Comparing text in documents is a daily task in the legal profession. Being able to do it quickly and easily is a bonus. Drawing a parallel to the way software developers compare source code on a page is arguably more efficient than the way most lawyers go about it, and perhaps we can take a page from their workflow to improve ours. How they do this is through a diff (which is similar to a redline) that is tracked through an application specifically purposed for version control.
These apps include Tower and SourceTree, but there are others. They provide simple editing tools that will help you revert to previous versions if you need to, or allow you to push some changes, and save others for later.
Even though what we use the app for is similar, the processes are very different from a typical legal workflow. When collaborating on a project, they don’t output comparisons as separate files, because each coder will generate their own diffs; comparisons are not output as separate files as the document changes, and they don’t worry about forgetting to turn on ‘track changes’ before starting to edit a document, because it’s just not necessary. You might even be able to skip using Word altogether, because all the basic changes you need to make can be done using the tools in your version control app.
Though this type of workflow is pretty routine for software developers, it’s not the way that lawyers normally work. Whatever document management system you use might provide you with the ability to create a comparison file using external software, but it’s not quite the same as simply opening the most recent version of a documents and seeing right away what’s different from the last version – accompanied by handy tools to manage the changes.
If you’re a Mac user, there are a few version control applications that can be applied to legal documents. They are made for software developers, but will work nicely for the task, and you’ll be able to benefit from a more intuitive process.
Here are some version comparison apps for Mac you might want to look at:
Kaleidoscope is an app specifically for Mac users that compares text files, RTF, DOCX and plenty more, and has the added functionality of being able to compare images and folders as well. It’s super easy to use too: simply drag the files you want to compare onto its icon and it will generate a comparison. You can also search within the documents you are examining, compare more than just two documents, and easily switch between them. It costs $69.99 and comes with a 15 day trial so you can check it out first.
The following examples are apps with features that compare text, as opposed to documents. This means simply that you have to copy and paste from the source document into the app to get the analysis.
BBEdit is meant specifically for professional software developers, but most of its features, including text comparison, can be used for free. To make it work, you would need to create two separate text documents within the app, then copy and paste each version in to them. A few clicks later, you have your comparison.
Atom with Split-Diff
Atom is another app that is made specifically for software developers, and it’s also free. It’s also open-source, which means developers can create feature packages that add to its functionality. One of these is ‘split-diff’ allows you to view differences in text from documents that you paste in, side-by-side, which is particularly handy is you are working on a portion of a larger document – meaning you can just copy and paste the section you’re working on.
One drawback is that none of these applications allow you to save a comparison as its own unique file. Additionally, your files will look very different than how they do in your word processing app – but that may be the best part about them: They are fast, simple, and (mostly) free, and you won’t have to run a redline or a backline to see changes to your documents.