Automating Forms with A2J Author: A Comprehensive Software Training Course

Welcome to the newly revamped A2J Author Training Course called Automating Forms with A2J Author. This course will walk you through everything there is to know about A2J Author. We've broken the course into 4 main sections, each one containing videos, suggested readings, fun activities, applied workflows (short practice exercises), and training exercises (longer practice exercises). We will be releasing the Training Course in 2 parts in conjunction with our A2J Author Summer Highlights Webinar Series. The first part of the training course is available below. The second part will be released below as well and will be available August 1, 2024. 

To learn more about the A2J Author Summer Webinar Series, click here

A2J Author is a product of CALI - The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. CALI Awards are a coveted award amongst law students. In recognition of the work that you will put into learning A2J Author, when you complete this training course, fill out this Google form to earn your CALI Excellence for the Future Award. (The Google form will become available after the release of all training materials on August 1, 2024.)




  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:02:55]:
    This introductory video presents the A2J Author Training Series, which focuses on automating legal forms to assist individuals in creating legal documents without requiring legal expertise. Jessica Frank, the A2J Author project manager at CALI, introduces the course and outlines its structure, including videos, applied workflows, and training exercises. The course aims to make A2J Author user-friendly and beneficial for the community, offering a CALI award upon completion.

    [00:00:00] Introduction to A2J Author
    - Software for creating guided interviews
    - Helps create legal documents easily
    - Ensures standardized document creation
    [00:00:32] Role of the Project Manager
    - Jessica Frank leads the course
    - Provides support and resources
    - Aims for user-friendly experience
    [00:01:30] Course Structure
    - Divided into four sections
    - Includes videos and exercises
    - Focuses on specific topics
    [00:02:17] Course Benefits and Award
    - Teaches marketable legal form automation
    - Offers CALI Excellence for the Future Award
    - Requires completion of verification process

Suggested Readings:


Section 1: Getting Started


Section Introduction


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:01:14]:
    The A2J Author Training Series provides an introduction to document automation and its role in addressing the access to justice crisis. It outlines the six-part structure of the training, covering the basics of document assembly, account access, tool navigation, terminology, and project scoping. The goal is to find a balanced project scope that aids self-represented litigants without being overwhelming, setting the stage for the actual automation process in the next section.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to the course
    - Overview of the access to justice crisis
    - Role of form automation in closing the justice gap
    - Introduction to document assembly basics
    [00:00:22] Accessing A2J Author
    - Explanation of who can get an account
    - Instructions on how to sign up
    [00:00:30] Navigating the tool
    - Basics of using A2J Author
    - How to move around within the tool
    [00:00:35] Understanding terminology
    - Definition of terms used in the course
    - Common language in form automation community
    [00:00:48] Scoping a project
    - Finding the right size for a document automation project
    - Balancing help for self-represented litigants with long-term manageability


Welcome & Overview


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:06:50]:
    This video serves as an introduction to the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on document assembly and its role in bridging the justice gap. It provides a high-level overview of the technology involved, the art of automating legal processes for pro se litigants, and the history of civil justice issues in the United States. The video also discusses the development and impact of A2J Author, a tool designed to help self-represented litigants navigate the legal system by simplifying complex legal forms into manageable questions and guidance.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to A2J Author
    - Overview of document assembly
    - Bridging the justice gap
    - High-level view of the technology
    [00:01:00] Civil Justice Gap
    - Historical context of access to justice
    - Statistics on unmet legal needs
    - Importance of legal aid
    [00:02:01] Legal Challenges
    - Life-changing legal issues faced by individuals
    - Difficulty in obtaining legal help
    - Self-representation complexities
    [00:04:00] A2J Author's Role
    - Transferring legal expertise into automated forms
    - Impact on self-represented litigants
    - Statistics on usage and reach
    [00:05:01] Evolution of A2J Author
    - From flash-based to web-based tool
    - User-friendly and accessible design
    - Creation of complex expert systems
    [00:06:01] A2J Author's Success
    - Number of people helped and interviews created
    - Accessibility on mobile devices
    - Encouragement for technologists tackling justice access crisis


