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The drafting process: embracing technology

When it comes to the bill drafting process, attorneys want a solution that makes the entire process more efficient and streamlined. Here, Propylon’s Engineering Manager and Chief Technical Architect, Kieran Fitzpatrick, looks at why the best solution is one that prioritizes the needs of drafting attorneys.


Technology has moved on since the days when legislative drafting was done with a pen and paper or on a typewriter. Back then, the drafting attorney could focus on the proposed changes to the law and not learning new technical tools. Today, drafting attorneys are expected to use technical tools to draft legislation that can have them spending significant time ensuring the format of the documents are correct for downstream processing. This can be time-consuming and become an impediment to spending time on the changes to the law. Technology should work with the users, not against them. It should be convenient, easy-to-use, and ultimately increase efficiency.


Before the introduction of computing, the drafting process was completed with pen and paper and, subsequently, typing pools. The process allowed attorneys to focus on changes to the law. However, it was difficult to understand the potential for conflicts and impacts to other pieces of legislation or bills in the process. The turnaround time for new copies of bills was significant as it often involved the work of a specialized print shop and the re-keying of information to provide accurate new copies of bills. Legal research was difficult as you had to deal with paper copies of everything.

In the late 1960s, mainframes replaced the typewriters that had previously been used to draft legislation. Their usage introduced a whole new set of complex coding activities that generally were carried out by a specialist team replacing the typing pool (for all of you who have marked up content on mainframes, we salute you!). The mainframes had a tiny fraction of the compute power that is available in PCs today but legislative staff managed to create advanced word processing programs on them that positively impacted the turnaround time for bills and amendments. Some legislatures and parliaments still use mainframe processing to support the drafting, amending, and statute and code update processes. However, that number has declined steadily since the introduction of PC-based desktop publishing software and especially with many of the mainframe experts retiring in the last number of years.

In more recent times, desktop publishing applications such as OpenOffice, MS Word, and WordPerfect became a staple of drafting attorneys for creating, amending, and updating legislation. These WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) applications allow users to see what they are drafting in the paginated form of the final documents. A number of custom XML-based tools were also developed that created new editor programs for drafting attorneys to learn. All of these technological advances have helped make research easier, turnaround times quicker, and publishing to the web simpler. These are all great benefits. However, they have also added to the work that drafting attorneys have to do in an environment where the demands for their legal skills are growing.

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Over the last number of years, the conversations about bill drafting tools have been led too much by technology and not enough by what the drafting attorneys need. The same technical challenges regarding page and line number referencing and strict auditing of changes still exist. New technologies are making it easier to solve the same challenges, but in ways that are simpler for users. We have been part of that journey with our clients and, from all our learning, we believe that drafting attorneys should not only have access to the best technology available, but they should also be able to work with tools that work for their needs, not against them. This means reducing their workload and improving efficiency on every level. It should:

  • Provide a set of tools that drafting attorneys are very familiar with (low learning curve)

  • Ensure drafting tools provide real efficiency, such as real-time conflict checking

  • Offer tools that make it simple to ensure accuracy

  • Prioritize a drafting environment that helps attorneys to identify where there are issues or dependencies on other sections of the statute or code

  • Maximize benefits with tools that offer enhanced functionality over time as users become more familiar with the system

  • Manage the document XML challenges

  • Allow drafting attorneys to focus on the law by making the tools user-friendly

What makes a good legislative website?


At Propylon, we are developing a new approach to drafting tools that takes all of these principles into account. Years of working with legislatures and parliaments has allowed us to identify how we can best support drafting attorneys in their role. We are committed to tilting the balance of discussion back to what drafting attorneys need.


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