the drafting to match your outline.
How much easier is your document to read now? Well done, you’ve just added some human intelligence to your document!
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