An Amazing Way to Proofread your Legal Documents

Proofreading red pencilIt’s probably a leftover from my days on law review and later as a magazine editor, but I cannot stand to see typos, whether I created the document or not. Especially bad is when I call up a document I have used previously to, say, draft a demurrer, and I find a typo, meaning that the first document was filed with that mistake.

When I receive a brief from opposing counsel, replete with spelling errors, I immediately think less of the attorney for being so sloppy. Especially in the case of spelling errors, it just screams laziness because it means the attorney ignored the red underlining when drafting the brief, and then didn’t take the 30 seconds necessary for a final spell check. No doubt opposing counsel could not care less about my assessment, but what if the judge shares my sanctimonious nature?

I once heard a judge, at a continuing education seminar, explain that he looks for a basis to deny a motion if the attorney used the passive voice. Another judge wrote in a ruling I had happened to see while at court, that he had greatly reduced the amount requested in a fee application because the attorney did not use proper Bluebook citations. He reasoned that if the attorney is that lazy about citing cases, he is probably not very efficient when preparing a motion. If there are judges out there with that sort of mentality, do you really want to submit a brief with grammatical and spelling errors?

The best way to proofread your legal documents.

During my editing days, I learned that the best way to do the final check of a document for errors is to read it out loud. Without exception, every attorney and paralegal who has come to work for me has responded to this suggestion with, “No, I’ve learned to edit by reading the document on the monitor.” In every case, when they’ve submitted their first work product, I find errors in the document, and read the marked up document to them, asking after each error, “were you able to hear that error when I read it to you?” Sometimes this process has to repeat itself two or three more times before they become a believer (or just to avoid the damned visits from me), and soon I hear the lilted voices of all my attorneys and paralegals, echoing through the halls, as they proofread their documents.

This weekend I was reading** a book called Write in Steps, and the author, Ian Stables, went me one better. He agrees that reading aloud is the best way to proofread a document, but he says that it should not be you who reads it.

As I have experienced, when you read your own document, your mind knows what you meant, and it will mentally fill in words and correct errors, keeping you from hearing them. When finalizing a really important document, such as a Supreme Court brief (don’t be too impressed, I’m talking state court; I’ve never had the opportunity to submit a brief to THE Supreme Court), I do my read out loud thing, and then turn it over to my partner to do the same thing. I am amazed that she will sometimes find things I missed, and I know it is because my brain pulled a fast one on me.

Does this mean every document has to read by two people? No. Stables came up with a much better method.

You have your COMPUTER read the document aloud.

A computer can’t be fooled. It will read exactly what is on the page. If your computer reads the document aloud as you follow along, it will force you to hear the mistakes. If a word is misspelled, it will be pronounced in a strange way. If a comma or period is missing, you'll hear the missing pause.

In my first test of this method, I took an article I had just written, and proofread it following my normal read it aloud method. Then I opened the document in a program called Natural Reader, and followed along as it read to me. One mistake had slipped through. I had meant to type “them”, but instead typed “the”. When I read the article aloud, my mind filled in the missing “m” and I read it as “them”. Even as I was reading along with Natural Reader, I saw the word as “them” until the computer said “the”, making the mistake glaringly obvious.

The Natural Reader program is absolutely free. (It’s actually called NaturalReader, with no space, because apparently spaces are evil when it comes to naming software, but I refuse to participate.) If you use Word, you just open the file in Natural Reader, hit the play button, and off you go. It highlights the text as it reads it to help you follow along. If you use Word Perfect (actually, WordPerfect), then you have to first save the document in PDF, and load the PDF into Natural Reader.

I was concerned that Natural Reader would hiccup over the pleading page numbers, but it ignores them. Also, I thought the citations might come out strange, but it handles them with no problem, the exception being that it reads the citation Cal.App.3d as “Cal App three D”, but that makes sense. Who would abbreviate third as 3d other than the legal citation guides? By the way, having the computer read the citations is a good thing, because we tend to just jump over those, assuming they are correct. Now you will be forced to look at them.

The only thing that drives me crazy are the signature lines, which Natural Reader reads as “underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore underscore”. Annoying, huh?

When you first use Natural Reader, you will curse my name, because the voice is set far too slow by default. Fear not, you can adjust the speed at which Natural Reader reads. A “2” setting works best for me, and makes the voice sound more natural as a bonus.

