Archive: July, 2007
Building an automated document takes three important steps. First, you must define a series of questions and business rules that are relevant to the document at hand. Second, you must apply those rules to the text and content of the document, so that the system knows which clauses to include in response to which answers. And third, you must build a series of “interview” pages that will present end users with relevant questions in a clear and logical way.
3 step automation: hours of debugging pleasure…
The problem with many document assembly tools is that they force a human to complete all three steps. And it’s the third step that creates all the trouble. You have to figure out which questions to ask, in what order, and with what dependencies. The more complex the document and its rules, the more time and effort it takes to manually build the interview pages (or “dialogs” as some people call them), and the more time and effort you waste testing, debugging and re-testing your solution. It’s loads of fun.
Guess what? There’s a standards war going on. Not quite as scary as the war on terror. But a war that will decide which format we all use for “office” documents, and how much choice we have over the tools used to write those documents. What a novel idea. Choice in the office tools market. You mean there’s something other than Word?
In the absence of real standards, we’ve been living in a world of de facto standards, which for most of us means Microsoft Word. But when ISO approved the XML-based Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, the world started to look a little different, and people started to ask questions. Like, why don’t we store all our documents in this nice, new, open, standards-based format, and tell all the vendors (including Microsoft) to bring their software into line with the standard?
This is all happening because I didn’t write, “I’ll charge you 1.5 percent” – John O’Quinn
What’s the value of a clause? About $35 million if your name is John O’Quinn. His firm failed to include a clause authorizing the deduction of “general expenses” from settlement payouts in a breast implant class action. And this month, an aribtration panel ordered the firm to pay $35.7M in damages to the clients who were overcharged. Expensive mistake.
Surprising mistake, too. If there’s one thing you’d think law firms are good at it would be drafting a tight costs agreement with their clients. But unlike most other agreements a firm drafts, costs agreements are unbillable. The time you spend drafting one is time down the drain. So the incentive is to get it done fast, and get onto to real work that makes the firm money.