YourABA: June 2013
YourABA July 2013 Masthead

How to create smarter business forms

There’s no reliable data for law yet, but the National Institutes of Health estimates that the error rate in medical documents is about 24 percent. “That conforms with our own observations in law that one in four final documents has at least one material error,” said Bob Christensen, founder and CEO of TheFormTool, in a webinar for the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center.

Standardizing business forms can help reduce errors, according to Christensen and Scott Campbell, director of digital experience for TheFormTool.

But lawyers don’t have several days to devote to building an elaborate forms library. “So I’m going to show you a way that you can work on your forms library at the same time you’re going about your other work,” Campbell said.

Let’s say that you have to create a purchase and sale agreement, Campbell said. “You’re likely to go into your old files and find an old purchase and sale agreement that’s similar to the current deal,” he said. “Then you’ll go through that document and you’ll eliminate information that’s specific to the previous deal, being careful not to carry any of that over. Then you’ll spend most of your time doing substantive revisions to the document; you might go into your files and find other documents that have language you’re going to use. When you do that, you’ll have to be sure to eliminate new client-specific data that you might have introduced, and you’ll roughly finish your document.”

The final step is to check for errors, which often occurs when a lawyer is up against a deadline, Campbell said. “Inevitably, you’re going to miss something,” he said.

Campbell suggests making a change to the commonly used technique he described. “You’ll start by finding an old document, and you’ll still do the step where you go through and eliminate the previous client’s information,” he said. “But now I want you to spend even more time doing that. Flag everything here that’s going to have to be looked at — take your time on this — and then when you’re done, you have a completely sanitized document that you can save into your form bank.”

Then perform your usual procedure of filling in the correct information, Campbell said. “When you get to the last step, just before the deadline, you won’t have to spend nearly as much time going through the document because you know you spent so much time earlier,” he said. “You don’t have to check all the language throughout, all the little things that were hanging you up before. You’ve already dealt with those, so the final step will go much quicker. And it will be much less stressful, too, because that deadline is hanging over your head.”

After the deadline has passed, when you’re not in such a time crunch, go back to the original form and look through the document you created for new language that you might want to use in future documents, Campbell suggested. “You’re making your form smarter every time you create a new document from it,” he said.

However, make sure you save your form as a Word template, not as a Word document, Campbell said. “If I were to make some changes in [the Word form] and then click the save button, it’s going to override my form with the changes I’ve made,” he said. “People commonly destroy their form banks by saving client information back into the form bank.”

Opening a template will create a new document that can be saved without overriding information on the template, Campbell explained.

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