Scrivener’s flexibility means that it can provide an extremely useful business as well as a creative tool. The ability to plan a draft, organise and track the information within it is vital to creating a coherent business document. Within the legal field, members of the profession must prepare reports drawing together information taken from a large number of disparate references. These are as diverse as online journals, previous case reports and client interviews. Once complete, their content and organisation will be subjected to intense scrutiny, both from their peers and a jury, meaning that the coherence of the argument behind them is key to their creator’s success.
In this case study, California-based attorney David Sparks explains how Scrivener helps him with the preparation of legal briefs, pleadings, and trial documents. He notes how the program’s organisational tools allow him to organise and streamline his research and writing process, allowing him to work more efficiently and, ultimately, to create a better overall structure for his final draft.
David Sparks is a member of both the American Bar Association and California Bar Association. Rated A-V by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which contains listings of over 1 million lawyers and firms worldwide, he holds the highest rating available for legal ability and general ethical standards. Sparks practices as a business and transactional attorney with George & Shields, LLP in Irvine, California, where his work focuses on strategic business and litigation planning, including drafting the documentation surrounding business formation and dissolution, partnership disputes, estate planning, contract formation and dispute, construction and mechanic's lien, and trade secrets.
In addition to this contract work, he is also often called upon to represent both individual and corporate clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts, dealing with business, labour and employment issues, as well as cases involving unfair business practices and other such matters.
David is also a Macintosh writer and podcaster of some notoriety and the editor of MacSparky.com.
Although much time is spent representing clients in the courtroom, around half of Sparks’ working time is spent writing legal briefs, pleadings, and trial documents. This process requires him to draw together information from sources such as internet-based case law archives and his own research from previous, similar cases. His non-linear style of working means that Sparks has found both Scrivener’s ability to create numerous documents within the same project and the way in which these can be easily rearranged to restructure the finished article highly useful when it comes to organising this array of information into a final draft.
“When I write I like to start with the main body,” he explains. “Only after building the arguments do I go back to the introduction and think about the points I really need to make. It’s usually the last thing that I formulate. When I first started using a computer in about 1983 I never really gave any thought to a word processor helping with the process of writing. I’ve found that Scrivener mimics the way that I used to operate. I’d have a wall of notes consisting of points on bits of paper and card stuck around for me to refer to. Now I can have all this on screen.”
Sparks has been using Scrivener since 2007, and came across the application while trying out a variety of different programs in the hope of discovering something that would be more satisfying to use than his current tools. “The 'word processor' hasn't changed much at all since computers first started landing on desks. I was looking for something that would change the paradigm. Scrivener does.” Sparks explained “before I started to use Scrivener I worked in Word for years, but it’s a word processor, not a writing tool. I haven’t been happy with Word since about 1995. I find the interface far too noisy to get work done. If you do a lot of research, Scrivener is ideal. You can collate all your information from online sources and dump it into the research panes. As the program is hierarchical, you can then organise this as you wish.”
As a result, he feels that the work he creates is now produced more efficiently, and is more refined. “I like Apple’s Pages, so I use that for some smaller projects, but it is Scrivener that comes out for the longer and more complex documents,” he explains. “Scrivener means that I can have both my research and the final document in the same place. I can then export it into Word and send it to my secretary for formatting. I think that using something like this gives me an advantage over my opponents - I spend less time writing and my work is better organised, too.”
Sparks’ main use of Scrivener is in creating briefs, pleadings and trial documents such as jury instructions. Here, he explains his process: “When it comes to writing contracts and jury instructions I have built several templates in Scrivener containing the various assets I use. Every case is different but the basic research behind it may be similar to another, or it may have the same underlying points,” he says. “With brief writing, I set up research folders for the specific points I want to make and then pull the case law statutes, charts, images, and other resources into them by subject. To form the document I need to find existing law from various locations such as statutes and previous cases. A lot of this is held in online resources so they are easy to import. I can collate all my research from online and dump it into the research panes. When I am outlining a motion or brief I can then move points around and play with the structure. The fact that the program allows me to compartmentalise each point means I can focus on one at a time. I can outline what I am writing with points above the research. It’s a bit like designing the bones before putting the meat on it. With jury instructions I have built my favourite instructions as research tabs, which I can then drag up into the draft section and customise.”
He has found that for him, one of the most useful features of the program is Scrivener’s ability to divide work into manageable sections that can be labelled for future reference, should a particular point need to be revisited. “The most useful function for me is the ability to organise my research and easily restructure the document without having to look through it each time - before I would have been managing a number of documents in separate windows and a load of PDFs, so if something about a particular point or statute occurred to me I would have had to shuffle through everything to find the item I was looking for, and run through the scroll-bar within each document to find the relevant section,” he explains. “Now everything is in one place and I know where each point is held by simply looking in the left margin, so it’s easy to find. I can just flick from topic to topic. As a result, I think that the efficiency and the quality of documents I produce has increased. It’s a really well designed application because it saves me time, and it’s easier to organise the points I’m making into the best order. Overall, using Scrivener removes the noise from the computer and makes my final product better.”