Are your templates automation ready?
I'm very pleased for our next blog update to introduce Eric Campbell, who identifies some of his top drafting tips for preparing templates for automation.
Eric worked as a corporate and commercial solicitor before a career of over 26 years as a corporate professional support lawyer at Clifford Chance, Lovells, Mayer Brown and KPMG. He has a broad range of corporate and corporate finance experience including both public and private M&A and equity capital markets.
For a number of years (both before joining us and at echo.legal), Eric has been involved heavily in automation, both in automating templates and as an automation project lead. Over this time he has observed a key part of project success comes down to template readiness, and shares some of these learnings with us today.
Having drafted templates throughout my corporate professional support lawyer career and automated both my own templates as well as a range of templates for clients, here are some of my top drafting tips for preparing templates for automation. Adopting these tips should lead to better quality documentation and help drive efficiency when automating templates.
Draft templates in clear English. Adopting clear English concepts (such as writing in short sentences, structuring longer sentences into paragraphs and only including one or two ideas in each sentence) can facilitate the automation of a template. These techniques often enable clearer identification of alternative and optional wording and make it easier to apply the coding that will determine when and how text should be output.
Draft templates with automation in mind. For instance, consider how the wording from one template should be drafted so that it can be included easily into one or more other templates as part of the automation process. It may mean amending the structure and drafting of those other templates so as to simplify their amalgamation.
Consider what is the best way to set out complex alternative wording within a block of text. It can be a lot easier and quicker to automate two or more blocks of text (setting out each alternative) than one block containing the alternative text. If including alternative text in one block of text, use effective sign posting to identify the alternatives. (These suggestions are also applicable for templates that are not being automated.)
Draft using gender-neutral language. Doing so helps to reduce the need to ask questions as to the gender of an individual and so reduces the amount of automation required in the template. Adopt clear English techniques (such as repeating the noun or using third-person plural pronouns) to address this point. Although drafting in the singular is generally preferable, selectively drafting in the plural can also be useful.
Make sure your content is complete. If there should be alternative wording to reflect a number of different options, make sure that, throughout each template, there is suitable wording for each option.
Ensure that individual templates and suites of templates are laid out consistently and that the same Word paragraph styles are applied throughout each template. If your business has a house style guide, ensure that templates are house-style compliant.
Adopt a consistent approach to identifying alternative and optional text in a template. Conflating the two can lead to uncertainty for users of a non-automated template and for the person who is automating it.
Well drafted templates are easier and quicker to automate. Why not try these tips?