Drafting legal documents is time-intensive and tedious. Stop wasting time and money — Find out how to use the technology that can help deliver a better process.
A number of products can assist in your drafting and proofreading process to help you save time and deliver a higher quality of work. To offer practical recommendations on selection and implementation, we have Scott Bassett contributing the following guest post.
Scott Bassett practices family appellate law in Michigan. He is a member of the State Bar Appellate Practice Section Council and a past chairperson of the State Bar Family Law Section. He is also a Fellow of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). He became Michigan’s first “virtual” lawyer in 2002 when he closed his physical office and migrated his practice to the Cloud.
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In most practice areas, attorneys spend significant time and energy drafting. And as appellate attorneys, we spend even more time writing than attorneys in other legal specialties. We want our appeal documents to be accurate, concise, and persuasive. Technology can help.
MASS LOMAP RESOURCE: 3 Steps to Document Automation for Lawyers
Most of us prepare documents using Microsoft Word. While there are WordPerfect holdouts, the add-ins available for Word make it hard to justify continuing to use WordPerfect – notwithstanding the much-loved Reveal Codes. Get over it! Learn how to use Word’s Styles and you may soon forget about Reveal Codes.
And now that I’ve offended WordPerfect stalwarts, let me also offend Mac users. Some of the most useful Word add-ins are only available for the Windows operating system (though that’s slowly changing). For that and other reasons, including a huge variety of hardware to choose from, I think appellate lawyers are better off with Windows machines. If you prefer Apple hardware, consider installing Windows 10 on your Mac. Use Boot Camp or a virtualization program like Parallels or VMware Fusion. Then run the Windows version of Office 365, which the latest version of Microsoft Word, on your Mac. This gives you access to all of the great Word add-ins.
My two favorite Word add-ins for improved writing are available for Mac and PC: WordRake and PerfectIt. They do different things, and it’s worth having both. I use a third tool for tables of authorities, Best Authority, that’s only available for Word running on Windows. This helpful technology doesn’t relieve us of the need to proofread manually — technology is fast and efficient, but not yet a substitute for the human eye and brain.
WordRake analyzes your document and makes recommendations for removing useless words and phrases. It does not duplicate the grammar and spell-checking functions built-into Word. I always run Word’s spelling and grammar checker on each motion or brief before I let WordRake analyze my writing.
WordRake displays suggested changes in-line using Word’s Track Changed function. You can quickly go through your document and accept or reject any of WordRake’s suggestions. I usually accept more than half of WordRake’s suggestions. Sometimes the suggested change alters the meaning of a sentence. If so, I reject the change and move on. Usually the suggested change makes my writing clearer and more concise by eliminating unnecessary words.
WordRake for Microsoft Word costs $129 for a one-year subscription. Two and three-year subscriptions are available at a discount. WordRake is licensed for a single computer, not user. You must purchase two licenses if you want to use WordRake on both your desktop and laptop computer. WordRake lets you install and try it for 7 days.
RELATED RESOURCE: WordRake Tips with Ivy Grey (October 13, 2020 Law Practice Tips Blog)
After completing both Word’s built-in spell and grammar check and WordRake’s review, I use PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing. It is designed for legal writing and does a great job of finding inconsistencies in word usage, format, and style that Word’s built-in functions miss.
I use the American Legal Style that comes with PerfectIt. This style sheet checks spelling, capitalization, hyphenation and italicization in legal terms based on Black’s Law Dictionary; finds errors in case citations based on The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation; and suggests style tips from The Red Book: A Manual On Legal Style by Bryan Garner and The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. I love the way it finds and allows me to correct mistakes such as unclosed quotation marks and unclosed parentheses or brackets.
PerfectIt costs $70 per year. It is licensed per user, so you can install it on both your desktop and laptop, as I did. Both WordRake and PerfectIt have free trials. PerfectIt has a 14-day free trial. Neither is cost prohibitive. I view them both as essential tools to improve my appellate legal writing.
MASS LOMAP RESOURCE: PerfectIt: Your Legal Proofreader [Product Review]
THREE: Best Authority.
Another essential tech tool for lawyers who write appellate briefs is Best Authority from Levit & James. It doesn’t improve your writing, but it saves time when your writing is done. Best Authority works only in Microsoft Word running on Windows.
Using Word’s built-in feature to generate a table of authorities involves individually marking citations. That takes time. I don’t always have that kind of time. Unlike Word’s built-in feature for creating a table of authorities, Best Authority automatically scans and recognizes citations in your brief. It then generates a table of authorities in the location you selected prior to the “scan and build” process. Generating the table of authorities is fast.
Best Authority has a 30-day free trial, but you must first fill-out an online form to request an evaluation copy of the software. As a solo practitioner, the less expensive Light Edition of Best Authority meets my needs. The Premium Edition is intended for larger organizations because it offers centralized administration and configurable user permissions.
The initial license fee for the Light Edition is $225 per litigator. It is a perpetual license, but I also subscribe to the Software Subscription Service (SSS), which includes bug fixes and updates. My Light Edition SSS fee for 2017 was $45. The initial license fee for the Premium Edition is $360 per litigator.
Starting in early 2018, Levit and James introduced a beta test of Best Authority Version 5, which included a “pay per document” option with no up-front cost. An individual document is $65, but the price can drop as low as $35 for pre-purchased “packs” of documents. This would be good for lawyers who only occasionally write briefs requiring a table of authorities.
Use a tool for every job. No individual piece of software has all the answers for the complex work that appellate attorneys do. That’s why I’ve concluded that each of these three Word add-ins is worth my money. WordRake is used for all of my documents, not just appellate briefs. There is even a version that works with Outlook so emails are concise and readable. PerfectIt is great for appellate briefs because it catches inconsistence that are otherwise hard to spot and will be missed by Word’s built-in tools. Best Authority is a great time-saver for lawyers handing appeals or filing trial court briefs requiring a table of authorities.