Is HELP text necessary?

A well designed document assembly system NEEDS NO HELP text. Each prompt is group logically and clear.  It states its purpose and can be understood by users.  Why would anyone ever need help text?

Because it is not so simple.  In building systems, a polished dialog is a balance between information and data entry in an environment where space is limited.  The term “limited real estate” means the amount of information that can be seen in a standard window WITHOUT scrolling.  That is the real estate you are dealing with, because more often than not, the user will forget to Scroll before proceeding to the next dialog.

Now why do I care?

I care because I want all my questions answered so that the assembled document will be complete. To this end, I use headers and short prompts to fit as much relevant information in a single window.

What about the help text?

The help text is optional.  The first time you run a template assembly with HotDocs or GhostFill or Dealbuilder, you want all the help in the world, until you figure out what the author of the system means.  However, on the second, third and fourth time, you get it … and now that detailed on screen prompt is weighing you don.

The solution – tiered help systems

Our approach is a tiered help system.

  • Careful naming of prompts, headers and dialog titles
  • optional on-screen help
  • drafting tips that spawn dialogs
  • buttons that launch web pages
  • integrated resource help

This approach lets you get the help you need, when you need it, but otherwise doesn’t clutter up the real estate.

Law Practice Management-The Business Plan

Practice management is different from case management; any good business plan should include a strategy for processing leads


Practice management is different from case management.  Case management begins once the client is signed up and the case is opened.  Law Practice Management begins with at the door, at the web portal, as the auro that surrounds you in your everyday interaction.  It is part of everything you do.

Just as you would invest in a product like Time Matters to manage your cases so that you can better serve your clients, get the necessary Time Matters training, retain the requisite Time Matters consultant, so you would wish to invest in growing your practice.

How many of you have written a business plan for your law practice? How many of you have sat down and laid out a P&L for your practice, identifying those areas where you would get the most return on investment.

I know these actions seem to be a thankless task.  When you are already plugging away for 60 hours a week and trying to make ends meet, to have so “guru” tell you to take another 10 hours to develop a business plan.

But that is what I am doing.  For if you look at your law practice with a critical “business eye” you will see that some of your activities are more “profitable”.  You may decide that other activities are more fun (and less profitable), so that you should budget time for those activities.

Any good business plan should include a strategy for processing leads … a formal marketing plan that identifies where those leads are likely to come, and how to best turn those leads into paying (and profitable clients).  One area, often overlooked in these plans, which call for fancy web sites, expensive “glossy pamplets” and strategic print adds, is the phone and email.  Because the phone and email are perceived as “cheap” they are undervalued as a source of leads by many attorneys.

The phone call

Use Time Matters to log “every phone call”.  This will give you a wealth of information and a baseline to determine which phone calls get converted into paying clients.  Every call that comes in should be logged, and every called profiled as a contact.  If you haven’t check, phone calls are now practically free with unlimited calling time phone plans.  And if you get the person on the phone, they will listen for a minute or two.

The email

This mechanism has been most over-rated.  The V&*#iag#$ra ads and other tonic sellers have destroyed this as an effective mass marking approach.  But if you build up e-Newsletters and have subscribers, you can create an awareness among clients and potential clients of your capabilities.  Give them content and they will read.  Time Matters lets you track the results of your newsletter campaigns.  Take a field and convert it to a check box and label it Newsletter.  You can then export a list to a mass emailer (or use a Time Matters groups for the mailing).

What does “integrated” mean?

What does “integrated” mean?

A good lawyer defines his/her terms, hence a technology expert should define the term “integration” and the levels thereof. Case Management and Practice Management programs talk about “integration” with other programs, whether they be email programs, document management programs, or billing and accounting programs. A good lawyer defines his/her terms. “Integration” is a feature. And yet, not all integrations are equal. Some are better than others. Even in the same firm, integration can have different meanings.

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Do what I say … not what I do

Document assembly anecdotes anyone?  Today I was called on to draft a consulting agreement for a new project. I had sent the client a Term Sheet in an excel file which laid out the documents to be automated, the terms of the project, the price for the software, and the phases of delivery. We had reached an agreement. Now, it was just a matter of formalizing the arrangement.

Now I had designed a Master Agreement and project schedule template in GhostFill to handle this very document type. The interview had a range of variants. The output came close to what was required. However, the result came short of “assemble and deliver”. It required another hour to polish and clarify the terms. Now this is where I fell down.

