Love.Law.Robots. by Ang Hou Fu


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Presentations are a crucial part of your professional life. In my line of work, presentations function as introducers, reports, training, proposals, summaries and explainers. Sometimes, presentations are watched in person or through web conferencing. Other times, they appear on websites for browsing or e-learning.

To do the job, many people will start PowerPoint, plunk in many words in bullet points and let their “showmanship” do the rest.

Your old ways of doing PowerPoint are no longer enough

Montreal Design ClubPhoto by charlesdeluvio / Unsplash

Since the pandemic and remote work changed the ways we work today, the demands on presentation have also changed drastically:

  • A “presenter” may no longer be present. You might not even be visible through a Zoom Window. Some presentations are watched in a video. Some people may even view your presentation on “mute” or by continuously scrolling to the “interesting” points.
  • Your audience consumes content differently these days. If I wanted to read a wall of bullet points like this one), I would rather read an article. Worse, if the content doesn’t engage, I lose the audience. You also want the audience to come back to you too.
  • Some studies claim that an audience’s attention span is about 20 minutes. Context matters. You might be forced to sit through the entire presentation like at a conference, but your attention still has to be maintained. Viewing it from home or somewhere else, you must get to the point quickly.

As a lawyer, I seem to have endless things to say. Figuring out how to say it? That’s the tricky part. Your personality and style contribute to your best presentations. Reading a block of bullet points on a template PowerPoint presentation wouldn’t bring that out. You would need opportunity, practice and feedback—all the time.

If you want to look at new ways of doing things, I wrote this post for you.

You can express more on your slide.

I found that the easiest way to improve your presentation is to abandon bullet points. The first step towards approaching any slide is to think about its purpose:

  • Am I making a list?
  • Am I describing a process?
  • Am I highlighting a point which I want the audience to know?
  • And so on.

Once you know what you want, it becomes evident that bullet points aren’t the only way to achieve them. A process can be described with arrows, steps or even a map. A list can be made of post-its, boxes and maybe even articles (for example, a list of news items can be illustrated with “newspaper clippings”). Such design elements will help an audience, no matter how far they are from you, to get the point.

Since presentations aren’t my core area of work, I don’t find myself being able to come up with a design quickly. A quick reference could be helpful.

In the end, I found The Better Deck Deck by Nolan Haims. Essentially they are a bunch of flashcards showing deck ideas. This is not an essay about how to make great presentations, just a collection of examples which condenses excellent ideas and how to execute them.

The Better Deck Deck: 52 Alternatives to Bullet Points | Nolan Haims CreativeThis deck of cards gives you 52 proven design alternatives to the dreaded bullet point layout and over 150 professionally designed examples of slides using these techniques to spark your creativity and improve your next presentation.Nolan Haims CreativeShop

Before I embark on any presentation project, I flip through these cards to get those creative juices flowing. If you do lots of presentations, I recommend it!

SmartArt isn’t stupid once you tear it apart.

If you believe bullet points are not the right direction, fret not; Microsoft PowerPoint agrees with you too.

In recent years, Microsoft PowerPoint has been improving on a function named “SmartArt”. It is an excellent tool for converting your bullet points into anything else. Today, they have galleries of ideas for you to choose from, including 3D.

I’m just kidding. Please don’t choose a 3D SmartArt! I beg you!

Unfortunately, it’s too much of a good thing. SmartArt, as well as the fancier “Design Ideas”, doesn’t teach you which design is best for you, leading to stock templates and bullet points in various shapes and sizes. These days, I can tell which slides were designed by PowerPoint, not you.

Furthermore, because PowerPoint tightly merges design and content, it isn’t easy to customize SmartArt in any profound way. This includes translating any ideas you have from the reference guide in the previous tip to PowerPoint.

The key to making SmartArt do what you want is to convert it to shapes. Once your SmartArt loses its form, you can arrange and align your shapes in any way you please.

This is my current workflow: sketch the contours of my design in SmartArt, then refine it by converting it to shapes and working on them.

This opens many possibilities and speeds up your presentation production by quickly creating basic shapes and designs.