You can upgrade Natural Reader to add some very cool features (like saving documents in mp3 format to listen to them later), but none of them are necessary for the proofreading purpose I am promoting.

** By “read”, I actually mean that I was listening to the book on my Kindle as I ran some weekend errands. If you haven't read my article on how to read three books per week without even trying, go to my Kindle Unlimited Review.

Law Office Software of the Month — NoteScraps

Attorney Software -- NoteScraps

[NOTE: This article that began as a simple software review turned into quite the saga. I've left the entire piecemeal story here for entertainment value, but the bottom line is that this software is now available for FREE (at least for now). Ignore the part that says the software is $20, and read to the end to see how to get if for FREE.]

I can't believe that I first reviewed the program about two years ago, but as I just found myself using it, I decided it deserved an updated review for the benefit of anyone who may not have seen the prior review. When I first published the article, I received a number of emails, mostly from former Tornado Notes users such as myself, thanking me for helping them to find a new, old favorite, as it were.

Right now, are there any sticky notes attached to your computer monitor(s)? Any notes scribbled on legal pads on your desk? If so, you might be a perfect candidate for a simple program called NoteScraps.

Many years ago (geez, I think it might have been in the days of DOS), I used and loved a program called Tornado Notes. The program was like using electronic sticky notes, but with the ability to search them instantly. It was the perfect program for catching information that I might put on a sticky note or, worse, just try to remember. What made Tornado Notes perfect was that it required no effort. Hit the hot-key combination, and up pops a blank note ready for input. Then, when I needed to recall that information, another hot-key combination would pull up all my notes. I would start typing the information I was looking for, and all the notes that did not contain that information would disappear, leaving only the note I was looking for.

Tornado Notes was “upgraded” to a new program that contained far more features, and that was its downfall. The beauty of the program was its total simplicity.

I found a replacement for the old familiar program that I loved so much, called NoteScraps. Continue reading

Why You Should Be Using Evernote

I’ve said it before here. After deciding not to write about a program like Evernote because I assume everyone is using it, I run across an attorney who says, “Evernote, what is that?”

If you use a computer and any smartphone or tablet, then Evernote should be at the heart of your organizational life. I have tried every sort of planner and to-do software, but Evernote beats them all due to the automatic sync between all your devices. Your notes, thoughts, documents, images, whatever will always be with you.

And it’s free.

If you go to YouTube, you’ll find hundreds of tutorial videos for Evernote that will show you how to tap its full potential. Here are two to get you started, the first being a basic tutorial that will show you the functionality of Evernote, followed by one specific to the emailing feature.

Attorney App of the Week – Car Finder Reminder

Car Finder Reminder App

I drove out to Riverside Superior Court today for an ex parte application set for 9:30 a.m.  In Southern California, as I’m sure in many other metropolitan areas, you just never know how long it will take to get somewhere due to the vagaries of freeway congestion. Drives times are always stated in ranges, as in:

“Joe, how long will it take me to get to Riverside Superior Court from here?”

“Oh, about one to two and a half hours.”

I leave crazy early for all my distant court appointments, anticipating that I will likely arrive up to an hour and half early, but with a big buffer in case traffic is bad. The buffer has saved me more than once. For each court, I have an established reward system, to make it less onerous to go to these distant courts. In the case of Riverside, it’s a little coffee shop right across the street with really good muffins. I settle in and have a muffin and some coffee while taking another look at the file before the hearing.

Ex parte hearings are usually at 8:30, and I arrive there so early that I have zero problem finding a parking space right in front of the court. But this one was at 9:30, and that one hour difference in my arrival time resulted in me not being able to find a parking space within blocks of the courthouse. I drove all over the place and finally found a spot in a residential neighborhood a few blocks away. I could see the top of the courthouse in the distance, so walking there was no problem, but how was I going go find my car afterwards?

No problem; I have Car Finder Reminder. There are a number of apps that remember where you parked, but I like this free one because it’s all done with just two taps on the screen. Open the program, tap “park” and it drops a pin on a map. When you want to find your car, it shows you where it is parked and will even provide directions to get you there. If you park at a meter, you can enter the time on the meter and it will let you know when the meter is about to expire. Continue reading