Towards a legal markup language

Court-mandated styles may require adding:

  • line numbers (reset by page)
  • footers with document title and counsel information
  • caption blocks with court names, case numbers, titles, and party names).

Towards a legal markup language

What markup do we need for pleadings?

  • everything from contracts, plus:
  • footnotes
  • cites/table of authorities
  • a caption block

(We’ll deal with court-imposed formatting requirements separately.)

Towards a legal markup language

Starting simply: what markup do we need for contracts?

  • Sections, subsections, subsubsections
  • Cross references
  • Signature blocks
  • A table or two (maybe)

That’s really about it.

To take a step back, a plain text legal solution must:

  1. Use markup that gives easy access to most semantic elements a lawyer needs to write.
  2. Add a styling language or template that interprets 1 and adds any missing components.

MultiMarkdown adds several key abilities to a plain text legal workflow:

  • tables
  • footnotes
  • cross references
  • tables of contents

Each has limitations, at least in its MMD form. (Just try making a case caption block in MMD.)

Potential components of a plain text legal solution:

  • Multi-Markdown
  • git
  • pandoc
  • LaTeX
  • Racket/Pollen
  • scripts (javascript or python)

I don’t think all of those will be needed. But they might be.

LaTeX is too complex for lawyers to adopt

Where Markdown is not sophisticated enough, LaTeX is too complex for lawyers to make a habit of writing in it everyday. We need to marry Markdown’s ease of use with LaTeX’s layout power.

Markdown isn’t enough for plain text legal documents.

Markdown is meant to be an easy way to write basic HTML using minimal, human-readable markup. And it’s great. But more is needed to get proper, paginated, rich-text legal documents.

One solution: Just paste plain text into Word, and apply a set of pre-defined styles saved in a blank template. This works, but is tedious, time consuming, and error prone. (But I’ll admit that this is sometimes the best way to reformat a .docx with hopelessly FUBAR’d formatting.)

Any solution for using plain text for legal work must: (1) allow us to convert plain text to paginated, rich-text final documents; and (2) do so in a way that doesn’t destroy the advantages of working with plain text in the first place.

Challenge No. 3 of using plain text for legal work:

Collaborating. Your colleagues, co-counsel, opposing counsel, clients, and even the courts all expect you to use .docx for editable documents.

Challenge No. 2 of using plain text for legal work:

The end product must be paginated. Legal documents include header, footer, page number, table of contents and of authorities, margin, font size, and even line number requirements.

Challenge No. 1 of using plain text for legal work:

The end product must still be rich text. A contract to be signed; a brief to be filed. All require some amount of styling to be easily read. Plain text doesn’t provide that inherently.

Reason no. 5 to prefer plain text to .docx for legal work:

Plain text is a common denominator. Almost any tool can generate plain text. CLI/GUI/dictation/scribbling on an apple watch. You don’t have to worry about compatibility.

Reason no. 4 to prefer plain text to .docx for legal work:

Archiving is better. Plain text files will be just as usable, readable, and searchable in 10 years as they are today. (RIP .doc, .wpd, etc.)

Reason no. 3 to prefer plain text to .docx for legal work:

Lawyers are bad at Word. Most lawyers do not know how to use styles properly. Those that do often insist on using bad styles. Fixing formatting takes too much valuable time.

Reason No. 2 to prefer plain text to .docx for legal work:

Automation. Scripting and automating plain text documents is much easier and more flexible than automating .docx binaries. And there are far more tools to work with.

Reason No. 1 to prefer plain text to .docx for legal work:

Version control. It’s much easier and less expensive to store and compare versions of plain text documents (using git or otherwise) than it is to do so with .docx binaries.

I’ve been playing around the edges of trying to adapt various plain-text technologies—everything from git to markdown—to the practice of law and the creation of legal documents. I’m not yet convinced that this is practical. But I’m going to start posting about it anyway.

Looks like Apple also dropped the price of storage upgrades to the Mac Mini today.

Going from 256GB -> 1TB is now $400, not $600

Another iOS 13 request:

Dark mode is all well and good, but I want it to automatically switch based on ambient light (much like OmniFocus/Things/Drafts do today)

Prediction: Voice control of iOS in iOS 13 forms the basis of full iOS scripting in iOS 14.

ISO is a gorgeous typeface. (Just look at those numbers!) Inspired by the lettering on nice cameras, it’s still in development. If you love the look of a good monospaced font check it out and consider buying now.



The eventual subscription bundle is just:


Say you’ve got a 2015 iMac with the hideously slow 5400rpm drive. Do you pay ~$300 to upgrade to a SSD? Or do you save that money toward a new iMac whenever they get updated?