I was just interviewed by the Canadian Lawyer Magazine. The topic: legal forms and templates and their role in the business of practicing law.
For this interview, I was basically asked three questions: (1) what are the advantages to lawyers who use templates, (2) what are the corresponding risks, and (3) how prevalent are these templates?
I responded by talking about my own history of using and creating templates for lawyers. FYI, you can find all of my legal forms here.
When I was articling at a big Bay St. law firm, I was asked by a senior lawyer to prepare a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement, but also provide a primer of the legal issues that were relevant to drafting, negotiating, and entering into that agreement. The client didn’t just want a template, but also wanted guidance to go along with it. From that experience, I realized that all clients and lawyers too wanted good templates and guidance on how to complete it. That’s what made me add guidance to my standard legal forms. That guidance comes in the form of video tutorials and written guides.
So with that context in mind, I told Canadian Lawyer Magazine that templates can help lawyers save time and money by not having to re-invent the wheel. Better still, if someone has done some preliminary research into how the template interacts with court decisions (hopefully recent ones) and legislation that is relevant to the client’s jurisdiction (e.g Ontario), then the lawyer and the end user will be better served. That’s exactly why my legal form packages are better than the rest: they come with a ton of free guidance so that lawyers and clients don’t have to waste countless hours researching and writing about the legal issues that are relevant to the legal form. Having a lawyer do this for you (e.g. in the form of a memo) would normally cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars in legal fees; but I did it all up front on my own time and for FREE to the end user (they simply need to buy the legal form and the guidance comes for FREE).
What makes for a good template?
Now, what makes for a good template? Well, for me, a good template should be written clearly, concisely, and meaningfully. If you want to know more in this regard, speak with Ken Adams (a US attorney at the forefront of writing modern contracts effectively). Next, a contract should be prepared by a lawyer in the jurisdiction that is relevant (e.g. Ontario). Clients don’t generally know that laws change from one jurisdiction to another, so a B.C. residential lease agreement may be no good for Ontario. Finally, a template should be regularly updated to keep in line with the changing laws of the jurisdiction. Those laws may change based on legislation or court cases, and lawyers who practice in the relevant legal areas will be apprised of those changes.
The things that make for a good legal template are also the risks that you need to think about: is the agreement written clearly? Is it in line with the laws of the relevant jurisdiction? Has it been regularly updated?
In today’s economy, not everyone can afford to hire a lawyer to create or customize a legal form. That’s essentially why I created my templates to begin with: they are for those individuals, families, and businesses who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. While customizing your own legal form is no substitute to having a professional review your situation, advise you, and draft / negotiate an agreement to completion, it’s better than nothing!
Finally, I told Canadian Lawyer that I would love to see more lawyer collaboration when it comes to creating and sharing templates. Lawyers often hand each other boiler-plate templates or negotiated agreements without client information, but don’t provide the background or context that went into the agreement. For example, what did the agreement look like starting off and how was it negotiated to the end result? What court cases or legislation are relevant? More collaboration (perhaps online, through some kind of portal) would be a great boon to lawyers and their clients.
Look for the article to come out in a January / February edition of Canadian Lawyer Magazine.