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The Document Assembly Line

The Document Assembly Line project will help you produce beautiful web apps that help users complete legal forms more quickly.

Go straight from a PDF or DOCX file to a runnable prototype in less than an hour. Build out from there with expert-vetted questions and standardized components using our step-by-step process.

We used open source tools and modern project management techniques to:

  • gather more than 200 volunteers from around the world
  • break the process of document automation into a series of small steps, so a volunteer with just a few hours can still make a difference
  • build a tool that takes specially prepared court forms and turns them directly into draft Docassemble interviews, ready to get feedback and iterate on
  • draft easy to read questions and guidelines to promote access to justice for users of all abilities and languages

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Visit CourtFormsOnline.org

Get involved

The Assembly Line Project is operated by Suffolk Law's Legal Innovation and Technology Lab. Email massaccess@suffolk.edu to reach out!

How we can help you

Suffolk Law School is looking for grant partners with our funder, Pew! Our grant cycle runs from October 2021 through October 2023.

Partners can be:

  • Courts
  • Legal aids and other nonprofits
  • Law schools

We are in the early stage of building tools that help someone through the lifecycle of a court form. We want early users to help us build the right tools with the right features. We can help partners:

  • Visualize existing PDF forms across an entire jurisdiction
    • Gain machine learning-driven insights into:
    • Readability
    • Ease of completion
    • Shared fields and redundancies in your existing forms
  • Automate existing forms with Docassemble
    • Eliminate repetitive work with integrated interview templates
    • Use standardized guided interview structure, questions and components
    • Translate into multiple languages
    • Get to a rough prototype with one click
  • Electronically file forms straight to a case management system
  • Get advice and guidance on drafting questions
  • Get automated insights to improve your guided interview

Our tools are free and open source. Use them on your own or with our help.

How you can help us

We are looking for experienced court administrators, legal experts, and document automators to help us:

  • Share existing, completed paper PDF forms from court dockets so we can understand the lifecycle of existing forms and identify intances where litigants are spending the most time
  • Focus our insights on existing PDF forms to deliver the most value to courts
  • Help us create a more useful model of what makes forms easy or hard for litigants to understand and use (we think readability is not enough)
  • Improve and extend our library of questions
  • Use and give us feedback on our Assembly Line Weaver tool
  • Expand our e-filing capabilities

Our work

The video below provides an overview of the project (0-10 min) and a detailed look at one of the forms (12-30 min). Note: This video is a lecture from the course Coding the Law. So please disregard comments about "prior classes" and pending homework assignments at the end.

Our tools

We built the Weaver to help turn a labeled PDF or Word document into a draft of a guided interview.

We built a library of model questions for common court form fields, like:

  • names and addresses
  • the user's role in a court case
  • contact information
  • selecting and identifying a court

These questions have been written to target a 6th grade reading level and to be usable by people with different abilities.

We built an electronic-filing integration for Tyler Technologies EFMs so your finished court form can be delivered straight to an electronic docket. It works in Louisiana's home-grown e-filing system, too.

We are in the process of building an automated style checker and visualization tool to help courts and legal aid providers understand how their forms can be improved, both on an individual form level and in the aggregate.

Form features

All of the forms produced by our tools:

  • have a common look and feel, with reusable components
  • mobile friendly layout so users can do everything on a smartphone
  • help in context to guide users to filling in the form correctly
  • use a standardized structure and questions to build consistency and gain trust
  • use address autocompletion, to improve accuracy and save user time
  • allow users to text, email, or share a link to their work in progress with a friend or advocate helping them complete a form
  • integrated feedback form to help users report bugs or send praise quickly
  • gather anonymized statistics in aggregate for reporting on usage
  • use our database of court locations and jurisdictions in Massachusetts to guide users to file in the right venue
  • digital signatures

Some forms can also be directly filed with a court, using either email, our integration with Tyler Technologies, or our integration with Louisiana's Jefferson Parish.

Our Repositories

All code generated as part of this project is available for free on GitHub under the MIT license.

  • The ALWeaver for rapidly generating interactive court forms from marked-up templates.
  • The AssemblyLine docassemble package with runtime code and shared questions for interactive court forms.
    • ALToolbox contains functions and components that might benefit Docassemble developers who choose not to install the full Assembly Line framework.
    • GithubFeedbackForm helps Docassemble authors collect feedback from endusers and generate GitHub issues.
    • ALRecipes examples and snippets that use Assembly Line features or demonstrate best practices. Can be included directly in the Docassemble Playground to supplement the list of Playground examples.
    • InterviewStats for gathering usage analytics.
  • PovertyScale which contains a Python library, Docassemble code, static JSON and a REST server for determining income qualification based on the United States Federal Poverty Scale, updated on an annual basis.
  • ALMassachusetts with Massachusetts-specific questions and links to Massachusetts courts.
  • MACourts is maintained by Greater Boston Legal Services but has been expanded and improved by the Assembly Line Project. It contains a list of courts in Massachusetts and rules to determine jurisdiction and venue based on address.
  • MassAccess with branding specific to the CourtFormsOnline.org website.
  • ALDashboard an Assembly Line- independent tool that makes it easier to maintain a Docassemble server.
  • EFSP Integration which is a Python and Docassemble frontend for Suffolk Law School's electronic filing Java server.
  • EFileProxyServer which is a Java-based REST server which provides a simplified interface to Tyler EFMs, as well as an interface to JeffNet, the home-brew efiling server run by Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Suffolk LIT Lab is currently in the process of being a certified Tyler E-Filing Service Provider (EFSP).

We have also produced draft or final automations of almost 100 unique Massachusetts court forms during the lifetime of our project.