I was fortunate to be a guest speaker on the fifth episode of Quark’s “Close the Content Loop” webinar series titled: ‘The Mindset Shift: Are You Creating Legal Documents or Legal Content?’ where we discussed the challenges organizations face when producing legal content. There’s a lot of red tape associated with legal content with myriad compliance requirements that vary by industry and geography. So, how do you create compliant legal content that supports an omnichannel delivery approach, which means it can be created once and published anywhere and across any device?
Regulatory and statutory information is created and distributed as legal instruments with full force of the law. These foundational elements are steeped in legal tradition which vary by jurisdiction yet sometimes conflict with modern practices such as digital delivery.
A good way to think about solving these problems for the legal space is to consider that legal information should be created as content and not documents. The distinction is subtle but very important. It is a mindset shift.
Digital transformation is the catalyst for this mindset shift, as organizations must keep pace with today’s preference for content consumption from stakeholders. Digital has become the primary output channel, surpassing print consumption.
Digital output challenges faced by legal practitioners
Developing content for digital outputs can be quite difficult for legal practitioners. First, there is a limited selection of tools and technologies able to support these new digital content requirements. Small teams can get by with in-office technologies, but this approach cannot scale for growth.
Second, the applications and business processes must adhere to the traditions and constraints that are unique to each jurisdiction. This adaptation of software to business practice is the opposite of what most software companies would recommend. It is usually more cost-effective to adjust business processes to suit the software product.
Third, and I see as a worst-case scenario, organizations patch together their own homegrown systems which leads to lengthy and expensive implementation projects and a heavy support and maintenance burden. The ability to expand into new delivery channels within a restrictive budget slows down the evolution process and can halt progress fast.
The bottom line is that it is often extremely difficult to change the established legal or regulatory processes to fit a new system.
Out with the old way, in with the new
To successfully meet content regulatory compliance, your content contributors can’t have their own way of working. I have come across organizations where the lawyers, drafters, and admin staff are working in the unstructured, monolithic desktop version of Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is the most common and familiar documentation software but using it to create flat content rather than componentized, reusable content modules is the root of the problem. Office 365 has made significant strides but if your entire team isn’t working on the same document online, it impacts team collaboration and efficiencies.
Other problematic issues I’ve seen is a lack of standardization, and individuals working autonomously which presents enormous challenges when creating professional, quality documents at scale. And more often than not the document does not support the corporate guidelines and is peppered with numerous formatting and style errors.
This process limits the potential to automate unstructured documents as they are not componentized or enriched with XML metadata, making it difficult to manage and search for accurate, up to date glossary of legal definitions or terms, let alone having the ability to publish in a digital format.
We have encountered some clients using older desktop XML or structured content tools, but these are often completely bespoke, complicated to learn and use, and difficult to support and maintain.
Legal content creation comes with complex structures in place that are used inconsistently, such as parts, chapters, divisions, subdivisions, and more which make it difficult to ensure all document creators are adhering to a common structure. Add to this word processing tools make it hard to support legal numbering that must be precise and indents that have very specific meaning. Most legal texts make heavy use of defined terms which are often stored in multiple glossaries, resulting in a time-consuming process to accurately manage and know they are being used and styled consistently.
Internal and external cross-reference practices are also challenging. When done manually, for example, an item could be changed during the drafting process yet when published could inadvertently reference something that has changed or no longer exists. Amendments to legal documents adds additional complexity and involves a tedious process of analyzing spreadsheets, modifying language, and taking on a ‘copy-and-paste’ approach for consolidation. Few jurisdictions have an intelligent system that can accurately manage the amendments process.
Omnichannel content publishing is key to addressing these challenges in the legal sector. It allows for the creation of a dynamic, aligned experience across all parts of an organization, eliminating error-prone silos of communication and content that can result in outdated, inaccurate, and non-compliant content being delivered to stakeholders. It supports your digital strategies, so users of legal and regulatory information receive this often technical, complex, and highly referenced content in the right format via their preferred device for optimal consumption.
Successful transition from document creation to content creation with QPP
An Australian government agency in the regulatory domain publishes large volumes of complex consultation and policy papers which involves managing a large set of legal rules, draft amendments to the rules AND must consolidate these amendments on a very regular basis.
The organization had reached the limits of unstructured authoring and migrated to an XML document solution. However, this posed challenging to cope with the needs of their business and stakeholder demands. After analyzing their current publishing environment, they decided to deploy a pure web-based Quark Publishing Platform solution as it supported real-time collaboration and, most critically, supported structured content.
They now have a modern and efficient publishing environment that allows business users to collaborate effectively and produce high-quality publications with minimal training and support. Authors can create policy and legal documents in a super easy-to-use, tags-free, structured authoring environment that support policy and legal experts across large teams with no structured authoring training required. The system is configured with powerful templates containing a complete set of professional publishing features to meet their complex policy and legal content needs, including support for legal numbering and referencing, amendments and consolidations, equations, tables, boxed text, rotated content, and change tracking.
Intelligent version tracking, automated workflow and dedicated web-based review and approval tools are at the foundation and the content central repository can manage hundreds or thousands of pages in length and support high volume omnichannel publishing to print, PDF, Word and the web.
Legal content is complex and as a publisher of legal information you are playing a critical part in a very important “information supply chain”. To eliminate legal content creation complexities, a shift in mindset is required. Recognizing the value in the content rather than the documents will unleash your potential to service your partners, customers, and all downstream users. This fundamental shift in thought process will guide you in finding the solutions to simplify the process of creating, reviewing and updating information through automation, streamline the collaboration process, and importantly, enhance your content delivery process for today’s digital era.
I was thrilled to be part of this discussion and bring to light the complexities associated with creation and delivery of legal content. At GPSL, we’ve been providing structured content solutions across a range of industries including legislative, regulatory, and government publishers. For over 15 years we’ve provided consulting and software to help solve the most challenging content problems for organizations across four continents and seven countries.