An Incredible Tool for Surveyors

One of the most boring and lengthy jobs that a surveyor can do is writing legal descriptions. Legal descriptions are the bane of the surveyor’s existence. If you were to ask for a legal description on a particular parcel definition from 20 different surveyors, they would all look different. Each surveyor has his or her own way that they want the legal to read. The same information is there, but the phrasing is different everywhere. To date, there has been no really good way to automate the writing of legal descriptions. LandXML Reporting does a fair job, but editing the XSL style sheets is difficult at best, and requires a working knowledge of the XML language. So far, I’ve never found a really, really good legal description writer. However, that changed over the weekend.

As I was thinkiing aloud (?) in the Autodesk Civil 3D Discussion Groups last week about parcels, I got an email from Terry Dotson of DotSoft. Terry happened to have a program that did just what I was asking for – including the property “tie” in a parcel description. This is something that is sorely missing in Civil 3D, and should be added to make the software truly capable from a surveying point of view. He offered to let me look at, work with, and review his program LegalWorks. In addition, I also got to download ToolPac 10.0 and XL2CAD, a tool used to import Microsoft Excel spreadsheets into AutoCAD products. In my conversations with Terry, seems as if great things may be headed down the tracks, but for today, we’re going to talk about LegalWorks.

First of all, LegalWorks loads into any AutoCAD-based program from version 2000 and up. In 2007, it loads via the CUI (Customizable User Interface), and puts up a nice pulldown menu and one small toolbar. Since I tend to use menus more than I do toolbars, I went ahead and unloaded the toolbar in favor of the menu. It’s very unobtrusive and clean – here’s a shot:

Now, with this version, you can’t use Civil 3D parcels. Everything has to be either a polyline or lines/arcs. This isn’t that big a deal, for the most part. For Land Desktop users, the program will import Land Desktop parcels. All you do is hit the “Generate Descriptions” button, then pick your objects. I used a closed polyline as my “parcel” and had another polyline that defined the land tie. Here’s what my overall drawing looked like:

Here’s a closeup of my “parcel” with labels already added:

Now, once I’ve got my “parcel” (I keep using the word “parcel” in quotes here, because I want you to realize that this is a parcel in the sense that it’s a piece of land that I’m working with and not a Civil 3D parcel object) defined, I can create the legal. I do this by going to the LegalWorks menu pulldown, and selecting Create Descriptions. That brings up the following dialog box:

Notice a few things about this box. I can select polylines, or I can select lines and arcs. I can edit the text in any way that I want to. I can use one of the buttons on the right to send my newly created legal description to either Microsoft Word or to my drawing as Mtext. I’ve got a very nicely written legal description here.

Quite possibly the best thing about LegalWorks goes back to my earlier discussion regarding the wants and needs of different surveyors. What’s so absolutely incredible about this program is the ability to edit the template that’s used to create the legal description. You can do that by selecting the Description Defaults button, which brings up the following dialog box:

This allows me to select various options of how I want my legals written, and most importantly, manually input the desired wording of my legal description. Once I get my template set up, I can then export my preferences to a custom template for future use.

One of the nicest features of this software has nothing to do with the preferences, or the legal descriptions themselves, but with the low cost of the software. At $195 for the initial license and $100 per additional seat (at time of publication of this article), you absolutely can’t beat it. Considering that most surveyors bill out over half that for one hour’s work,just a very small number of legal descriptions will more than pay for the cost of the software.

For more information, you can go to the LegalWorks website or email DotSoft for more information.

Have fun!


  1. Kevin Spear says:

    Terry’s got some nice apps. I’ve used the xl2cad for a long time, porting sewer schedules out from the design software into excel, formatted automatically and then pasted into cad. There is nothing more tedious than checking those schedule tables. Using xl2cad made it feel like civil 3d before it existed. OK, now I sound like an infomercial.

  2. Cath says:

    yeah, great apps!

    Have to spread the good news here in the Philippines.
    They might be looking for these incredible tools.

    Thanks for the existence of…=)

  3. rkmcswain says:

    We have site licenses for ToolPac and XL2CAD and use both often.

    Nice review Jason.