Don’t be a Presenter, Be a Coder: SlideDev

Everybody loves PowerPoint because it is WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get. It’s easy to understand the tools, and there’s comfort in getting what you want right from the development stage. Most alternatives to PowerPoint like Google Slides and Apple Keynote also rely heavily on WYSIWYG.

WYSIWYG is excellent for novice users, but it’s easy to outgrow them.

The first problem with PowerPoint is that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of options. We had seen one of them already when we tried to create an ugly and unreadable 3D SmartArt. You can also wreck your presentation with different fonts and sizes and unprofessional-looking work.

If you’ve always wanted to approach a different approach, try Slidev.

SlideDev employs many features familiar to Coders — Markdown syntax, installation using npm and hosting on a website. You also get to write your presentation on your IDE, version control using git and include anything a website can do, such as embeds and CSS animations.

I can’t use Slidev at work because nobody knows how to read a markdown file, so don’t throw away your PowerPoint yet.

However, having tried it, I appreciated being able to condense the essential parts of making a presentation. Suppose you aren’t a coder but are very familiar with presentations. In that case, I recommend trying Slidev to get a taste of what it is like to code and increase your familiarity with web technologies.


I hope this post helped you with some new places to explore how to make your next presentation. During the pandemic, I searched high and low for ways to improve my presentations, and these are some of the things I found. Did you find something worth sharing? Feel free to let me know!

Would I still use Excel for Contract Management?Many people would like to use Excel to manage their contract data. After two years of operating such a system, would I still recommend it?Love.Law.Robots.HoufuAnother one of my Microsoft Office posts.

#tech #MicrosoftOffice #MicrosoftPowerPoint #Ideas #Slidev #Presentation #Books #Programming #Training

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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Sometime in 2019, I read Technical Blogging and realised several things missing about my blog. That's when I wrote, “Why I would use Excel for my Contract Management System”, as a demonstration of what I learned. Lo and behold, it is one of the best performing posts on the blog.

I want to think that the post was pretty effective. Try and answer a need that a reader may have, etc. However, I think it's more likely because people really want to use Excel to manage their contracts.

Why I would use Excel for my Contract Management SystemHow do I get on this legal technology wave? Where do I even start? A “contract management system” or a “document management system” (“CMS”) is a good place. Business operations are not affected, but the legal department can get their hands dirty and show results for it. If you wouldLove.Law.Robots.Houfu

Two years have passed. Do I still have the same opinion? Would I use Excel for contract management?

I am still using Excel.

Let's go to the ending first: I am still using this system after two years. Many of the complaints I expected still held:

  • It's incredibly tedious. I don't really have the time to input all the fields properly. With the pandemic situation, it's not been straightforward to get cheap help either.
  • Some of the fields I selected were not so helpful. For example, the free text input for some fields like services etc., made it difficult to gain insight across broad data ranges.
  • It just isn't convenient. I wanted badly for the system to let me know when there were expiring contracts. However, I had to set a time manually to open the document and extract the information. This was not a commitment that I could keep easily.

However, the system stood up to be counted on when I needed it. I have been able to locate and check previous contracts, which the original department could not find. Furthermore, when I needed to find out the number of jurisdictions we did business with, it was a simple Pivot chart. A pretty graph I could show my management in less than an hour.

Lessons Learnt

Even though I have stuck with Excel, I found my experience illuminating, and it definitely prepared me for my other projects in implementing document automation and e-signature. Here's a list of lessons I have learned that will give you insights into your own journey.

1. Don't underestimate Excel.

This old green toolbox wears its age well and hints at owners long past, their workday woes and triumphs—the daily grind. Photo by Susan Holt Simpson / Unsplash

The Office 365 apps are not only ubiquitous but are also very malleable. The example close to a tech lawyer's heart is Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is not an excellent tool for writing court submissions and contracts. But they can do that, as well as letters, forms, notices, policies, documentation and the list. Since you can find Word on many computers at our workplaces, they are used ad nauseam even when there are better ways to write letters or contracts.

If you're impressed with what a word processor like Microsoft Word can do, wait till you see Excel. Of course, writing court submissions with Excel appears farfetched, but I have come across contracts written with Excel. More sophisticated (and correct) uses of Excel include compiling and analysing data and presenting summaries.