Basics of Document Assembly


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:04:22]:
    This video is part two of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on the basics of document assembly. It explains how user-friendly software can automate the process of filling out legal forms by gathering information from end users and inserting it into the correct blanks. The video also discusses the importance of establishing a naming convention for variables early in the form automation journey, as these variables act as a bridge between the interview and the template components of a document assembly package.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to Document Assembly
    - Explains the concept and terms like form automation
    - Describes the two parts: the interview and the template
    - Highlights the role of variables in storing user data
    [00:01:16] Turning Paper Forms into Automated Forms
    - Discusses identifying blanks on forms to create fields
    - Emphasizes the importance of a variable naming convention
    - Suggests best practices for sharing answer files among interviews
    [00:03:00] The Process of Assembling Documents
    - Covers capturing user responses in variables
    - Explains the creation of an answer file in XML format
    - Describes how the final document is assembled and downloaded

Applied Workflow: Highlight all the blanks that would have to become fields on the Starter Document below. 


Logging In


  • Video summary [00:00:01] - [00:02:33]
    This video is part three of section one in the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on the process of logging into the A2J Author tool. It provides a step-by-step guide on accessing the authoring tool, creating an account, and navigating the website to utilize the available resources.
    [00:00:01] Getting Started
    - Introduction to logging into A2J Author
    - Explanation of who can get an account
    - Instructions on signing up for access
    [00:00:15] Accessing the Website
    - Visiting www.j author. org for resources
    - Authoring tool requires a free account
    - Account creation process outlined
    [00:01:00] Creating an Account
    - Clicking 'I want to create an account' button
    - Filling out the account creation form
    - Checking email for verification and survey link
    [00:02:02] Account Approval
    - Completion of authentication form
    - Approval process by the A2J team
    - Full access granted to A2J Author tool

Applied Workflow: Create an A2J Author account


Navigating the Tools


  • Video summary [00:00:01] - [00:17:16]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on navigating the tools within the A2J Author software. It provides a comprehensive guide on the different components, how to move around the software, and the process of building an A2J guided interview. The tutorial covers the tab-based navigation, the significance of the interviews, pages, template, and preview tabs, and delves into the functionalities of each, including creating new interviews, editing pages, and testing the interview as an end user.
    [00:00:01] Introduction to A2J Author
    - Overview of the software's tab-based navigation
    - Explanation of the main tabs: interviews, pages, template, and preview
    - Importance of the interviews tab as the home base
    [00:03:59] Variables and Steps
    - Details on managing variables and their functions
    - Steps tab as the main outline of the guided interview
    - Editing steps and their visibility to the end user
    [00:06:00] Pages Tab and Question Design
    - Pages tab for editing and adding new pages
    - Question Design Editor (QDE) as the main tool for building pages
    - Use of popups for just-in-time learning features
    [00:10:08] Preview and Testing
    - Preview tab for testing the interview layout and logic
    - Debug panel for a detailed view of the interview's inner workings
    - Importance of testing for a user-friendly interview experience


Terms of A2J Art


  • Video summary [00:00:00]- [00:04:21]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on the terminology used in document automation with A2J Author. It introduces various terms that are essential for creating guided interviews and document assembly processes, especially for legal professionals new to programming.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to A2J Author Vocabulary
    - Importance of understanding terms for document automation
    - Pro authoring tip: Evaluate words against a pro se litigant's knowledge
    - Activity: Word search in course training materials
    [00:00:57] Variables and Their Types
    - Variables: Digital storage boxes for values that can change during an interview
    - Variable types: Specific kinds of data a variable can hold
    - Template: Pre-made outline with fields for information
    [00:01:34] Document Assembly Process
    - Combining templates with variable data from users
    - Guided interview: Interactive process to collect and give information
    - Function: Computer code that manipulates data
    [00:02:31] Just in Time Learning and Conditional Logic
    - Just in time learning: Additional help provided when needed
    - Conditional logic: Instructions for routing based on true/false conditions
    - Macro: Displaying user data back to them

