Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
The fastest increasing quantity on this planet is the amount of information we are generating. It is (and has been) expanding faster than anything else we create or can measure over the scale of decades. Information moves faster too. Sometimes instantaneously. In our struggle to keep up, we sometimes adopt new technology without considering the unintended consequences.
So are you ready to click away from here, thinking, “What is she talking about?”
I’m talking about the technology driven methodology we’ve adopted to create and revise legal documents. Providing clients with the ability to edit their own legal documents seemed harmless in the beginning. In the beginning, we talked to the client about every single change. We still proofed our documents, revision by revision. Some of us used boxes of red felt tip markers to check off each completed revision. We didn’t worry about the content of the documents because we always read them when they came back to us.
Then we discovered metadata. We discovered our clients computing skills were . . . different than ours. Rather than discuss every single revision, we spent time comparing the content of the returned document with our version of it. Then we spent additional time cleaning up the format of those returned documents. When we did read an entire document, we sometimes discovered the content wasn’t “right.” If only word processing software came with a “content” checker along with a spell and grammar checker.
Some firms have tackled the problems head on. They’ve researched and implemented proactive solutions, whether they be software purchases and upgrades, staff training, methodology changes, or a combination of the three. Good for you!
Many firms have dismissed the risks and continue to allow clients to edit their own documents without implementing procedures to effectively and safely manage the process. Not so good for you.
How Did This Happen? The impetus for change was that the client wanted editing rights to their own legal documents. Feeling the pressure from clients to adopt MS Word as a primary word processor, many law firms converted. Other firms adopted a “dual platform environment” whereby they continued to harness the power of WordPerfect to edit their documents and converted them to Word when sending them to clients.
With more recent advancements in technology, the issue isn't whether your firm uses Word or WordPerfect. What matters is that you protect yourself, your client’s interests and the integrity of the documents for which you are responsible. Admittedly, you have choices as to how that can be done.
Option 1. You can continue to allow clients to edit their own documents. But because you have no control over the document while it is out of your possession, you should strongly consider having a revision by revision dialog with them, always reading (not just proofing revisions) those documents. Purchase metadata cleaning software, train all your employees to use it correctly and mandate that each and every document be cleaned each and every time it is sent out electronically. Decide whether the time spent managing metadata is billable and if so, track it and bill it.
Option 2. (Here she goes again.) Offer your clients the value added service of legal document production by providing documents in PDF for review. By employing the (very slick) reviewing features of Adobe Acrobat’s latest FREE reader, they mark up the document, indicating revisions, additions, deletions, and comments. They return the marked up PDF document to you and the original document is revised in house by you and/or your staff as you confirm each edit. No more cleaning up the formatting. Just edit content. Bill for legal services, not for format cleanup and metadata management.
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