A Brief History of Standard Styles

The standard styles initiative

So why did we come up with the DEG standard styles initiative?

A few years ago we held a knowledge sharing event, where the topics included was document collaborating and issues sharing and working on different firm’s documents. This was following a survey we had conducted with lawyers to find out what was their biggest document challenges.

If you have ever attended one of our events, you will know that we frequently share horror stories about the worst nightmare documents we have faced. There is not sufficient space here to describe the multitude of issues raise that day, but we can share some of the causes we identified:

  • Firms have their own style names and numbering schemes and – you’ve guessed it – copying and pasting between documents often causes numbering and other formatting glitches
  • Firms often had their own macros/toolbars/ribbons which made it easier to work with their own documents, but harder to work on externally created documents (and potentially harder for other organisations to work with their documents too)
  • Documents and templates may be created initially on old version of documents or even conversions from other WP systems like WordPerfect, and weren’t using the improvements Microsoft had made to numbering in later versions of Word.
  • Numbering in documents may be created using styles, outline (multilevel) numbering or manual numbering
  • Numbering wasn’t inconsistent (aka lawyers can’t count) and used a type of numbering that would not work with a logical numbering scheme. Typical example: Clauses numbered 1, 2, 3.1, 3.2. 4 (or 4), 5

At the end of the event, we asked “Is there a better way we could do this?” So a small group of us got together to investigate

The group

This has since become the DEG Standard Styles sub-committee, but at the time, we hadn’t come up with the concept of a standard way of naming and structuring styles, so we were the group.

We had some loose objectives and areas where we agreed:

  • Any solutions/recommendations we had would need to be achieved using native Microsoft Word features (i.e. any firm could use “it” – whatever it would be)
  • Styles were a good thing, and the best practice method of applying automatic numbering in documents
  • Flexible solutions which could apply to your firm’s preferred numbering levels, chosen preference (i.e. it would work as well for numbering levels of 1, 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.1.1, 1.1.1.1.1, as for 1, 1.1, (a), (i), 1), or any other scheme)
  • Style names should not include name or initials of firm as this was one of the barriers to collaboration
  • Look at this from a fresh pair of eyes – if we were starting from scratch on creating a template for legal agreements, what would we come up with.

And then we spend some time talking to law firms about their current house style, how it worked and what they liked and disliked about their current styles. We also spoke to vendors and consultants working providing support in this area for their thoughts and advice.

Standard Styles naming convention

It was during these customer and vendor interviews that the standard styles naming convention materialised. We realised if documents used the same style names, then there would be a large reduction in copying and pasting troubles.  When it came to the style names, our aim was to try to use names so that you understand what the style should be used for and where in the document to use it.  We hope we achieved that goal.

Our preliminary ideas were tested on a wide range of legal agreements. Comments were sought from member firms, vendors as well as some friendly lawyers, and we adjusted them until we came our recommendations.

It was around this period that we met with a chap called John Hanratty who at the time worked for LexisNexis. He was leading a project to update their Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents documents and part of that was looking at their numbering schemes.  John immediately understood what we were trying to achieve and the standard styles also provided a solution for his project (why reinvent the wheel).

And the standard styles naming convention was born.

DEG List of Standard Styles for Legal Agreements