Fun Activity


Scoping a Project


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:05:24]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on scoping a project. It guides viewers through defining a legal problem, creating user personas, gathering necessary forms, defining variables, and identifying areas for repeat loops and addendums in forms. The goal is to create a manageable and up-to-date automated document assembly project that addresses the access to justice crisis.
    [00:00:00] Project Scoping
    - Envisioning the end goal for users
    - Balancing the number of forms needed
    - Considering maintenance costs
    [00:00:52] Defining the Legal Problem
    - Establishing the project goal
    - Narrowing scope by legal problem and jurisdiction
    - Creating user personas for the project
    [00:02:23] Gathering Forms
    - Collecting all forms needed for the user's goal
    - Including only necessary forms for the process
    - Ensuring completeness for the user's legal action
    [00:02:55] Defining Variables
    - Highlighting choices and answers required from users
    - Creating a list of variables for the forms
    - Establishing a consistent naming convention for variables
    [00:03:48] Identifying Repeat Loops and Addendums
    - Spotting areas for repeat data entry
    - Accommodating lengthy user responses
    - Planning for addendums when form space is insufficient


Section 2: The Template


Understanding Variables


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:09:47]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on creating backend templates for digital interviews. It explains how to convert paper forms into automated digital forms, covering variables, PDF and text templates, and naming conventions. The video emphasizes the importance of a standardized naming convention for longevity and ease of use in document automation.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to Templates
    - Discusses converting paper forms to digital
    - Explains the process of automating forms
    - Outlines the three parts of the section
    [00:00:43] Understanding Variables
    - Highlights pre-software steps for automation
    - Demonstrates creating a variables list
    - Explains the difference between user answers and variables
    [00:02:15] Standardized Naming Convention
    - Stresses the importance for project longevity
    - Shows a naming convention example
    - Discusses variable types and their indicators
    [00:04:14] Building Out Variables in A2J Author
    - Lists three ways to create variables
    - Provides pros and cons for each method
    - Includes a demo for creating variables on the fly
    [00:07:03] PDF Template Editor
    - Guides on creating and assigning variables
    - Discusses text and number variable types
    - Offers tips for avoiding common issues
    [00:08:32] Old School Variable Creation
    - Describes creating variables on the variables tab
    - Explains the 'find usage' feature
    - Mentions uploading existing hot doc components

Applied Workflow - develop a standardized naming convention for the variables in your project or find the one currently in use in your organization. 


A2J DAT PDF Templates


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:18:17]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on automating PDF templates using the A2J Document Assembly Tool (A2J DAT). It provides a comprehensive guide on creating PDF templates within the A2J Author platform, discussing the pros and cons of text and PDF templates, and detailing the steps to automate a PDF template, including flattening the PDF, adding fields, and configuring variables.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to A2J PDF Templates
    - Explains two ways to automate templates in A2J DAT
    - Focuses on automating an A2J PDF template
    [00:00:15] Template Creation Process
    - Describes the process within the templates tab
    - Discusses the differences between text and PDF templates
    [00:01:01] Challenges with Text Templates
    - Addresses formatting issues with replicating specific forms
    - Suggests best use cases for text templates
    [00:01:57] Advantages of PDF Templates
    - Emphasizes order, replication, and restrictions
    - Guides on automating existing court form PDFs
    [00:02:59] Preparing the Underlying PDF
    - Instructs on flattening the PDF to remove fillable fields
    - Provides tips for troubleshooting PDF flattening
    [00:03:47] Automating the PDF Template
    - Walks through the PDF template tool and its features
    - Explains how to add fields and variables to the template

Training Exercise: Complete the Sample Exercise to Create an A2J Guided Interview and A2J DAT PDF Template (just the PDF Template portion)


