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WinDraft --
Document Drafting Software
For Windows

By Vince Wilk

WinDraft is a remarkable new document drafting "engine" that can help you create first drafts of complex documents in minutes. The program is easy to use, adaptable to changes in the law, and offers a number of features not found in other programs.

WinDraft is the creation of James Eidelman, a well-known attorney and consultant, and widely considered a pioneer in the use of computer technology in the legal community. WinDraft was first publicly demonstrated at the "Document Assembly Shootout" at the 1995 ABA Techshow in Chicago and was very well-received.

The program is an add-in to Microsoft Word for Windows and is tightly integrated in the Windows environment. A WordPerfect version will reportedly be available shortly. The program is also compatible with most document management systems, including PC DOCS, WorlDox and SoftSolutions.

This article reviews the current version of the program, WinDraft 1.1. I tested it using Microsoft Word 6.0c on a network with Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows NT 3.5, and the pre-release version of Windows '95.

Creating WinDraft documents involves a simple, three step process: selecting a practice system, working with client data, and merging the final document.

The User's Perspective -- Drafting Documents with WinDraft

The lawyer or secretary who knows how to use Microsoft Word only needs to learn a few additional steps to merge documents with WinDraft. In fact, the user only needs to click the mouse on three new buttons on the toolbars to create client documents. These three steps work like this:

Selecting A Practice System

The user first picks a "practice system," which is a data checklist and group of documents that fit together in an area of practice. It looks like this:

Working with Client Data

The most innovative part of WinDraft is the way it gathers information. After Microsoft Word is loaded, click the mouse on the "Checklist" button, and the WinDraft data entry program appears on the screen. Some of the aspects I particularly like are:
An outline interface. With most document assembly systems, the user is quickly lost in the mass of details and sequential questions, which makes it difficult to "see the forest for the trees." WinDraft's beauty is its simplicity -- the left side of the screen always shows the "forest," and the right side contains the "trees." The two sides form a client information checklist which is presented in a two-panel screen, like this:

The left panel contains an outline of the legal and factual issues involved and the right panel contains a dynamic data entry screen to gather the facts. The interface uses common Windows interface elements, such as check-boxes for "Yes/No" questions, radio buttons for "choose one of many," and text boxes to type in names or other text.

If the author has taken the time to set it up, "legal help" is available to explain each question or series of questions in the data entry screen. Irrelevant questions are "grayed out." I particularly like the way WinDraft handles logic in its data entry screens. As selections are made that make other questions irrelevant, those that do not apply instantly become "grayed out" and cannot be answered. In some cases, whole screens will be grayed out, while in others just a single button in a long list of options will become unavailable. This puts the lawyer in control, never "flying blind" as with many other systems.

Printing the Outline -- What You See Is What You Get. An essential feature of WinDraft is its ability to print the data in a way that is useful to attorneys and staff members. Jim Eidelman, the creator of WinDraft, points out that the idea behind the data checklist is the old "Master Information List" (MIL) from the days of manual "substantive systems." This feature is based on the ideas in the pioneering book written by the incoming ABA President Roberta Cooper Ramo, How to Create a System for the Law Office.

The entire checklist, including headings, questions and answers, will be printed in outline form, with indenting and graying as on the screen. This printout provides an audit trail, and is perfect for and audit trail and efficient review of the decisions that have been made by the drafter of the documents. Common Interface. The program's menu choices and toolbars work exactly the same as the Microsoft Office programs--if you can use Windows, you can use WinDraft.

"Blasting Off" to Select and Merge the Documents

When the data is the way you want it, you click on the "blast-off" button -- a rocket icon WinDraft displays a "blast-off dialogue," which can be customized for each area of practice or can simply be a "pick list" of the model documents. For example, at the ABA Document Assembly Shootout, it looked like this:

WinDraft loads the model documents and merges them on the screen, displaying status messages and a progress bar. When the merge is completed, the user is left with a customized legal document that is ready to edit and print.

If you use PC DOCS or another document management system, WinDraft will automatically save each new document, fill out each profile with custom information, and return a "hit list" of the new documents.

The Author's Perspective-Creating and Modifying Systems

Setting up and maintaining any practice system -- even a manual one -- can be a challenge. It can eat up lots of "non-billable time" and requires teamwork among the lawyers and secretaries. WinDraft is designed to provide an open and natural environment to support "programming" documents with legal rules.

WinDraft is based on two key concepts:

  • 1. WinDraft uses simple programming commands in the documents.
  • 2. Normal word processing documents are used for all model documents.
  • The WinDraft Language

    WinDraft's simplicity extends to its programming commands. I practice, model documents are in a constant state of flux, changing as the law and needs of lawyers change. Also, a model document must be "auditable" by attorneys who are non-programmers, and easily modifiable.

