From a place of purity…

I’ve been wrestling with a couple of blog posts to post here for a while. They are stuck. I am snorkling through metaphysical, ethical, topical treacle with them. They may never be published. Luckily for you.

But this. This comes from a place of passion and purity and will write itself in a jiffy. And I will feel purified for getting it off my chest. Which I really need to do.

The damned templates.

I spent a long time today wrestling with templates. Time I don’t have and I don’t care to waste on inconsequential irritants.

Perhaps I should just submit my draft orders full of hanging brackets] and slashes / and occasional words in red or green. But quite apart from the twitching it induces, I like to think I’m vaguely professional.

I had hoped when I saw yet another iteration of the helpful templates that this time they would have taken heed of years of us griping about the awful, wretched formatting and would have spared a few minutes to sort it out. Before promulgating it to the entire family bar (and solicitors), to taunt and torture us daily. But no.

I don’t know if this is because the people who prepared the templates didn’t know, whether they just don’t care or whether they are just too technophobic to work out how to fix it. I prefer to think that they it was not a case of we know but can’t be bothered to sort it – after all, we have been given a short form order, explicitly in acknowledgment of the time pressures upon us (for which I am grateful).

But searching for an explanation is arid. What I do know, and what any other person who has ever had to use one of these templates knows, is this :

The templates do not save us time. They giveth with one hand and they taketh with the other.

The templates deploy a number of techniques :

  • Green text is commentary to assist the draftswoman (and should be deleted before filing – BUT NEVER IS (don’t start me on that one))
  • Red text denotes something that needs to be edited, deleted or inserted
  • [square brackets] are a placemarker for text that needs to be inserted, edited or deleted.
  • Where there is more than one option each item is book ended with [square brackets] and separated from the next square bracketed item with a / like this.

There is duplication of devices here.

Whilst the red text can (if one can resist the urge to do it sooner) be removed in two quick clicks at the end of the drafting process (ctrl+a to select all and then click in the font colour settings), the brackets and the dashes – which PERFORM THE SAME SIGNPOSTING FUNCTION are quite something else.

Let me illustrate the problem using template 8.3, the public law first CMO (sorry compadres who actually use these things, I know you know this – this is not for your benefit). In this document there are :

  • 166 pairs of square brackets (332 bracket ends, separated in each case by a word)
  • 19 instances of [ren] at the end of the word child : child[ren]
  • 11 instances of the feature [s] for example after the word parents : parent[s]
  • 44 dashes /

For a conscientious draftswoman EACH ONE of those items needs to be manually removed. Most cases involve more than one child so orders need to refer to ‘children’ 19 times, not child (and not child[ren] 19 times). To complete an order in a case involving multiple children the draftswoman must perform 114 entirely unnecessary keystrokes :

  • click to locate cursor after [ren]
  • delete ]
  • move cursor 3 spaces to the left
  • delete [
  • repeat 18 times

There are other ways of doing it but that’s the best IMHO. I know. I’ve tried the other ways.

Same thing for plurals of parent / parent[s]. 4 keystrokes times 11.

Not forgetting all those dashes… and whole words that need deleting.

This sounds utterly pedantic. But it does add up. This can add considerable time when drafting under pressure, as we usually are (And no. I’m not filing an order with those brackets still there. I still have a shred of self respect left).

[UPDATE: Thanks to JB who pointed out one can use ‘find and replace all’ to remove the [square brackets]. Truth be told I am usually in such a lather as a result of some sort of primeval response to paragraph numbering hell – see below – that I am scarely rational : it is hard enough to hold back from removing the red and green as I go, let alone leave all the brackets till the end, and I am in a perpetual state of ‘oh I must have got most of them by now’…I actually might need a holiday.]

When one combines this with the numbering problems it gets super infuriating.

Again, I’ll explain for the uninitiated (Trigger warning to advocates) :

The templates are prepared in Times New Roman, 12 point font (of course they are). And yet.

Every time you create a sub paragraph – you get an unheralded change of font and size.

The templates purport to have numbering. And yet.

Every time you try to create a new paragraph something wild happens with the formatting – font or size change, random indent. Mystery effects each time. Adds to the excitement.

The template appears to build in multi-level lists (sub paragraphs using a) b) c) or i) ii) ii) etc below an arabic numbered paragraph). And yet.

The templates are not in fact set up so that the paragraph numbering is ACTUALLY a single multi-level list. Oh no. They just look like they are. Which is fine. Until you try to create a new paragraph following an a) b) c). And get a new paragraph 1. And clicking ‘continue previous numbering’ won’t work because the ‘previous numbering’ is not the child of the main arabic numbering, meaning you have to un number and RENUMBER all the sub paragraph lines in the preceding paragraph to get you numbers to run on.

It gets EVEN MORE fun when you are in a track change war with your opponent and someone tries to add a new paragraph. Let’s not go there.

I sense this post may be losing it’s punchy quality at this stage. So I’ll conclude by saying this :

This is not rocket science. The legal profession, the judiciary, the court service – someone for goodness sakes – ought to be able to sort this out in our world class legal system. It is basic. And it is a simple step towards more efficiency, and I’d like to think towards respecting the workforce and improving our wellbeing.

So. I finally snapped today. I got VERY CROSS.

And fixed the bloody templates.

I’ve REMOVED THE [SQUARE STUPID BRACKETS] AND SLASHES. They serve no purpose – all you need is the red to show you where you need to customise, and you can clear that at the end. I’ve cleared and redone ALL the formatting, numbered it properly so paragraphs should run on without messing up your font size. And I’ve even made it into an ACTUAL WORD TEMPLATE so that you can open it and it will open a new Doc1.docx stopping you from accidentally saving over the original.

I’m a bit self righteously annoyed right now but I’ll cool down. In the end it didn’t take that long to do but it seems mad for ALL of us to spend time doing this, so here you go chaps. Use it if its useful. If you want to say thanks send a quid to my fave charity The Transparency Project.

I haven’t tackled the epic long precedent library yet – but I’ll get that up here too in due course, promise. Someone else can do the private law and money templates though.

Well, that WAS cathartic. I feel fully purified. Happy drafting campers.

Dowload from dropbox here.

6 thoughts on “From a place of purity…

  1. The ones foisted onto practitioners are terrible, exactly as you describe. Your experience mirrors mine, and your solution was similar, save that I used the ‘edit’- ‘replace’ where I could to save time. Once formed, a Word template is a joy. But will it fit the Public Law Portal, or is that ‘back to the drawing board’?

  2. […] From a place of purity… [Pink Tape] […]

  3. […] we are provided with a template of sorts, it is totally clunky. As Lucy Reed’s Pink Tape puts it, ‘The templates do not save us time. They giveth with one hand and they taketh with […]

  4. I’ve just been experimenting with MS Word ‘fields’ and there is a way to make the children thing marginally easier.

    First, insert an ASK field at the top of the document, asking for the user to specify ‘child’ or ‘children’, thus:

    { ASK ChildChildren "child or children?" \d "children" }

    (This example defaults to ‘children’).

    Then, use a REF field wherever you need to use the value:

    { REF ChildChildren }

    Obviously, you could use a similar approach to populate the order with the names of the judge and the parties, and other words or phrases used over and over again. Looking at the template order however, it seems the child/children choice is the main irritation.

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