Agilewords Blog

Legal Documents Review: Why using MS Word is not efficient

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If you run a business or negotiate contracts with clients, at some point your task was to review legal documents with your lawyer, and even perhaps draft them. For most of us this means sending emails attachments prepared with Microsoft Word using change tracking. This involves sending the attachment back and forth several times to different people. This has been the de-facto standard for years and yet, so many people complain about how slow and inefficient this process is.

 

When I ask friends or business partners about their legal document review experience, I get feedback such as:

  • “Reviewing legal documents is a painful and slow process.”
  • “We had to make several updates to the document and go through multiple revisions.”
  • “I have 6 copies of the same document on my hard disk– not sure which one is the most recent.”
  • “After sending a dozen back-and-forth emails, we finally reached a final version – I’m exhausted!”
  • “I spent my afternoon reviewing my lawyer’s remarks on that 60-page document – I wish there was a better way.”
  • “With Word tracking all changes, including format changes, it quickly becomes a mess.”

I have yet to find one person who tells me: “I love reviewing legal documents in MS Word and using change tracking”. So what’s wrong? Is that business process broken?

 

First, it is important to recognize that for historical reasons, MS Word has been the de-facto standard for document review since everyone uses it (or let’s say 99.9% of users). Sometimes you just have to stick with your old tool, because there’s simply no better option. Nevertheless, reviewing legal or business documents in MS Word suffers from serious limitations:

  • It’s not collaborative: Since everyone has their own copy of the document, reviewer A is not aware of reviewer B's remarks. How do you solve conflicting feedback? How do you make sure each reviewer approves the latest edits? There is no easy way.
  • It lacks process – How do you set and enforce a review deadline? How do you track progress? How do you get everyone's input and agreement before releasing a final version? How do you ensure everyone works on the latest version? Good luck if you rely on email!
  • It’s slow – Collaboration is one way; you can’t do anything until you receive an email attachment with all reviewers’ feedback; for merging feedback, you need to receive all feedback to make changes (and avoid conflicting comments).
  • It’s cumbersome – You keep emailing each other back and forth, store multiple versions of the same file, etc – it was ok in the 90s, not anymore!
  • It’s inefficient – After days of waiting to hear from the other side, you often need to spend extra time to remember specific issues or discussions; additional feedback on a new version means another round of emails.
  • It’s error-prone -  It can be hard to keep track of changes between versions; the more versions, the more chance there is that reviewers are in a ‘hurry’ to get it done; it’s especially true when you get to the final version – the temptation is strong to just sign off the document without really looking at it.

 

Whether you use Agilewords or other software applications to share and review legal documents, it is a no-brainer that you need to adopt the right tool and process to review business documents with external parties, whether that be your lawyer, client, or partner. Failing to do so may cost you time, turn into business loss, slow down the signature or renewal of contracts, and create some future liability for your company – isn’t agreeing to something you should not agree to, by accident, your worst nightmare?

In my next post on this topic, I will dig further into the risks associated to poor document review processes and propose a few solutions to address them. We’d love to hear about your own document review experience with MS Word. How did it work for you? What issues did you face? If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

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