If you manage your contracting data in Excel, Excel can process such data to extract and analyse data, as we did in my 2019 post. The information you input in the form might look like a table, but it's become more than that. Using its built-in functions, you can extract and manipulate the data inside.

So, if you find Microsoft Office apps on your computer, don't dismiss them too quickly. It's definitely a part of your toolbox, and you can do some pretty amazing things with them.

2. Seek data, not information

Document folders on the shelvesPhoto by Viktor Talashuk / Unsplash

A strange insight came to me once I tried to push Excel to do more with my information. What's the point of putting in the dates of the contract, the jurisdictions of the counterparty, or governing law of the contract? The most immediate answer is that it summarises the contract and its risk profile as a lawyer. When it's a table, I can broadly see this information across a range of contracts.

For a computer or a program like Excel, this risk profile information has no meaning by itself. To make your data work harder for you, a program like Excel has to recognise special characteristics like dates, categories and numbers. Once Excel knows more about the data it is handling, further processing like analytics over a time span or clustering becomes possible.

Once you have that going, you are no longer dictating to Excel what your information is and how your information should be presented. Now Excel can do some of the heavy lifting for you in computing your data as you explore it. Doing more with less! New insights!

In my experience, staring at the information you have at hand doesn't always immediately deliver data. Special insights came when I used the system more and realised what other information I could capture. Suppose you could explore your contract data with purpose-built systems. That's awesome. However, if you only have access to Excel, it's better to use that than to be led by your feelings around the information.

3. The best tool for the job can be Excel

I had a few hours to kill in Copenhagen, so I went to the Sorte Diamant Library to take some photos. Libraries are quiet places and staff members aren’t always thrilled to hear camera shutters go off. As I was firing away, I noticed a staffer approaching from my side. I said a photographers’ prayer and prepared to get told off. He said to follow him and I obliged. We walked through a door with a “staff only” sign, found our way down a narrow corridor and entered a huge room, dimly lit, filled with archived books. “You’ll get good shots in here”, the librarian said and then got back to work.Photo by Marten Bjork / Unsplash

In reality, you would not be innovating in a vacuum. There might already be several tools in your organisation, and they may have users too. Google Docs is all right, and I'm not too fond of Microsoft Word. I really like Notion too. Would I be able to convince everyone around me to drop Microsoft Word and adopt Google Docs or Notion immediately? It's a tall order.

This is what “no-code” should look like — NotionWhat do we really want from a “no-code” product? Notion shows we want well designed software which can deliver a big impact in small ways.Love.Law.Robots.Houfu

Furthermore, your solution is supposed to fill gaps in the organisation. Every organisation is different so that the best solution has to be customised for each organisation. There may be places and times where adopting a complete, point to point solution is the best approach. Very often, though, you'd have to do some real work of substituting, eliminating, consolidating or reusing something that's already there. You have to lay the groundwork.

A tech lawyer shouldn't focus on what tools are out there but what tools he can have to do the job. At times, leadership is not so forthcoming to invest in a costly platform. To make do, you have to take a look at your toolbox and what you have there. Many of us will find Excel there, so we have to make the best use of it. Explore it, and you will find a pretty powerful tool.


I ain't ashamed to say I use Excel. Compared to having nothing , this is still a much better situation.

Using Excel, the contract management system may have entered a static point — I can't really find a way to improve it significantly using Excel only. As I mentioned in my 2019 post:

However, once you can demonstrate practical benefits and a workflow, stepping up to a real made for the purpose document or contract management system is easier to climb.

The significant improvement now would be to get something that's made for its purpose.

Even so, you could, as I did, find that significant improvement is hard to attain. It's too radical a change, and I can't really demonstrate the benefits that would persuade large sections of folks who may not like the change. If that's the case, we may have to live with our Excel CMS for just a while longer.

On the other hand, there are other aspects in your legal department that you might find lacking, such as e-signatures or intake systems. Perhaps it's time to bring these up to scratch as well. Once others get used to e-signatures, it's a shorter leap to conclude that Excel is not the best solution we can have. Innovation is always a long journey, and at some point, you'd look back at your Excel CMS and find it a milestone of your early efforts.

