We have one of the largest libraries of legal documents available for sale on the Internet: in excess of 1,600 documents and letters in total for sale across all the legal jurisdictions in which we sell. Keeping these up to date with the latest law, making improvements and writing new documents is one of the main challenges to our business.
The law team
Our in-house legal team consists of both qualified lawyers and paralegals (educated in law to at least degree level). That differentiates us from many of our competitors. It means we can not only undertake a rolling programme of document checking, but we can also respond fast to specific new law. It also enables us to provide a document drafting service for our customers.
For some areas of law, we use the services of third-party barristers and solicitors who can bring specialist knowledge to our document set. Many of our competitors specialise only in a particular area of law, for example: Internet law, or residential tenancy.
Writing for the customer
Before we start to type, we decide on the end user for whom we are writing. Our choice of the target user of the document influences the depth of the law we cover and the style in which we write our guidance notes. A lease designed for use by property professionals such as a surveyor requires a far higher level of understanding of the law than does a simple will or tradesman’s contract.
But we always write a document for the buyer’s interest. Almost all our documents protect primarily one party to the deal. Everyone who instructs a lawyer or buys a document template does so to cover his own position. It is not part of our duty to work for “the other side” at the same time. When we do include a provision to benefit the other side, it is there to provide comfort, not to oppose the interest of our buyer. In the notes, we usually point out what can be deleted safely.
Use of precedents
Most lawyers start a new document with a “precedent” - a template published by one of the large two or three law publishers and effectively certified to contain sound law. Because the reasons to use a precedent are to reduce risk of poor drafting and to speed up the drafting process, a solicitor will edit a precedent as little as possible. We have two problems with this approach. The first is that precedents tend to be written in legal jargon (usually as a result of having been written many years ago). The second is that precedents by their nature are general and not tailored to specific circumstances. So what a client gets may be sound law, but is likely to be largely incomprehensible to a layman, and will not cover the “commercial” elements of a contract.
We take a different route. Although we review precedents as part of a stage of legal research, we don't use the text within our own documents. Instead, we use our own paragraphs in our own plain English language. As a result, our documents:
- contain jargon only as so far as it is essential;
- have a comprehensible sentence structure that anyone can understand;
- contain the latest law;
- have ideas distinctly separated so that you, our customer, can delete or edit small chunks of text without unintended consequences;
- contain commercial options to suit as many different real-world circumstances as possible.
Building the document
Many people think that lawyers assemble legal documents simply by copying precedents into a document in the correct order, like a brick layer building a wall from pre-shaped bricks. Many legal documents are written in such a way, but a better metaphor for Net Lawman documents would be to say that the process is like building a smooth-faced dry stone wall - one without uniform stone sizes or mortar.
We have our own collection of common “plain English” paragraphs that are used across our document set - these provide the base rocks in our dry stone wall. But any dry stone wall also contains a mass of smaller stones that provide fillers and small levers and supports for the bigger rocks. For us, those smaller pieces we write from scratch, word by word, re-writing and checking. They include the commercial elements where we put ourselves in the place of a client and ask “If I was the client, how, why and when would I use this document?".
We call the next stage "polishing" the document. Largely, it is one of extensive review. For example, we check that there are no tedious descriptions and explanations in the text. If we find one we convert it to a defined term, so that you know the special meaning we have given to “Asset” or “Child” or “Premises”.
So when our document is complete and reviewed, it also contains not only considered legal wording but also many options for you, particularly in the commercial elements. For instance, in a sale of goods document, we might give you twenty alternative sub-paragraphs in groups covering delivery arrangements, expecting you to need to use only three or four.
Finally, we add the drafting notes. The general notes come from our library of standard notes, edited as necessary. The notes referable to each paragraph in the document are drawn from common sense thinking about what the buyer will understand and what he will want to know. We have to allow for a buyer who might know little about the law, so we try to guide without dictating, even if that means that knowledgeable buyers find some of our notes simplistic or unnecessary.
What documents we draw
We look for a balance between drawing many slightly different versions of a document to suit every possible use, on the one hand, and selling one document with many different options on the other. We want to make life as easy as we can for you. So we may draw just one document for one purpose, but more usually, we draw several, so that every prospective buyer can find a document that is close to what he wants, even if not an exact fit. We call these “child” versions. In some cases, the changes are as little as 10% of the text. In other cases, they may make up 40% of the text.
Although you may assume that we draw documents only for your legal jurisdiction, we do in fact serve several jurisdictions, with the number steadily expanding. Most documents start with a version based on the law of England because the law in most of our other jurisdictions is based on English common law. But it is not always so. We have local lawyers who work with us from time to time in all the jurisdictions in which we sell documents.
Keeping abreast of the law
Our researchers discover new law. The process of changing an existing set of documents can be quite complicated. We start with the master version and filter the changes through the child versions.