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. 

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