#tech #ContractManagementSystem #Contracts #LegalTech #MicrosoftOffice #E-signature

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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I really like Notion

I have a confession to make. I really like Notion. Notion, at its most basic, is a note-taking application. It allows you to create pages that contain various content, like web links, markdown, checklists, embedded content and so on. I am not alone too in liking Notion — look for the #notion hashtag on Twitter, and you'd find people rabidly professing their love. They aren't celebrities trying to sell something, but normal and authentic people who love a product.

Notion – The all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis, and databases.A new tool that blends your everyday work apps into one. It’s the all-in-one workspace for you and your team.Notion

My wife, who is a bit flabbergasted that I recommend Notion for everything , told me frankly, “Isn't this like Todoist? Or some journal app? There are dozens of such programs out there on the Internet. Free or paid.”

It's true. You can find dozens of apps that can provide you with a Kanban. It's a crowded field.

But Notion is special.

To me, it's a content management system that is very user friendly, yet very powerful at the same time. Like my wife says, the kanban, the markdown, the images, whatever, all those features aren't very interesting. However, you can dive straight into the app and create any of them in Notion. There isn't much to configure or install. You don't get to code it. To be frank, your interaction with Notion doesn't go further than typing text on a keyboard or enabling some option on a pop-up toolbar.

Is “no-code” for lawyers... or losers?

This brings me to the concept of “no-code” or “low code”. Apparently, lawyers are highly allergic to coding anything, so the idea that you don't have to do any coding is a feature. Among the front runners of this feature is Documate. It is a document assembly service built on docassemble but turns all that “programming” into buildable boxes so you don't have to do any coding. Another non-legal example is Scratch, an MIT project that teaches children how to program using blocks.

Document Automation Software – DocumateLegal document automation software to create powerful workflows that push data into your templates and forms.Documate

I haven't used Documate before, so I can't tell you whether it's good. Judging by its community though, it looks great. If you are attracted to its “no-code” premise and terrified of having to learn YAML and Jinga/Python in order to use docassemble, you should definitely give it a go.

As I can code, the idea of “no-code” turns me off though. Being able to tinker with a product is the fun part to me. Telling me I can't code means I cannot fully utilise the product. Once you become familiar with the capabilities of the product, your inability to code starts to look like the true barrier to achieving something. Suddenly, it's your fault, and that feeling really sucks.

It doesn't have to be this way. The opposite of “no-code” or “low code” isn't to code everything. To put it in another way, a product that asks you to do everything yourself is terrible. Ultimately a product has to provide features that you can use to achieve your aims. A particular set of features might be so limiting that it can do only one thing (and maybe do that one thing well). However, a different set of features could be so intriguing that you can use it for everything.

Think of “no-code” or “low code” this way:

  • You hardly ever need to code in Microsoft Word. Yet you can create any kind of document you want. No code ftw!
  • It ain't obvious, but you do some coding when you input a formula in Microsoft Excel. However, this “low code” environment allows you to perform calculations and filters and then use the output to visualize data. Excel is a prototypical database, a custom program and a report generator. Oops, sorry, Excel is a spreadsheet program.

Why I would use Excel for my Contract Management SystemHow do I get on this legal technology wave? Where do I even start? A “contract management system” or a “document management system” (“CMS”) is a good place. Business operations are not affected, but the legal department can get their hands dirty and show results for it. If you wouldLove.Law.Robots.HoufuSome good advice: consider using stuff you have already installed for innovation rather than inventing the wheel.

It's important to note that these Microsoft Office programs don't advertise themselves as “no-code”. They're still easy to use and accessible to all types of users.

Using Notion to improve my wife's website

So if you've been following so far, I think Notion is a great product that is equal parts friendly and powerful. It's also improving with a killer feature — an API. So a great product is now available to be integrated with others, making it even more powerful.

Notion APIConnect Notion pages and databases to the tools you use every day, creating powerful workflows.Notion API

My use case shows how you can use Notion to make small, impactful improvements to your projects.

