Old Wine in a New Bottle

I recall how in the early days of word processing—when dinosaurs roamed the earth—you’d see articles in which a fiction writer would discuss word-processing technologies and techniques.

But word processing long ago lost its essential mystery, except for those of us with particular needs. So fiction writers no longer offer tips on word processing.

I think we’re going through something similar with respect to use of document assembly to create contracts.

Sophisticated and intuitive document-assembly software has long been an elusive goal. It’s now a reality, with the market leader being ContractExpress, the software used by Koncision.

The technology is still enough of a novelty that it remains something of a focus—Look at the nifty technology we’re using! But as document assembly becomes more widely used for contract drafting, the focus will shift entirely to where it belongs—to the content loaded on the system. What level of customization does it offer? How helpful and authoritative is the guidance? How reliable is the substance? How clear and consistent is the contract language?

So far those organizations using sophisticated document assembly to allow a broader audience to create contracts have for the most part loaded onto their systems content that exhibits the profound shortcomings of traditional contract language. In other words, they’re offering you murky old wine in a spiffy new bottle.

I’d like to think that as the market matures, and as use of document-assembly technology becomes commonplace, it will become clearer which are the quality products.

(By the way, for a fascinating discussion of “new wine in old bottles” and “old wine in new bottles,” check out this 2006 post on Language Log.)

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.