A2J DAT Text Templates


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:10:48]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on automating text templates using the A2J Document Assembly Tool (A2J DAT). It guides viewers through creating text templates within the A2J Author software, detailing the process of adding various elements to build out a template, setting up conditional logic, and formatting options. The tutorial also covers testing the template with an answer file to ensure it assembles correctly.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to A2J DAT Text Templates
    - Explains the purpose of text templates
    - Describes where templates are managed within A2J Author
    - Highlights the importance of testing templates
    [00:01:04] Template Options and Elements
    - Discusses custom headers, footers, and formatting options
    - Introduces elements like section titles and page breaks
    - Details the use of the Rich Text Editor for content creation
    [00:04:49] Conditional Logic in Templates
    - Explains how to insert conditional content
    - Provides examples of using 'if-else' statements
    - Emphasizes the need for variables to exist prior to insertion
    [00:06:07] Repeat Loops and Information Gathering
    - Describes how to gather repeated information
    - Shows how to display repeated data in tables, lists, or text chunks
    - Demonstrates the flexibility of repeat loops for various data types


Section 3: The Interview


Using a Storyboard


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:13:54]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on using a storyboard to create user-friendly interviews within A2J Author software. It emphasizes the importance of planning and organizing questions, information, and variables before building in the software. The video introduces two methods for creating storyboards—flowchart and outline formats—and discusses the significance of plain language, logic statements, and additional information like pop-ups and definitions to aid users.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to interview creation
    - Covers components of creating a user-friendly interview
    - Discusses drafting stages and mechanics of question design editor
    - Explains transition from simple to advanced interviews with conditional logic
    [00:00:46] Using a storyboard
    - Describes the drafting stage and organizing questions and information
    - Recommends flowchart and outline formats for storyboarding
    - Emphasizes reviewing questions for plain language before authoring
    [00:05:06] Overall design considerations
    - Focuses on structuring questions to suit the target audience
    - Highlights the importance of defining user personas for the project
    - Suggests including instructions and necessary information upfront
    [00:09:11] Order and sensitivity of questions
    - Advises on the sequence of questions and dealing with sensitive topics
    - Recommends starting with neutral questions and building trust
    - Encourages the use of macros to remind users of past answers

Training Exercise: create a storyboard or process map for the Quick and Easy Automation Sample Exercise


Plain Language


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:10:53]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on the use of plain language in document automation. It emphasizes the importance of clear and straightforward expression, especially for self-represented litigants. The video discusses the alarming literacy statistics in the U.S., the historical push for plain language in government and legal documents, and the tools available to ensure readability in legal forms.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to Plain Language
    - Defines plain language and its necessity
    - Discusses literacy statistics and their implications
    - Highlights the importance of simplicity in communication
    [00:02:32] Plain Language in Pop Culture and Law
    - Shows how plain language is desired in complex information settings
    - References pop culture and case law mocking convoluted language
    - Mentions historical figures advocating for simplicity
    [00:03:24] Government Efforts for Plain Language
    - Details executive actions and legislation for plain language
    - Explains the goals of the Plain Writing Act of 2010
    - Features media coverage on the need for understandable government documents
    [00:06:21] Tools for Plain Language in Legal Forms
    - Introduces and its resources
    - Discusses the balance between brevity and clarity
    - Presents steps and tools for creating plain language legal documents

Applied Workflow: Do this exercise


AI First Drafts


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:07:18]:
    The video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on utilizing AI, specifically chat GPT, to draft legal documents. It demonstrates how AI can assist in creating plain language questions for pro se litigants, provide translations, and offer straightforward legal definitions. The video emphasizes the art of document assembly for self-represented litigants, breaking down complex legal issues into manageable parts and ensuring the document assembly package flows seamlessly.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to AI in legal technology
    - AI's role in enhancing document automation
    - Using chat GPT as a first draft tool
    - AI's assistance in plain language and translations
    [00:01:08] The art of document assembly
    - Importance of a pre-planned script or storyboard
    - Creating a seamless document assembly package
    - Capturing user answers accurately
    [00:02:00] Utilizing AI for drafting
    - Grouping form questions using AI
    - Fleshing out user personas with AI
    - Building interviews based on AI-generated questions
    [00:04:01] Plain language review with AI
    - Simplifying legal jargon into plain language
    - Ensuring content is understandable at a fifth-grade reading level
    - Subject matter expert review for accuracy
    [00:05:01] Defining legal terms using AI
    - Providing plain language definitions
    - Using pop-up definitions for just-in-time learning
    - Importance of subject matter expertise in reviewing AI drafts
    [00:06:00] AI translations for legal text
    - Pros and cons of AI translations
    - The need for expert review of AI-generated translations
    - Cost-saving potential of AI-assisted translations

Applied Workflow #1: Ask ChatGPT (Or your favorite AI) to create plain language definitions for Petitioner and Respondent. 

