Origins of Document Assembly
Document Assembly is software technology that translates the practice of generating legal documentation into a process-driven software application. Document assembly has its roots in the early 1970s, when a couple of professors at the Brigham Young University Law School became intrigued by the general nature of many types of legal documents—highly structured and rule based. For example, a client goes to a lawyer to get a will. The lawyer takes out a legal pad and begins asking questions relevant to the will:
•What is your name?
•Are you married?
•If yes, what is the name of your spouse?
•Do you have children?
•If yes, what are their names and birthdates?
•If any of them are minors, who do you want to name as a legal guardian?
•And so on.
The lawyer is following highly structured, decision-tree logic.Estate planning documents, probate forms, family law forms, contracts, and many other types of documents are all governed by such decision-tree (Boolean) logic.Because of this highly structured, rule-based nature, such forms, in theory, could be easily computer automated.
These two professors got a research grant from West Publishing and began developing one of the very first of what came to be known as document assembly platforms, a technology they called CAPS (Computer Automated Practice Systems), which was an early RAD (Rapid Application Development) engine designed specifically to automate the generation of legal documents.
In practice, the work product of CAPS (we’ll call it a template, for lack of a better term) asked all the questions necessary for, say, a will, and then generated the document in a matter of seconds. Not only was the process way faster than the old way, but the resulting document was much better, having been assembled with machine precision.
The research project became a commercial enterprise (Capsoft Development) and CAPS was re-birthed in the early 1990s as HotDocs, which is now a global standard for document assembly among the world’s largest commercial enterprises and government agencies.