I tell my clients, go back to the master template, make your revisions there, and reassemble. That way the system continually improves to meet new issues. Of course, I was in a rush to get the document out, and didn’t take that wise step of “do what I say”. The result is that I am doomed to repeat the same corrections for the next agreement.

Luckily, I have another project about to go to contract. If I am less rushed, I will tackle improving the template, rather than repeat my mistakes.

The Death of the Software Manual

Reminiscing on the days of software manuals….whatever happened to those things anyway?

It used to be that there was “money” to be made in writing a software manual.  That was in the old days when:

  • Computers were new
  • There weren’t too many programs
  • Those programs didn’t have too many features
  • Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)Program version upgrade cycle was every three years (not every six months)
  • People would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book readPeople would curl up with a book read
  • Writers cared

Today, programs change too fast. By the time a manual is properly written, the pictures and illustrations are obsolete. It used to be that writers would get a beta copy of the new software months before its release and use it for the manual. Now, software is released as .0 version for sale when it is really still in beta.

And when you look at the programs, there are so MANY features, that manuals turn into feature catalogues, rather than something that one could actually use to learn a program. At the other end, manuals have become collections of tutorials (often on topics that are irrelevant to your intended use).

The best manuals I have found are the “Mere Mortals” series: “SQL Querries for Mere Mortals”, “Database Design for Mere Mortals”. These manuals set out the fundamental principals on which these programs are based. From there, an intelligent developer can “ask the right questions” when going through the online help and knowledge bases.

All are welcome to add comments for thought.

Practice Systems – Starter Kits

From a collection of templates to a “practice system” interwoven with document assembly – is this a business model that would be of use to all the would-be Basha clients out there? Let us know!

In automating a collection of documents that form a “Practice System” there is inevitable overlap between the information required between the documents constituting the practice system. Properly attacked, there are two phases to such an automation project:


Identifying all the variables and organizing them into a series of dialogs/pages and grouping the dialogs/pages into logical interviews.


Using those variables to markup and code the templates.  Many document assembly tools allow you to drag-and-drop from a dictionary/component file into a document and then save that document as a template in the practice system.


What if the first phase could be eliminated?  What if someone already had a taxonomy of variables and questions that covered most, if not all the questions you needed for the practice system?  Would that be valuable?  Could you use that object? And what would you pay for that convenience which could save you hundreds of hours (and tens of thousands of dollars of opportunity cost developing that dictionary)?


If you had this dictionary of variables, you could then take your forms and drag-and-drop or select-and-wizard, quickly replacing all you matter-specific information and your conditional text with codes.  These could be processed through an automation tool … and voila, you would be done with the automation project.


We are exploring whether this is a possible business model … Is there a market for “practice systems” as taxonomies?  Let us know.

Dealing with Irrelevant Answered Variables in HotDocs

Irrelevant answered variables in HotDocs can have their consequence.  This blog notes the problem, its consequences and some solutions.

HotDocs is very friendly, as programs go, in dealing with “unanswered” data.  HotDocs gives you the option, if it doesn’t have sufficient data to fill in a variable or figure out an IF Expression, to display (1) Nothing, (2) A line, (3) [Variable Name] or (4) *** Variable Name ***.  This friendliness, has some consequences.

As recently posted on the HotDocs list, one consequence is that if a field “is answered” and stored in the answer file, but not relevant to a particular set of interview choices, that answer will still be used in the assembly.  The result will be that “irrelevant client data” will show up in the document.

The solution to this problem is to properly nest variables and conditions.  This is not as easy as it seems.  In a complex template, the web of dependencies and conditions can be difficult to track down.  Good dialog scripting and organization can help, but it can take some time to hunt down the proper conditions.  More often, you can over conditionalize a variable, and whole sections that should be relevant will not come in.  Because the “interview script” and the “template” are independent objects in the assembly system, both have to be separately validated and scripted.

The Value of “Polish”

What is “polish” and why is it so valuable to clients?  Surely if the functionality is the same, the polish is just “eye candy”, but then, perhaps not.  This article explores why polish takes so much time, yet repays itself hugely

I was once approached by a young man to provide one-on-one HotDocs training, unconnected to a particular consulting project. When I asked why he chose me over the vendor-based training of LexisNexis, he said, “BECAUSE YOU GOT POLISH”. I agreed, yes, I was Polish (my maternal grandmother was from Warsaw).

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