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Best Tool for Creating Online Legal Forms

Anyone have experience with converting legal forms into html pages as completable forms? Right now I'm using a combination of just HTML and Bootstrap. I'm trying to make them pretty without a bunch of dependencies or a big css stylesheet. Any suggestions appreciated.
Here's some sample work: Florida Baker Act Petition and Florida Marchman Act Petition.


  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Are you hoping to take a PDF and convert it to an HTML page automatically? Or are you just trying to figure out a simple way to structure the page with CSS?

  • Being able to convert a pdf to html would be nice, but am just trying to make it look nice if there's an easy way...

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Oh I see. Because every other field needs to be a unique size and it's hard to create a style sheet that works for every document?

    FWIW, they look pretty nice as-is. Once you set up printing styles, you'll be good to go.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited July 2016

    I would probably use LaTeX or Markdown for the content. Github-flavored Markdown should get you the additional formatting options you need to align right, construct headings, etc.

    I don't really know LaTeX, but I know it would also do the trick.

    Then you can focus on separating the form from the substance, and plug any source form into your framework for filling out and printing.

    Edit: What I'd want to do is create a page that automatically lists the contents of a directory as a list of forms.

    Let's say the website is at forms.com/index.html. Then you've got a directory, /forms.com/templates, that's full of your forms:

    • /forms/fl-baker-act-petition.md
    • /forms/fl-marchman-act-petition.md
    • etc.

    And when I visit forms.com/index.html, I'd see something like:

    Start filling out a petition:

    And if I add /forms/fl-jones-act-petition.md, it automatically shows up in that list.

    Post edited by samglover on
  • ColarussoColarusso Boston, MA

    Depends on your audience and use case. Are you trying to build a form bank anyone can contribute to? Are these forms intended to be public facing or for internal use?

  • Intended to be public-facing. It's a pro-bono project I'm doing with Code for America locally. The local court systems don't put any of their forms online (or if they do it's just a bad pdf) for pro se litigants that need to do things like file for an injunction or baker act someone. I'd want to let people contribute over time as well, or edit as the form changes with new court rules.

  • ColarussoColarusso Boston, MA
    edited July 2016

    Then, you might want to consider building something that takes in .docx files as templates. See https://esq.io/blog/posts/python-docx-mailmerge/ You'd still have to build a UI for collecting the data, but the Word files would help ensure acceptable output and they're a common enough format that it would be easy for people to contribute their own. I envision the workflow looking something like this:

    1. Create Word version of form, however you like, recreating the form's formating or placing a scanned image in the background.
    2. Embed the document with appropriate mailmerge fields (e.g., «some_name»).
    3. Add the document to your collection.
    4. Parse the document for mailmerge fields and produce a generic webform based on these.

    Users could interact directly with the webform, and you could use Python to produce a Word file (see link above) suitable for download and printing.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    @Colarusso: Ooh, that would be slick.

    It's also pretty easy to assemble forms using Google Forms, Sheets, Docs, and the AutoCrat add-on for Google Sheets.

    Although it means separating the form-filling from the document, which I'm not sure is what you're hoping to do.

  • ColarussoColarusso Boston, MA

    @samglover I didn't know about AutoCrat. I've been looking for just such an add on. Sweet.

  • ColarussoColarusso Boston, MA

    @samuelharden if you're working on his with a Code for America team I assume there will be a GitHub repo at some point. Be sure to ping me with the address when that happens.

  • TheoRandTheoRand Burbank, CA
    edited July 2016

    Glad to see you are a forward thinking type who sees the value in collecting the data securely online. Here are my thoughts:

    Here are my thoughts:

    • The font disparity in your date drop downs is hard on the eyes;
    • there's not enough padding in your text-input fields;
    • you might consider using jquery to tab through the phone number fields as this is now an expected functionality;

    I do think you are re-inventing the wheel as there are dedicated form tools (Formstack, Jotform, etc.) The one I use is FormAssembly. It's a bit more complicated than some of the others to ramp up to, but what I like about it is the ability to leverage the data you collect (particularly if you use Salesforce platform) and as long as you're collecting data, if it were me, I would def want to have it all captured in a database (which Google will do, but its rough around the edges) in order to trigger workflows and events such as auto-response to the submitter, calendaring, contact info for future follow up, around the info collected. I like the directory idea too.

    My two cents.

  • Thanks Theo - this is for a pro-bono project that is going to be hosted on a site that isn't under my control (a site run by a county agency), so I'm trying to find an easy light-weight solution that doesn't rely on a new css style sheet for rendering. It looks like you're talking about collecting data for later use - I'm looking to give people a way to fill out and print the form for free.

  • TheoRandTheoRand Burbank, CA

    Then +1 for Google forms. :)

  • jasongershensonjasongershenson Portland, OR

    @samuelharden If you're still looking, one other form tool is Jotform. I like Jotform over a lot of other popular form tools because it allows for filling fields on one page, which subsequently populates an HTML field on the next page.

    I use this for a client intake / engagement letter combination...where based on the fields a client fills out in the form, an engagement letter instantly populates on the next page, and is sent to the client instantly, in the body of an email, and by PDF.

    Here is a gif of what the form looks like:

    Here is the resulting letter:

  • ColarussoColarusso Boston, MA

    @samuelharden @samglover So I went ahead and built the backend of the system I envisioned above.

    GitHub repo here: https://github.com/colarusso/docx_webmerge

    Live demo here: http://www.qnamarkup.org/docxmerge

    It's only a matter of time until QnA is able to export its data as JSON, and after that, you'll have a full free and easy solution. I think the main win is that it can use Word files hosted on a website as the template, and these are pretty easy to make. So it should allow for the creation of a robust template pool.

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