Earlier this month, the practice management company Filevine announced that, as part of a new document assembly feature, it had developed a proprietary document format, “.vine,” that it said would replace Microsoft Word and Google Docs in the legal industry. (See, Say What? Filevine Introduces Proprietary Document Format to ‘Become the New Standard in the Legal Industry’.)
In a follow-up to that news, I met last week with Cain Elliott, head legal futurist at Filevine, who gave me more details on the .vine format as well as a demonstration of how it works.
Notably, Elliott told me that, in furtherance of its goal to spur industry adoption of the format, Filevine will have .vine portability by the end of the year. It will publish the specification for the format by the end of the year and an open API so that others can use the format outside the Filevine platform.
“We can’t expect wide adoption if we tell people they have to be on Filevine to use this,” he said.
He said that he is working with the SALI Alliance to make sure the specs include tagging that is consistent with other platforms. The legal-specific API will be a wrapped JSON that will enable developers to ingest the data into other systems, he said.
He said the back end that enables the synchronization of data with .vine documents was designed so that it would work not only with Filevine products, but also with other software platforms, such as Salesforce and Oracle NetSuite.
“Already today, if someone [on Filevine] shares a document with someone on the outside and wants to give them permission to redline, put an e-signature in there, and things like that, they can either just do that, or they can also create a free account where the .vine’s that have been shared with them are visible and available. And now we’ll also be giving portability so that they can go beyond our platform.”
Features of .vine
Elliott gave me a demonstration of some of the capabilities of the .vine format, and I have to say, it has some cool and unique features.
But before I get to those, let me address two points that I think have been unclear about the standard.
First, this is not a brand-new standard. It was developed by the contract lifecycle management company Outlaw, which Filevine acquired in 2021, as a legal template management system for drafting contracts.
After Filevine acquired Outlaw, it adapted the format for document assembly within the Filevine platform.
In my previous post, I wondered whether Filevine’s raise of $108 million in a Series D earlier this year had somehow “left the folks at Filevine looking for ways to spend it” and led to the development of this format.
But the fact is, Elliott said, that the development of the standard preceded that investment and even preceded Filevine’s acquisition of Outlaw.
“This is not something we came up with post-acquisition or post the last funding round,” he said. “This is part of a long-term vision.”
Second, this is not, at this point, a full word processing format. It is a document templating and assembly format.
“What we’re answering right now with this is document assembly,” Elliott said. “We do have word processing tools in there, but they are much more confined to letting you control all the elements for particular templates and teams. If you’re a team lead with a partner and support staff, you can control how all of your items end up coming out and looking, but it is really grounded in someone who is a team lead having control of those kinds of settings.”
Clause-Based Dynamic Libraries
Possibly the most intriguing feature of the .vine format is its use of dynamic, clause-based libraries. This puts the focus in drafting more on particular clauses or sections of documents and less on the document as a complete entity. Elliott described this feature as “legal Legos” for its block-based assembly, or like creating a Spotify playlist from your library of favorites.
This includes the ability to check-out and work on a single clause within a document without locking your colleagues out of the entire document. Teams can comment and see activity logs at the clause level.
Three key features of this dynamic clause library are:
- Clause lookup. When creating a template, find the appropriate clause by typing its title and matching clauses will auto-populate the list for you to select from.
- Auto indexing. Clauses from active templates are automatically saved, eliminating the need to maintain separate libraries of approved clauses. Options are also available for manually adding or excluding clauses.
- Dynamic linking. Any update to a source clause is automatically applied to linked clauses across whatever templates include them. These linked clauses are not editable by default (only the source clause can be edited), but the clause can be unlinked to be edited, without changes being reflected back to the source clause.
Another nice feature is that, when you look up a clause and insert it, it is properly formatted and numbered for the location in the document, and all references within the document are dynamically updated.
Teams and Users
The template editor allows individuals to be assigned various roles and permissions on two levels: as team members and as users. The same person can have both a team and user role.
Team members are those within a firm who share access to a template repository. Firms can have multiple teams. Within teams, members can be owners, editors, or viewers, with varying levels of permissions.
The template editor also allows the assignment of user roles for documents it creates. Users are those with whom the document owner (the person who generates it) shares a document. They can be assigned roles such as editor, viewer, signer, or proposer (for creating red-lines), or be associated as a party to the document.
Other features of the .vine format include:
- The ability to create customized workflows around a document, either at the team level or for a particular document. These workflows are separate from project-level workflows created within the Filevine platform, and instead attach to the document. They can require, for example, that certain members of a team review certain parts of a document.
- Connected variables allow users to pull data from fields in Filevine directly into the templates. These connected variables can be synced in either or both directions, for pull, push or bidirectional syncing. In other words, the sync can be only for updates in Filevine, only for updates in the document, or both ways.
- The ability to import .docx documents into the .vine format and export them into .docx or .pdf.
- The ability to separately encrypt personal privacy information within a document, so that even those who have permission to view a document cannot see that information without additional permission.
Despite what sounded like hype by Filevine about replacing Word in the legal industry, Elliott said he has no delusions about the difficulty of driving change in this industry. In a prior job, he was CIO of a law firm tasked with moving the firm off WordPerfect. Filevine is full of people, he said, “who came out of legal leadership positions and have worked the trenches of legal” and know what the adoption cycle is like.
He also recognizes that, while Filevine is free to develop its own standard, it does not get to dictate adoption.
“The people will decide over the long haul whether we’ve succeeded. We don’t get to decide that. We get to try to do it, but we don’t get to decide it.”
With Filevine soon to release the specs for its format and an API for its template editor, the market will get to see for itself whether the format bears adoption. In the meantime, good for Filevine for putting it out there.