Problem Statement

My wife is diligently developing her illustrator side hustle on her website, which I developed in roughly a week using NextJS. As an illustrator, a gallery is an important showcase of her work. Even though I had no qualms about doing it, being able to manage the content on the gallery herself would be a good feature. Content gets on the website quicker, and she'd get full autonomy on how to present it.

How the end product is going to look like – The Gallery page features categories where illustrations are organised. The pages for individual galleries feature a gallery of illustrations for the selected categories. Individual images feature some metadata.

My wife is not a coder, so choosing a data format for her was going to be challenging. It has to work with the website and work in her workflow too. A full-fledged content management system like WordPress would surely be overkill. However, explaining to her the intricacies of JSON, YAML or TOML would probably turn her off as well.

To turn you off, here's how the original YAML file looked like:

—- – caption: Travel sketches dateupdated: '2021-03-02' id: 3 location: travels title: Adventures and travels images: – caption: '' source: travels1.jpg thumbnailCaption: '' – caption: '' source: travels2.jpg thumbnailCaption: '' – caption: '' source: travels3.jpg thumbnailCaption: '' – caption: '' source: travels_4.jpg thumbnailCaption: '' portrait: true

I'd call this “code lite” like docassemble since she only has to edit one text file. But this will become problematic very fast:

  • What does “travels_1.jpg” mean? How do I write a caption for something which I don't even know what it is?
  • This is a text file, so the actual images are missing. It turns out that she still has to send the file to me, and then I have to rename it, and errm... a bunch of other manual steps before it gets on the website.
  • It's not difficult for an ordinary user to commit errors on YAML. For example, the indents are significant. Any typo on the source file names is sufficient to break the system as well.

Notion Everywhere!

Enter Notion. It does all of the above and it does it even better. The YAML text file is now replaced with a screen that looks like this:

Each box is clickable, and it leads you to the illustration's own page.

Deceptively, it looks like a gallery, but its underlying structure is a database. So I can view all my pictures in a user-friendly gallery, which allows for searching and filtering. Furthermore, the gallery packs an interface for me to upload new illustrations. It's not obvious from the screenshot, but you can even create new categories of illustrations.

Editing the metadata of an individual illustration is also straightforward:

The gallery also allows my wife to attach her illustration to the individual item, so I am able to get everything I need to create the gallery from Notion.

Finally, using Notion API, the NextJS website generator grabs all the information from Notion to create the gallery you now see on the website. (NB: As of writing the Notion API does not support images, so that step is still manual at this time.)

Once you have decided on the scheme of your data, you can directly translate it into a user-friendly Notion page. My wife doesn't need to touch any code, but she still gets to plan her gallery in the way she wants. (Now she just has to scan some illustrations. 😝)


I hope this demonstration gets you to question what we really want from “no-code” or “low code”. It's sexy to claim that lawyers don't get to touch any code, or that they can automate their workflows by dragging and dropping some boxes. However, we can be more discerning than that. What exactly are the features of this product? What can I do with it? Does it make me pull my hair out at the limitations it imposes on me? Or does it offer to sacrifice me on the altar of my crappy computer skills? In the end, designing a good product is a lot more difficult than having an effect that doesn't need you to code. Even a product made for general use (like Word or Notion) might be more relevant than a product that is labelled “legal tech”.

And if you ask me, a good barometer of a great product is the fans who are willing to say nice things about it.

#Programming #tech #docassemble #blog #MicrosoftOffice #Notion #LegalTech

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu

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How do I get on this legal technology wave? Where do I even start? A “contract management system” or a “document management system” (“CMS”) is a good place. Business operations are not affected, but the legal department can get their hands dirty and show results for it.

If you would like a CMS, then the next question is how actually to do it? If you have the budget and the resources, getting a neat and fancy tech solution is excellent. If you're strapped for cash and need to be creative, a solution may be hiding in your computer.

For this little victory, I present to you the most powerful application in the Microsoft Office family — Microsoft Excel. It’s a spreadsheet program that does well with numbers and formulas, but since it started added fonts and cell shading (apparently it was the pioneer), some people have used for other purposes. This includes our CMS.

Microsoft Office PROTIP : Instead of using Word to lay out complicated information, try using Excel instead. A massive table with multiple rows and columns, or trying to fit too much data on one page. Put all the information in one worksheet and print it to fit the sheet on one page. Done! (You might want to question yourself why you are trying to present something so complicated though.)

