Scrivener and the Legal Profession

I’ve been providing technical support to a lawyer who is using Scrivener. I thought I might reflect on this here.

Legal writing benefits from the same tools that help creative writers. Legal writers must get from an assemblage of partly formed arguments and pieces of research to a flexible final product. The project changes shape over the lifecycle of a case as various related documents are prepared and submitted and in response to events in the court and response from the opposition. Scrivener makes it easy to see a project at different scales and to move parts and sections around and to redraft. It integrates research into the project and is very flexible with how (and what) parts appear in output. This makes Scrivener is very promising for lawyers.

Legal writing differs from some forms of creative writing in that there is often extensive collaboration throughout the writing process. The lingua franca for shared work is Word (formerly Wordperfect) and there are fairly exacting standards for formatting, almost from the very beginning. This can make life difficult for a lawyer who is beginning with Scrivener. She might like to enjoy the benefits of Scrivener as a creative tool before delving into the fine points of compile formats, but she is forced to confront formatting details by the need to collaborate in a somewhat exacting format.

Literature and Latte has an excellent forum with very helpful members. I’d recommend any beginner to post questions there, and to use the search tool to find posts addressing similar questions. I don’t know of any other software package where the actual developers post so often and in such detail. Thank you.

But it might help some of us if there was an area on the site devoted to templates and formats - a sort of curated template and format library. It’s non-trivial to implement this, but it might address many recurring questions in the forums about formatting details. A system of tags (poetry template, legal memo format, hierarchical numbering,…) should help with search (tags might help in other forums too). I realize that it takes considerable effort to set this up and to curate submissions. But it might help with what seems to me to be the main friction in adopting Scrivener - the difficulty of finding a compile format that meets your needs. In my personal view, most users should spend almost no time editing formats. It is a shame when a new user finds themselves doing this early on.

Finally, just to be clear, Scrivener is designed to be used by most users right out of the box. It succeeds in this. It will help you write your novel from beginning to end without any technical tinkering, and you’ll be able to export it to e-book and many other formats with very little work. I’m trying to find a way to extend the tech free zone by increasing access to pre-made templates and formats for less common usages with a view to helping beginners.


Hi John,

Many thanks for the great feedback. This is actually something we have been talking about for years, and it would indeed be a great resource if enough users submitted to it. The main problem, as you say, is curating it, since if it involved providing project templates then those could potentially include copyrighted material. For instance, a user might provide a project template that uses, say, an eight-sequence approach to writing a novel or screenplay, and inadvertently include material from books on such approaches that don’t meet fair-use requirements. We could potentially be liable for copyright infringements by hosting such material, and it would be very difficult for us to know where templates have made such violations.

Compile formats on there own with instructions on how to use them might be more viable, though, since it would be very difficult to include anything that would violate copyright in a Compile format. Prior to Scrivener 3, a Compile format repository would have been of limited value, because in earlier versions of Scrivener, Compile formats were very much dependent on the structure of individual projects. Now that a single Compile format can be set up to accommodate a wide variety of project structures, this might be something worth looking into. It’s not something our website is set up for at the moment, but it may well be worth some investigation.

We are hoping to write some “Scrivener recipe” blog posts soonish, covering different things you can do with Compile (based on real user questions for different project needs). It will be interesting to get some feedback on that, to see if there is an appetite for users sharing Compile formats too.

Thanks and all the best,

Thanks, Keith, for your reply.

I expect that curating templates would be quite a bit of work, even if one didn’t have to worry about copyright issues, so I understand that you must prioritize other things. But it would be a shame if copyright issues are the primary obstacle. My understanding is that your responsibility, under DMCA, would be primarily reactive - you would have to establish effective “notice-and-takedown” procedures to promptly remove content when a copyright owner notifies you that it is infringing. However I’m not a lawyer and my understanding is very shallow so please take my comments with a large spoon of salt. Also, you operate in many legal jurisdictions so legal questions are complicated.

