Legal Versioning

Legal Versioning is a standardized, readable, and computable way to number versions of legal forms, notices, and policies.

Legal Versioning gives drafters a concise way to tell users of old versions how to review new versions when they come out. Legal Versioning also enables computers to understand and compare version numbers, so software can automate rote document management tasks.

Summary

Versions are written as numeric codes, as for computer software: 1.0.0, 1.2.0, 2.0.1, and so on.

The first number is the edition number. The second number is the update number. The third number is the correction number. Version 1.7.3 denotes the third correction to the seventh update to the first edition.

For each new version of a project, drafters increase one of the three numbers, depending on the changes they made:

Drafters can also number working drafts of forthcoming editions, updates, and corrections by putting a draft number after a dash at the end. Version 7.0.0-3 denotes a third draft of a new seventh edition. Version 3.4.0-1 denotes the first draft of a fourth update to a third edition.

Editions

The first number is the edition number. Publishing a version like 9.0.0 followed by a higher-numbered version like 10.0.0 tells users of 9.0.0 or any earlier edition to review the entire text of new 10.0.0 to decide if it meets their needs.

Example:

Jane publishes a form nondisclosure agreement as 1.0.0. Later on, Jane completely redrafts the form from scratch and publishes her new version as 2.0.0.

Bob used 1.0.0 with business clients for several months. On seeing new 2.0.0, he understands he should read 2.0.0 top to bottom to see if it will work with his business and clients.

Updates

Drafters often update terms to add or remove material, leaving most language unchanged. Versions like 1.1.0 or 10.0.15 describe these changes.

Publishing a new 10.1.0 tells users of 10.0.0 they should compare 10.0.0 to new 10.1.0 and review the changes to see whether the changes serve their needs. But users of old 9.0.0 should review new 10.1.0 top-to-bottom.

Example:

Adam publishes a form product-returns policy as 7.0.0. Super Mart reviews 7.0.0 and begins using it in stores.

Adam later changes 7.0.0 to replace language about cash refunds. Since the rest of the policy remains the same, Adam publishes his newly revised policy as 7.1.0. Super Mart’s team sees new 7.1.0, compares it to 7.0.0, which they’re already using, and reviews the new language on cash refunds. Since Super Mart prefers the old language on cash refunds, so they stick with 7.0.0 in their stores.

Corrections

Some changes don’t add, remove, or change meaningful pieces of language, but merely correct spelling, structural, or other technical errors. Versions like 3.0.1 or 7.11.3 describe these changes.

Publishing a new 10.0.1 tells users of 10.0.0 that they should use the new 10.0.1 with or without reviewing the changes. Of course, users may always choose to review. But the use of a correction number allows drafters to communicate when changes fix errors, rather than adjust scope or intended effects.

Example:

Professor Miller publishes a privacy notice for medical patients as 3.3.0. Doctor Waller begins using 3.3.0 in his practice.

Professor Miller later spots a spelling error. She quickly corrects it, and publishes a new 3.3.1. As soon as Doctor Waller sees that a new 3.3.1 is available, he begins using it, wondering why he hadn’t spotted the typo himself.

Drafts

Drafters often create working drafts before publishing final versions. Versions like 8.0.0-1 or 2.1.5-3 describe these drafts.

Publishing a new 13.0.0-1 tells users of 12.0.0 to keep using 12.0.0. The new edition is only a working draft, not recommended for use in practice. If a later 13.0.0-2 comes out later, drafters working together to finalize 13.0.0 know to start from 13.0.0-2 rather than the old 13.0.0-1.

Example:

A community advocacy group is preparing a form community foundation charter. The lead drafter prepares an initial draft, 1.0.0-1. After a round of comments, the group produces 1.0.0-2.

Bob wants to start a community foundation for his local neighborhood. He sees the advocacy group’s 1.0.0-2 online. Since he does not see a final 1.0.0 without a draft number, he contacts the advocacy group to ask about the status of the form project.