Hey, wait a second! Isn’t Microsoft Excel a spreadsheet program? If we are compiling a table of information, shouldn’t we be using a database program? Like Microsoft Access? Wrong tool for the job, right?!

Excel can be used for your Contract Management System

I have got nothing against database programs. Heck, my first programming project when I was a teenager was to create a database application detailing the lives of my hamsters. Reports, Forms, queries — I am quite okay with all that. However, there are several reasons why I would still use Excel.

  • Everyone has Excel: If you already work in an environment with Microsoft Office, everyone has Excel. There is no need to install anything new. Compared to a fancy dandy web app (no guarantees about user interface either) or even Microsoft Access, more people are likely to accept using Excel compared to other applications.
  • Anyone can use Excel : Excel is a battle-hardened program that people of different skill levels have used. You will find that more people are able to access and use your CMS. This is important if you are not going to be the one inputting information into the system. You can actually tell your intern to get in there and just do it. Access (and probably other programs) do have a learning curve, and you will have to teach every new user.
  • Excel has underrated features which are very useful for a CMS : Excel is over 30 years old, but it has been improving all this time. There are two features I would highlight:
  1. Formatting as Table unlocks sorting, filtering by phrases and other dandy stuff. You can even filter and sort by colour. I use these features to filter say the contracts that are expiring in the current quarter. I also can filter information such as the place where the contract is formed or the contracting party.
  2. Pivot Tables also help to organise data in a way to gain new insights. For example, I can find out quickly which jurisdictions my counterparties are from.
  • Hyperlinks: Some organisations may store their soft copy contracts in file servers, and it becomes easy to provide access to such soft copies through hyperlinks quickly. For a listing of General Terms and Conditions which Business uses and Legal has reviewed, you can also embed an object in your Excel file together with Legal and business’s comments. This way, everyone knows which GTC we have reviewed.

You can adopt this Excel CMS Format

Here is a blank format of an Excel Contract Management System you can download. You can modify or adapt it in any way you deem fit.

CMS Format CMS Format.xlsx 15 KB download-circle

Here are a few highlights of the form:

  • The format is divided into a few sections — Meta, Counterparty, Contract Term and Subject.
  • In the Meta section, you can adapt to suit your organisation’s needs and quirks. For example, we need every contract approved by a form, and we link the form here. There is also a link to a soft copy Word-editable version of the contract if it is available.
  • In the Counterparty section, this is information relating to your contract parties (not yourself obviously). You can also have Yes-No (or unsure) columns to filter.
  • The Contract Term and Subject sections refer to important information what you would like to review quickly using the sorting and filtering functions.

Some Limitations in your Excel Contract Management System

The Excel CMS presents a rough and ready format you can use to get your contract management system tooled up quickly. The filter and sorting has immediate benefits even in contract review, since now I can have access to other similar or related contracts across the company to see what are the standards.

However, the system has many limitations:

  • The table is mighty wide and might not fit very well on one piece of paper. It makes data entry difficult, although I find that Excel’s data form does alleviate some of the problem.
  • Summarising data (for example, I want to know all the contracts with Company X, but I do not need to see who the Person in Charge was) is nearly impossible. You can hack it out by freezing or hiding cells, but this is not a long term solution.
  • Data input can be quite tedious. That’s a lot of columns which are prone to arbitrary data input or mistakes. Not to mention that it can be very time-consuming.

However, once you can demonstrate practical benefits and a workflow, stepping up to a real made for the purpose document or contract management system is easier to climb.

Would I still use Excel for Contract Management?Many people would like to use Excel to manage their contract data. After two years of operating such a system, would I still recommend it?Love.Law.Robots.HoufuHere's my follow up to this post – two years after using this system. (Free subscription required)


This little victory challenges the idea that you have to leap into a system someone made for that purpose to get tech on your side. Using tools that your organisation already has and paid for, this is a straightforward hack. For the win!

#tech #MicrosoftOffice #LegalTech #ContractManagementSystem #Updated

Author Portrait Love.Law.Robots. – A blog by Ang Hou Fu