Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Software that helps lawyers streamline their legal writing

The blog Attorney@work has a review of a new software product called WordRake that purports to help lawyers eliminate legalese and wordiness from their writing.  It works much like spell-check by scanning the document for multisyllabic words and either eliminating them or suggesting simpler substitutes.  Attorney@work's Carol Gelber tried the product on several legal documents and was impressed with its ability to streamline writing and suggest changes that make it easier to comply with court imposed page limitations.

I tested WordRake on several publicly filed documents and found that it worked quickly (13 pages of single-spaced text were raked in less than a minute) and made many suggestions that, I believe, streamlined the writing in the documents and made the documents easier to read. Lawyers who submit documents to courts with strict word count limitations should find WordRake extremely helpful in identifying potential cuts. For example, WordRake suggested that “pursuant to” become “under,” that “in respect to” become “regarding” and that “in the absence of” become “absent.” That’s six words saved right there. Going beyond simple word substitutions, WordRake also identified several complex passive-voice constructions and suggested more direct active statements.

WordRake is not a one-button fix for all writing, and it can only work if the author reviews all of the proposed changes to determine which are truly improvements. For example, not all of WordRake’s suggestions will be logically correct in the context of your document or consistent with a particular grammatical construction. Sometimes you will reject WordRake’s suggestions when you want your writing to track the language of a statute or an important case. I have also noticed that WordRake can be brutal on the introductory phrases that often help a reader move more smoothly from one idea to another. In those cases, WordRake allows you to reject its suggestions and return to your original text, or even to write something completely different (and better) having considered WordRake’s input.

I found WordRake easy to use and helpful for spotting opportunities to simplify my writing. After a short time working with the program, I also noticed that I was spotting unnecessary words as I was writing and editing my own work before I ever clicked the Rake button. In the same way that even the best spellers have come to rely on spell-check as a final safety net to catch misspellings, I believe that even good writers will still find value in WordRake to help them quickly spot and deal with extra words clogging up their writing.

Continue reading here.


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