Tuesday, December 22, 2015

12 Days of Law School

On the first day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Everyone hates Bluebooking

On the second day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Proofread carefully

On the third day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Avoid legalese

On the fourth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Employ strong verbs

On the fifth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Use passive voice selectively

On the sixth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Follow local rules

On the seventh day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Use serial commas

On the eighth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Judgment has no “e”

On the ninth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Deploy your spell checker

On the tenth day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Thorough but concise

On the eleventh day of law school, my writing prof told me—
Explain first, argue second

On the twelfth day of law school, my writing prof told me
Be forthright with the law


Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year!

I'll be back with new posts in January.

In the meantime, enjoy my favorite rendition of 12 Days:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lawyers, Liars by Jonathan Shapiro

I recently read Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling by Jonathan Shapiro. I may do a more thorough review soon but, in the meantime, I wanted to share some of my favorite food-for-thought from this funny, breezy, yet somehow substantive book about the importance of storytelling in the law.

On timing: "For lawyers and writers, why and when someone chooses to say something are as important as what they actually say. Story choice, timing, and representation matter as much as content." And while the storyteller is "in charge," for the story to work, the conversation "can't be one-sided." 

On using what you're given: "Unlike writers, lawyers are more limited by the story elements they are given. We cannot make things up out of thin air; we must win with what we have....The materials in the box are the case facts and the law, along with anything else fate has provided. If you can use the materials to build a persuasive story, you can save [your client]. It depends on your intelligence and creativity. Whether the resolution is happy or sad depends on how well you do your job. Begin by knowing what is in the box." 

On "the truth": "There is a difference between television truth and legal truth. But they have one thing in common. Neither is the actual truth."

On editing: "Having written their script, lawyers should edit their stories with the same amount of thought and planning. That often means rewriting the script to reflect additional information, better material, or new ideas. It means being flexible, taking advice, changing things to make the story better. In short, editing requires the exact skill and temperament most writers and lawyers don't have."

On logos: "Not everything in law or life is logical."

Lawyers, Liars is currently available only in hardback, but the paperback version will be released in February 2016. 


Friday, December 4, 2015

Thank You

The ABA has selected Lady (Legal) Writer as a 2015 Blawg 100 honoree!

Many thanks to all who regularly read my posts and share them with others. The feedback and support I've gotten from readers has been wonderful. I hope you continue to enjoy this blog. If you've got feedback for me or would like to see a topic covered, please don't hesitate to let me know! 

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

American Legal Style PerfectIt: A Review

American Legal Style PerfectIt is billed as a product to "improve the process of editing and proofreading legal documents." According to its website, PerfectIt checks "the most common errors and tricky or hard-to-remember rules" from The Bluebook, Bryan Garner's The Red Book, Black's Law Dictionary and other style guides to locate errors in legal documents and recommend corrections. It basically works like a spell-checker by flagging issues, recommending changes, and allowing you to accept or reject its recommendations. 

The Tests

PerfectIt checks, among other style issues: 


These functions far exceed those available through Word's generic spelling and grammar checker. But PerfectIt does even more. It checks for Bluebook errors (i.e. correcting the abbreviation for Tennessee Court of Appeals from Tenn.App. to Bluebook-compliant Tenn. App.). It ensures you've removed all Track Changes and comment bubbles. It flags straight quotes and suggests "smart quotes" instead (the curly ones my Blogger platform won't allow me to use). PerfectIt even flags tricky exceptions to general grammar and usage rules (e.g. corrects "previously-used documents" to "previously used documents").

Ease of Use

PerfectIt is easy to use and, as promised, there's no learning curve.
PerfectIt appears as a ribbon on your Microsoft Office toolbar. To use, you simply click the PerfectIt ribbon and select "Launch PerfectIt." I intentionally chose not to read any directions first to see how easy the tool is to use, and I can confirm that it's easy to use. For those who want a little more direction, the "Getting Started' and "Using PerfectIt" buttons provide tons of information on the product.  

The "Manage Styles" and "Choose tests" buttons allow you to modify the software, instructing it to check certain sections or run only some of its many tests. Further, you can use the style sheet editor to customize PerfectIt to your firm or department style. For example, you can set PerfectIt to flag certain words or phrases (e.g. "cease and desist") and to suggest a recommend change (e.g. "cease"), to check that your document contains Oxford commas, and to ensure that certain words or phrases always or never appear in italics.  

My Take

I tested PerfectIt on both a settlement agreement and a summary judgment motion. It caught errors in both. For example, in the settlement agreement, the software noted an internal inconsistency--I referred to the document as both "Agreement" (my defined term) and "agreement." In my brief, PerfectIt flagged my inconsistent use of "re-confirmed" and "reconfirmed." I changed my brief to contain a few citation errors and PerfectIt caught them. It even flagged legalese ("pursuant to") and suggested a change ("under").

The only drawback I noticed was how the program treated the word "court." At times I used the term generically (the court held) and at times to speak directly to the reader (this Court). The program flagged my use as inconsistent (which it was, but intentionally so). I believe, however, that the customization feature will allow me to add the phrase "this Court" to the list of phrases checked and to prefer capitalized "court" when preceded by the word "this."

A word to the wise: PerfectIt is subject to the GIGO principle--garbage in, garbage out. Like any computer software, PerfectIt does what the user tells it to do. So if the user isn't making thoughtful decisions about the recommended changes (remember the sea sponge attorney?), the end product will suffer. The program is very easy to use, but you can't simply run it and print. You must decide whether to implement the recommended change for each flagged item.   

A single PerfectIt license is $99 (a one-time fee, I believe) and, in my opinion, is well worth that price. Based on my test, PerfectIt does what it promises to do--reviews legal documents for a variety of grammar, usage, and citation errors and suggests ways to improve the document checked. I think PerfectIt is a great product, and I'll continue to use it on all my legal documents. If you'd like to test PerfectIt before purchasing, you can download a free 30-day trial here.

*I received a free license to test the PerfectIt product, but I am not being paid for this review, and all opinions are my own.