    Based on research by pioneer James Sprowl, WinDraft embeds legal rules and "programming" within brackets, stated in terminology that looks to a lawyer like "legalese." The system is "destructive," in that it scans a model document and deletes irrelevant text, rather than building text out of a database of paragraphs. Systems composed of fragments or paragraphs are extremely difficult for a lawyer to audit. Eidelman adopted this appoach by employing a stripped-down programming language to embed legal rules in word processing documents. The basic logical command used is the "IF...ELSE...ENDIF" structure. As pointed out in the WinDraft manual, this is computer programming, but "It is what you learn in the first week of Programming 101."

    Even though I had no programming background, I found that it was easy to work with "IF statements," although this is not surprising since lawyers work with IF...THEN rules all day in the practice of law.

    WinDraft also includes about 15 other commands you can use to include other model documents, set variables, display status information, and perform other functions.

    A number of buttons on the WinDraft Author toolbar make it easy to insert and format variables and commands.

    Using advanced features of Microsoft Word

    The WinDraft manual recommends using the formatting and organizing features of the word processor as much as possible, and the samples do just that. The model documents are organized in Word outlines, making it easier to work with complex documents. These outline headings are also used for formatting, paragraph numbering, cross-references, and table of contents entries. No special programming is necessary. If they work in the model documents, they will work in the merged document.

    I particularly like the clever way you can use Microsoft Word fields to deal with changes of terminology in documents. For example, instead of inserting personal pronoun changes (his, her, their, its) as WinDraft variables, Eidelman recommends using Word fields for this. A special button on the WinDraft toolbar lets you turn the display of the pronoun fields on and off dynamically. This dramatically improves the readability of the model documents.

    Observations

    Unlike most of the comprehensive systems currently available, WinDraft is easy to learn. Like most lawyers, I lack a computer background. However, this was not a problem with WinDraft. The program's features are intuitive and easy to master. In fact, WinDraft's greatest strength is its simplicity. Many programs are weighed down by features that only experts can appreciate or understand. WinDraft works with the word processor, not against it. Since everything is done through Microsoft Word, the systems are easy to maintain and update as the law or drafting conventions change. This will prevent the system from falling into disuse if the resident expert leaves the firm.

    Another important advantage of WinDraft is that model documents are easy to read and work with. In addition, WinDraft facilitates the team approach by allowing tasks to be assigned to an appropriate worker in the firm. For example, an attorney works on the legal aspects of the system, while a secretary handles formatting issues. Since the parts of a system are all word processing documents, this is easy to do.

    Creating the Client Checklist Scripts

    The "scripts" that create the client data entry checklists are edited in Microsoft Word or any other editor and saved as an ASCII file by clicking on a button. There is a simple scripting language that lets you organize the buttons, check boxes, text and headings in the outline. It is easy to build and modify the data checklists "on the fly."

    Support

    As I worked with the system, I called Eidelman Associates a number of times for help. I found them to be very responsive. I was usually able to get through to a knowledgeable person quickly, and when I couldn't, they called me back within an hour or two. They were happy to advise me about the best way to approach a problem and to help me debug a complex form that I e-mailed to them.

    Wish List

    One problem with WinDraft's model documents is that extra "hard returns" can end up in the final documents and be tricky to track down in the model document. It took some time to get the hang of where to put "hard returns" to have the formatting and spacing work perfectly. Also, although you can imbed Excel spreadsheets into your documents and do math in Word tables, WinDraft currently lacks the capability to handle math calculations within the WinDraft language. Eidelman Associates is, however, working on adding this feature and it should be available shortly.

    Conclusion

    Many programs ostensibly designed to save users time and money accomplish just the opposite simply because they are too difficult to use. Such programs require constant support, resident experts and herculean patience by the user. This is a common problem with technological innovation -- programs are written by "techies" for "techies," rather than with the needs of the average law firm in mind. In creating WinDraft, Eidelman kept in mind the needs and limitations of the lawyers and support staff members. WinDraft deftly weaves clever features with a simple, common-sense interface, creating a program that is actually enjoyable to use. Users will find that WinDraft can readily adapt to changes in the law, the needs of a client, or even a lawyer's practice. Firms and businesses interested in document assembly software should give WinDraft a close look.

    (www.lawtech.com/windraft)

    ______________________________________________

    Vincent Wilk is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.   He is an associate with Nutter, McLennen and Fish in Boston.


    Reprinted from  ABA Newsletter, WORD Progress, Summer 1995


    The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the American Bar Association or the Law Practice Management Section. Reprinted from the WORD Progress Newsletter, Summer 1998, published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. Copyright 1996-98, American Bar Association. All rights reserved.


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