My gut feeling is that templates will be more useful to beginning users than compile formats, but an archive of compile formats might be helpful in managing repeated technical questions. I expect you have thought about the possibility of tagging forum posts by topic, and maybe promoting useful threads so that they are prioritized in search, and other techniques for potentially improving search in forums. Your staff are very responsive on the forums, but it must take a lot of work.

Thank you for a great product that is so well supported. I can’t imagine a more flexible platform that manages to keep its focus on the act of writing.


I’ve been using Scrivener on and off for several years in my legal profession, and the one thing that makes me leave it is how it handles word documents. I always have to deal with with is Word Documents. There are software add ons for microsoft word that are useful and a standard set of motions I can pretty much count on needing to file on a regular basis.

As such, being able to attach word documents instead of importing them as .rtf would be the killer feature for me, much like you can attach PDF files. All my notes, conversations, timelines, research, audio and videos, and word documents all together in one file would be absolutely amazing and a game changer.

How often do you need to edit those Word Documents once you get them into Scrivener? I work with a lot of legal documents that arrive in Word format and the first thing I do is covert to PDF b/c I don’t want to inadvertently change anything.

I would like to use Scrivener from beginning of the case to the end. Begin with a template that has the most common Motions I may file that would open Word and keep the most saved version in Word in that specific case so I could work on it on my own time or over several days if required. This would require attaching a word document rather than importing it. Using that a baseline Scrivener template would drastically change my workflow and allow everything to be kept together in a much easier way than anything else I know that is on the market.

For other word documents that I do not plan on filing or anything, the Scrivener editor is fine, even preferable – directs, cross, ideas, notes and stuff and other stuff. And for other things I do not want to edit, yes, PDF great.

I’m struggling with a similar issue with Word (in a non-legal context). Some of the suggestions I’ve received may be helpful for you. They include, but are not limited to :

  • Importing links to Word documents as document references instead of to the Binder
  • Making an alias to the Word document in the Finder, then importing the alias to the Binder rather than the original document.

The thread is at


I hope some of this might be helpful. :smiley:

I use Scrivener in my legal work but a major downside is that the system of placeholders does not make it possible to number paragraphs hierarchically throughout the document (see example below, but note that the forum is not recreating my increasing large indents at each successive level). I know it is possible to hierarchically number titles (using <$hn> in compile. What I am looking for is the equivalent of <$n> but hierarchical, i,e, 1, 1,1, 1,1,1, 1,1.1.1, etc (see further example below).

1 This is a first level para.
1.1 This is a second level para.
1.2 So is this.
1.2.1 This is a third level para.
1,2,2 So is this.
1.3 Back to second level.
2 Back to first level.

I wouldn’t mind using different placeholders for different levels, though ideally it would be great if you could use one placeholder type only and have the hierarchy in the binder automatically reflected in the hierarchy of the numbering. A sort of <$hn> for paragraphs (which I’ve tried - doesn’t work).


Read the following thread and particularly KB’s answers, including the sample project he provides.

I haven’t tried them but it looks that the ideas might meet your needs, or seed some of your own.


Thanks for that.

It doesn’t appear to address auto-hierarchical numbering though.

I just need a placeholder for Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4 etc and to be able to define what each level looks like, e.g.

1, 1.1, 1,1.1, 1,1.1.1 etc, or

1, (a), (i), (A) or

(1), (i), (a), A

So when I insert a new para that needs a number I can indicate the level and style and all of the numbers will adjust as required in that level (on compile).

e.g. if I insert a new level one para between 1 and 2 the new para becomes 2 and the old 2 becomes 3 . And if the old 2 had sub-paras 2.1, 2.3, 2.3 etc, they will become 3.1, 3.2, 3,3 etc.

If I had that facility the utility of Scrivener for me would just about double.

Even better would be if the placeholder automatically generated a “will look like this on compile” number, so I can see the actual number and format, e.g. so 1 appears in my text in Scrivener, not just <$n>. I know that’s a major upgrade, but we can dream can’t we?! :slight_smile: