Using Scrivener for Legal Writing

I am writing a book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published by the ABA. As I prepared to write the book, I researched different software programs that would make it easier for me to organize my thoughts and keep all of my information readily accessible as I wrote. I ultimately settled on Scrivener (Mac only update: now available for Windows).

At its website, Scrivener is described as:

(A) word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

I have found it to be an invaluable tool that is making the process of writing and organizing the information I’ve collected about cloud computing so much simpler and streamlined.

As I was using it the other day, it occurred to me that I would have loved a program like this when I was a civil litigator. Scrivener could easily make the process of writing and organizing a Summary Judgment motion so simple.

I’ve always been a very visual person, especially when writing motions. I used to find myself getting so frustrated as I flipped through stacks of papers, trying to find a certain document, case or exhibit. Complex cases with large numbers of documents, deposition transcripts and exhibits were particularly difficult to manage. Scrivener, or a program like it, would have made the process so much easier.

To begin with, each portion of the motion, from the Notice of Motion to the supporting affidavits and the legal memorandum could be treated as a “chapter,” which is simply a folder within the document.  The next step is to associate supportive documentation (exhibits, cases, etc.) with each section of your motion. So when you’re viewing that document, there is a list of associated files alongside of it which can be opened with a click. The associated files can be text files, image files, websites, audio files, or even video files.

In other words, you could create separate documents which contain the texts of cases that you plan to use in your memorandum and then link the cases to the specific sections in the memorandum where you plan to refer to them. One nice feature of this system is that you can link, or associate, the same case with different sections of memorandum, if you intend to refer to it more than once for different legal principles.

You could also scan exhibits into your system and associate them with the affidavits to which they will be attached. Likewise, deposition transcripts, many of which are now provided in digital format, can also be associated with a section and are then readily accessible. Cutting and pasting testimony into an affidavit or memorandum is thus all the more simple when using Scrivener.

You can test drive Scrivener using their 30-day trial, which allows you to use it for 30 separate days, as opposed to offering you a 30 day time frame in which to test it.

So give it a try and let me know how it works for you. I’m very interested in your feedback.


  1. Avatar Phil Rhodes says:


    I look forward to reading your book. I’m trying to find good cloud computing solutions for my solo/va practice. No Scrivener for Windows?

  2. Avatar Bill Blue says:

    Can you recommend a Linux alternative?

  3. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    A while back, I asked BoingBoing‘s resident science fiction writer, Cory Doctorow, what he uses for writing his novels in Ubuntu Linux. He used Bluefish, a text editor, but wasn’t thrilled with it, and, but that has way more features than you need—and those features are not necessarily helpful for writing a book.

    As a text editor, I love Bluefish, but it is not a great book-writer. We are using OO.o to work on The Lawyering Survival Guide, but we aren’t far enough along to know whether it is going to do the trick.

    I have run across a couple of book-writer projects for Linux over the years, but nothing that has gotten close to the point of maturity. It has been a while since I looked, though.

  4. After 20-odd years as a journalist, editor and publisher, and latterly systems consultant, I would recommend to ANYONE with a serious writing requirement to buy or lease a Macintosh. The reasons are straight-forward:
    50% faster learning curve to use ANY application on the Mac
    30% greater productivity compared to equally competent user on Windows
    50% greater productivity compared to most Windows users

    In short, the Mac will do a much better job and faster. If you no longer need the Mac for further writing work, sell it or cancel the lease. But you’ll probably keep it for home/kids/fun anyway.

  5. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    A Mac will also make you coffee, tie your shoes, and make you more attractive to the opposite sex!

    (This, plus the post above, is a load of BS. Productivity depends on the person, not the product. I am half as productive when writing on a Mac because it wants me to use the touchpad instead of keyboard shortcuts, and lacks keys I use constantly (like delete, home, and end). The opposite may be true for you; it depends on your preferences and habits. Buy what you like. Don’t assume everyone else will like it, too.)

  6. Avatar Curtis says:

    Oh boy. Another Mac/PC pie fight.

  7. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    I do not mean to diss Macs. They are great machines if you like them. They are not magic, though, and not everyone will like them.

    Also, strictly speaking, Macs are PCs, too. A PC (personal computer) is a piece of hardware, not an operating system. I know Apple and Microsoft have changed the definition, but they aren’t being accurate.

  8. Scrivener sounds interesting, but since it’s Mac-only and I’m not about to go out and buy a Mac to add to my stable of computers — and I have a VERY NICE 2.6 lb netbook with a battery that lasts most of my day — is there anything similar to it for Windows 7?


  9. Avatar Rob Oakes says:

    @Rick Horowitz: “Is there anything similar to it for Windows 7”

    You might be interested in Liquid Story Binder,, which has many of the same features. It also has a nifty timeline that can be useful when trying to lay out the order of information. I use it for writing scientific information.

    Another alternative which is under development is LyX-Outline, an add-on module for LyX. It will have some of the same features as Scrivener, though it is still under active development.

    For other alternatives, Literature and Latte (the developers of Scrivener) have a nice list at their website.

  10. Avatar P. D. Folk says:

    I haven’t used Scrivener but work in both Mac and Windows environment. While it does not have the wizzy interface of Scrivener and probably is not as feature-rich, Notemap (published by Lexis/Nexis) for the MS Windows environment is a very capable outliner for the legal writer. I use it to outline major articles, motions, briefs, or other text that need structure before I start writing. Notemap also has a rudimentary method for attaching comments or other documents to your text so that these links will travel with the associated text if you reorganize the outline. I mention this only because Notemap is not listed among the Links provided by Literature & Latte to Windows software for writers.

  11. Avatar Eric says:

    Scrivener is a cool program. I have come to really like it for writing. I love writing and building documents, but I just did not find word, pages really helping me with that. Scrivener is great for pulling odds and ends together. — I have not even gotten into the linking features yet. But I can say it is clean, light and best of all -you can drop all of your pdfs etc. into it and take an entire project with you and open it on any computer with scrivener. Very cool. An easy way to take your work and your workspace with you. I also like the customizable full screen view. After 12 hours plugging away on various projects black and white is no fun. Retro neon green on black can be a nice change for the eyes. Word, pages &c. have a place as word processors have a place. Scrivener facilitates generating ideas and text. Word &c are great for formatting the final document and printing.

    Check this out! I only know of one other student at my school using this, but I am happy we ended up chatting!

  12. Avatar Glen says:

    I’ve been using MyInfo to write such projects… It’s much better than Scrivener… The demo is limited, so refer to their site to see what’s on offer in their pro version…

  13. Avatar QLogical says:

    A while back, I stumbled across Lexprompt WRITE (, which is a much easier legal writing software tool that integrates directly with Microsoft Word. I got to participate in their beta and I love the final product.

  14. Avatar ericgyoung says:

    Just came across this article. When I am not lawyering, I write historical nonfiction and use Scrivener for that purpose. It’s a creative idea to use Scrivener for legal writing, but in truth, that is not the purpose for which it is designed. First, what manuscript format option would you choose for a MSJ or any motion? That’s the first step before you can even unlock Scriveners many tools. Unfortunately, the closest option Scrivener offers would be a research paper format, which isn’t really appropriate either. Second, Scrivener has some drawbacks that are significant enough I knuckled down and figured out how to format my nonfiction manuscripts in Word. For example, Scrivener does not allow you to insert images into text, at least not in the version I use. This may not be a frequent problem for attorneys, but I have had occasion where I wanted to insert photographs or architectural drawings directly into a brief because a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. Scrivener does not allow that because manuscript editors do not review manuscripts with pictures embedded in them. In addition, and this is something to be aware of if you wrote a book on cloud computing for lawyers, Scrivener does not play nicely with certain cloud storage services, particularly Google Drive. it has no integrations I am aware of. This was the main reason I stopped using it as my primary manuscript drafting tool. It has to do with the way Scrivener saves files, which is clunky and kind of old-school, frankly. Having said all that, Scrivener’s cork board is a great visual organizational tool that could be useful. However, I don’t personally see the wisdom in using a tool like Scrivener that is not really designed for legal writing, has a relatively steep learning curve, has issues with cloud storage devices, and other functional limitations just to get a cork board to organize my thoughts. If I want an electronic visual app, there are plenty of kanban options out there like Trello, Asana,, Padlet, etc. I don’t consider myself a Scrivener expert by any means. However, at the risk of disagreeing with your suggestion, my opinion is that Scrivener is really a writing tool designed for fiction/nonfiction manuscripts and research papers. That’s it.

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