Lessons from software developers—writing legal documents like software code

Many lawyers are very smart and knowledgeable in legal work but fewer are informed about existing technology in the legal field (and how to use it effectively), let alone about technologies available in other fields.  For example, the software development industry figured out a long time ago that reusing existing content not only increases productivity but also improves quality of the final work product.

Is software development really so different from legal writing? Perhaps not as much as one would think. Both use written content (text in legal documents and text-like code in software); each written portion is designed for a specific function (legal arguments or statements in legal documents and coded functions in software); and written portions are strategically chosen and placed to produce a desired effect (winning a motion or producing a contract with a desired meaning in legal documents and desired functionality in software).

Let’s say writing software code is similar to writing legal documents—so what? Well, because software developers have the expertise to develop whatever tools they need, and they have developed many, many tools and have had time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Here are a couple of things that software developers have found to work.

First, software developers have figured out that duplicating existing code is inefficient, leads to new mistakes (or bugs), and may require optimization. Conversely, using existing code blocks or modules is not only more efficient than duplicating the code, but also typically leads to higher quality work product, such as more optimized performance. Moreover, software developers can spend their time on developing new code, instead of reinventing code modules that can be reused.

The same concepts apply to legal writing. For example, using text blocks from existing documents avoids duplication and can improve the final work product—proofread and vetted text has been “optimized” for meaning and readability and leads to high quality work product.  Moreover, instead of duplicating existing content, lawyers can focus on more valuable work, such as creating original content, legal strategy, etc.

Lexprompt WRITE helps lawyers find and use existing content blocks. Specifically, WRITE retrieves text from existing documents and prepares text blocks that can be used when preparing new documents. Then, when a user types in MS Word, the WRITE add-on to Word displays relevant text blocks that can be used in the new document.

Second, the software industry has learned that bouncing between multiple applications to write code wastes a lot of time and adds frustration to the process—it is far more efficient to work in an environment that combines together as many suitable tools as practical, so that the user can focus on the work and avoid distractions caused by switching between applications and managing content in each application. For software developers, that environment is the Integrated Development Environment (IDE).  There is an analogous solution for lawyers–the Integrated Writing Environments (IWE).

There are several software applications that offer an integrated writing environment. Lexprompt offers WRITE which forms an integrated writing environment around MS Word, so users can continue working in a familiar environment and with various add-ons that they may have added to MS Word.  Specifically, WRITE adds two key modules to MS Word. The first module—automated generation and retrieval of text blocks from existing documents—was discussed above. The second module (a) helps users avoid bouncing between applications to view and manage content in reference files, and (b) helps users manage their reference files.

WRITE integrates a multi-document viewer into MS Word. Users can open PDF and MS Office reference files in the viewer. This means that the user no longer has to bounce between multiple applications to pull the content into the Word document. Moreover, the reference files opened in the viewer can be linked to the Word document. When the user (or anyone with access to the reference files) opens the Word file, the viewer will display tabs that correspond to the linked reference files.

Whether writing software or legal documents, reducing duplication and effectively managing existing content and workflow can help professionals deliver high quality work product and increase efficiency.

Software development