To the unfamiliar eye, legal documents can be complex, detailed and full of clauses that don’t mean much at the time. More importantly, having a signed legal document often removes the barriers for what a person wants to achieve. It is the difference between applying for a home loan and the money being advanced, the difference between bidding on a house and moving into a new home and the difference between threats of litigation against a business and going about a normal workday.
To experienced lawyers like you, the quality of a legal document can vary greatly. We (or our colleagues) can generally use our emotional response when we first see a document to decide roughly how much extra drafting work will be involved to get it to a point where we’re happy to use it. A quick “meh” usually means only a few changes are needed and it should be fairly straightforward. A long sigh might mean that we’re deciding in our minds which amendments are the most important to get in within the timeframe we have. A cringing face worthy of an Oscar means that we are seriously considering whether it’ll be better to delete the document and start from scratch.
Sure, simple documents that manage to string together the legal requirements will cut it if you’re short on time and need to achieve a quick outcome. Vanilla documents that have a heap of generic clauses and generic processes are also fine if they achieve the outcome, you are after. But if your client needs a quality document for a specific situation, you’ll either be drafting clauses or negotiating amendments to create exactly what you need.
Knowing the key differences between a good document and a quality document will help you work out which one your client needs to achieve the outcome they’d like.
While Good Legal Documents Cover the Legal Requirements, Quality Legal Documents Use Human Intelligence Principles to Also Meet the Needs of the Target Audience
Good legal documents will serve a purpose and get your client through a legal situation. There will be set processes that need to be followed to achieve the outcome, and you will be able to advise your client exactly what they need to do and when. You’ll find them useful if you have limited time to advise your client as the document will generally be structured according to legal principles.
It’s also fairly quick and easy to automate good documents using good software. You’ll need to set it to complete certain fields with the answers that your clients provide, much like filling in a form. It will certainly speed up the process of producing multiple good documents.
Quality legal documents, on the other hand, are purposefully designed around the needs of a target audience and will help your client achieve their desired outcome. The processes within the document will be highly suitable for the target audience, and your client will easily be able to understand what they need to do and when. Your client will also be able to confidently read, understand and use the document because it’ll be structured around what they need to know, rather than the legal principles.
It takes more time and care to automate a quality legal document as you’ll need to incorporate it within your legal solution so your client can achieve the outcome they desire. It needs to be designed to meet the needs of the target audience, which means considering the input you need, how best to ask the interview questions and how best to provide other information they’ll need within your legal solution.
Using quality legal documents for your client means that you’ll be able to spend less time reviewing a document, explaining to your client what they need to do and sorting out the problems they encounter. It means that your client won’t need to focus on complying with details when they could be working with you at a higher strategic level.
While Good Legal Documents Can Be Used for Many Parties without Too Many Variations, Quality Legal Documents Are Designed to be Highly Customisable to Meet the Specific Needs of Every Party
Good legal documents are great if you have many parties needing to use the same document for the same purpose without too many variations. With set processes, you’ll be able to streamline how you manage the bulk of your dealings with the parties to free up time to manage tasks that you cannot streamline.
You can even automate your process for managing multiple parties by using workflow management software. It will help you to manage bulk tasks, and you could even automate your dealings with the parties if you’d like, such as by setting up automated emails.
Quality legal documents, on the other hand, are designed to be highly customisable and are fantastic for niche legal solutions. Authors prepare these documents with optional streams, clauses, terms and phrases. While the document has a specific purpose, the way that purpose is carried out is customised according to the needs of the specific party. For example, instead of including a lengthy payment terms clause which includes multiple ways for one party to pay another, it would include a payment terms clause with payment options that are specific for those parties.
You can automate your process for producing quality legal documents, by automating the unique decision-making process that you would normally make by manually producing a document. The way you choose to automate your quality document will be as unique as you and your niche legal solution. You may even choose to automate some or all of your legal solution, depending on whether you feel automated or manual processes are more efficient and effective for your clients. This is where your value lies as no one can replicate you.
Creating a niche legal solution using your quality legal documents means that you’ll be able to serve each of your clients at a level that you’ve never done before. You won’t be wasting time reviewing documents, explaining to your client what they need to do or sorting out the problems they encounter as you will have catered for all of these possibilities during the design process. Your client will be able to use the quality document that has been customised specifically for them. It means that you can spend more time working with your clients at a higher strategic level.
How to Get Started with Quality Legal Documents
First, you need to believe that you can create something wonderful. You are unique. And the quality legal documents and solutions you design will be unique too. Think about what problem you’d like to solve for your target client.
Next, invest in yourself and do what you need to do to learn the skills you need. Join the Support Legal community and check out our blog for tips and inspiration on how to design your legal documents using human intelligence. Learn about what’s possible with document automation. You need to research, read and learn.
Remember, it is the choice between working with good documents and quality documents that enables you to work with your clients at a higher strategic level.