Archive: May, 2008

Little Things Add Up

Today marks the release of Exari 5.2, which proves that little things can make a big difference. Rather than one or two headline-grabbing new features, 5.2 tweaks and enhances a wide range of existing features, all of which add up to a better user experience and better business outcomes.

RoundTripping, for example, has been enhanced to support analysis of negotiated contracts using semantic labels. Contracts created inside Exari can have meaningful semantic labels attached as clause meta data, for example, a label that tells the system “this is a termination clause”. When the contract comes back from negotiation, Exari’s RoundTripping module can now identify — using semantic labels — which clauses have changed. So if you want to alert Legal every time a non-standard termination clause shows up, now you now have the infrastructure to do so.

Other enhancements include support for the DOCX format used in Office 2007; inclusion of watermarks in assembled documents; fine tuning of table support to handle nested tables and variable cell padding; a bulk export tool to streamline migration of multiple templates, eg, from test to production servers; a quick search function in the Repository; improved highlighting of optional clauses for deferred (“not sure”) questions; and various usability improvements during the interview process.

For all the gory details, contact your local Exari office.

Bad Formatting Could Cost You Your House

From time to time we like to remind people that formatting matters. And what better way to scare you into paying attention than to burn down your house? Not because you left the heater too close to the drapes. But because a windstorm ripped the power cables off the front wall, set fire to your favorite shrub, which then set fire to your house.

That’s covered by your insurance, right?

Well actually, it depends. And believe it or not, it might depend on formatting. A single clause formatted one way could give you 100% cover. The exact same words formatted differently could leave you with nothing.

Let’s suppose your policy was worded like this:

Example I: You Lose

In Example I, you are covered for fire and flood, “except when arising from windstorm”. Importantly, the exception starts on a new line, which is aligned with the opening words of the clause. This makes it clear that the exception qualifies both of coverages (a) and (b). Which means you are not covered for fire because it arose from a windstorm. Which means you lose, and your insurer wins.

But what if we make one small change so that your policy now looks like this:

Example II: You Win

In Example II, the words “except when arising from windstorm” are indented to line up with the text of coverage (b). This makes it clear that the exception qualifies only coverage (b). Which means only flood is subject to the exception, and fire is still covered. Which means you win, and your insurer loses.

And finally, what if we roll the whole clause into a single paragraph with no formatting at all, so that it looks like this:

Example III: The Lawyers Win

The effect of this change is to make it completely ambiguous as to whether the exception applies to fire and flood, or just flood. So maybe fire is covered, or maybe it’s not. The lawyers will have fun arguing about this for months, maybe years (depending on how much your house is worth). And whoever has the best the lawyers wins.

What does any of this have to do with document assembly?

It’s a risk that business users need to be aware of when their developers tackle document assembly as “just another database application”, where a document is just a set of clauses, and a clause is just a set of words, and as long as the correct words are rendered to the page, everything is OK. This approach may work for printing statements and invoices, but as Example III illustrates, it does not work for contracts, insurance policies and finance agreements, where formatting matters.

Only foolish firms take comfort from the past

Past performance is not a guarantee of future returns

The Idiot’s Guide to Investment

A recent article on made the rather disturbing claim that “the past is typically our best predictor of the future” and went on to predict that, by 2025:

  • Latham & Watkins will have revenues of almost $23 billion
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft partners will each be pocketing $20 million in profits
  • White & Case will have almost 14,000 lawyers

To be fair, there were a few disclaimers about the difficulty of making predictions, but this didn’t seem to dampen the author’s enthusiasm for making them anyway. Based simply on past performance. Which, as any investment document will tell you, is not a reliable guide to the future.