Applied Workflow #2: Ask  ChatGPT, "What questions would I need to ask to automate this form?" and include a copy of the below form in your prompt


Question Design Editor


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:08:22]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on the Question Design Editor (QDE) used in interview development. It demonstrates accessing the QDE, authoring styles, and the various components within the QDE. The tutorial explains how to navigate through the QDE's full view and tabbed view, manage page information, and utilize question and field sections. It also covers adding audio, setting up repeat loops, and using the learn more feature. Additionally, the video discusses button functions, advanced logic scripting, and the importance of citation fields for legal sufficiency reviews.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to the QDE
    - Describes the QDE as the main authoring workspace
    - Explains two ways to access the QDE
    - Introduces the full view and tabbed view authoring styles
    [00:01:52] Page Information Section
    - Details the step-page relationship
    - Allows editing page names and adding author notes
    - Emphasizes the importance of organizing pages numerically
    [00:03:06] Question Info Section
    - Guides on adding question text and formatting options
    - Highlights the citation field for legal references
    - Discusses the legacy support for audio uploads
    [00:05:02] Learn More and Field Sections
    - Introduces the learn more feature for additional information
    - Explains the limit of nine fields per page to avoid overwhelming users
    - Describes buttons as the main navigation method through interviews
    [00:06:55] Advanced Logic Section
    - Focuses on scripting conditional statements for interviews
    - Stresses the importance of logic citations for quality assurance
    - Concludes with the use of close and preview buttons in the QDE


Field Types & Buttons


  • Video summary [00:00:00] - [00:13:24]:
    This video is part of the A2J Author Training Series, focusing on field types and buttons in Section 3, Video 5. It provides a comprehensive guide on different field types used to capture user data and how buttons can navigate users through a guided interview or capture data. The tutorial explains 15 field types, their attributes, and how they relate to variable types. It also delves into the editing options for text fields, number fields, date fields, gender fields, radio buttons, checkboxes, and user avatars, emphasizing the importance of each in creating an effective user interface.
    [00:00:00] Introduction to field types and buttons
    - Discusses the purpose of field types in capturing user data
    - Explains how buttons guide users and capture data
    - Highlights the relationship between field and variable types
    [00:01:00] Text fields and attributes
    - Differentiates between text and text long fields
    - Covers editing options like labels, variables, and default values
    - Addresses interface considerations for user experience
    [00:03:23] Number fields and customization
    - Introduces six number field types with editing options
    - Explains when to use number versus text variable types
    - Describes the use of suggested answer prompts for user guidance
    [00:05:55] Other field types and user avatar selection
    - Details the gender field type and its historical context
    - Describes the use of radio buttons and checkboxes for user selections
    - Explains the user avatar field type for avatar customization
    [00:10:17] Buttons as an alternative for capturing data
    - Shows how buttons can record user data and navigate interviews
    - Discusses button labels, variables, and branching options
    - Highlights the flexibility of buttons in user interface design
    [00:13:00] Conclusion and transition to advanced topics
    - Summarizes the field types and button functionalities covered
    - Teases the next video on bonus features of the interview process
    - Encourages viewers to continue learning about A2J Author capabilities



COMING SOON: Part 2 of the Training Course released August 1, 2024

Bonus Features

Learn Mores & Pop Ups

Macros & Functions

The Merge Tool

Repeat Loops

Conditional Logic

Section 4: Testing & Deployment

Exiting Options

Test, Test, and Test Again

Hosting Options