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

How to Use Speech-to-Text Dictation for a Quantum Leap in Efficiency

The feeling you'll get when you use speech-to-text dictation.

The feeling you'll get when you use speech-to-text dictation.

I finally removed the small impediment that was preventing me from fully implementing speech-to-text dictation, and I have realized a quantum leap in efficiency as a result. You owe it to yourself and your clients to take a few minutes to read this article, in order to see the amazing things you can accomplish with this technology.

I'm not talking about dictating files that are then given to your secretary for transcription (although you can do that as well). I'm talking about software that allows you to create documents with your voice, instead of the keyboard. If you are resistance to voice-to-text dictation software, it may come from the fact that your experience was similar to my own. Continue reading

How Content Marketing and SEO Overlap

Content marketing has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. This often prompts the tired old claim that SEO is dead of course. It isn’t, but it has had to adapt and evolve to suit the modern web just as other disciplines – such as web design – have had to. Now, good SEO is not just about link building, keywords and technical SEO, it’s about social, content and building relationships too.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: xen.com.au

Here is an interesting and informative article by an Aussie, about the interplay between content marketing and SEO. But the author, like most, fails to emphasize the niche factor.

In my law firm marketing book, I use the example of a random set of characters, such as jqa8t9q03u5134. If you create a site containing the keyword jqa8t9q03u5134, and someone searches for jqa8t9q03u5134, I guarantee your site will come up on the first page of Google for the keyword. Most likely, it will be the only site returned.

So what is the point of this story? Continue reading

Putting the “Alternative” Back in Alternative Dispute Resolution

business conflict resolution concept

A recent settlement victory showed me once again that you can achieve amazing results at a mediation if you never lose sight of the fact that you are unrestrained by any “negotiating rules”, even if (or perhaps especially because) no one else in the room understands that to be the case.

Most who attend a mediation have in their minds that meditations must go a certain way, completely forgetting the “Alternative” in “Alternative Dispute Resolution”. Use that to your advantage, and don’t be afraid to let your crazy out.

I’m reminded of the scene from Fort Apache the Bronx, with Paul Newman. Not the greatest movie, but in one memorable scene, a cop (played by Newman) is confronted by a knife-wielding crazy person. Continue reading

Best Client Call of the Week

Stressed businessman strangling himselfMany attorneys find it to be a quaint concept, or pretend not to understand, but at Morris & Stone we will only represent a client if we are on the right side, which we define as the party who should win if justice is done.

We learned long ago that the practice of law is far more enjoyable if you are fighting for justice, as opposed to being a partner in crime with a client who is attempting to avoid paying a valid debt, trying to prevent competition, or whatever.

So with that policy in mind, here is how the best client call of the week went:

“Ring ring.”

“Morris and Stone, this is Aaron Morris, how can I help you?”

(It’s a funny thing, but about half the time, if the person is calling to speak to me, they’ll respond, “is Aaron Morris available?” Many people just can’t engage their brains that quickly. But I digress.)

“Are you the defamation attorneys?”

“Yes, we handle defamation cases. What’s going on?”

“Well, do you represent plaintiffs or defendants?”

“We represent whoever is in the right; whoever deserves to win.”

“Oh, you won’t be able to help me then.”

“Click.”

It’s good to have a realistic sense of your case. Continue reading

Of course it’s a “self-serving declaration”! Why else would I file it?!

Frustrated Male Judge With Gavel And BookIf you lose a motion and rail against the stupidity of the judge, that’s just viewed as sour grapes. But today I was in court for a hearing, and it was the case BEFORE mine that raised my hackles, so I can rant with impunity. (And yes I won my motion, so this isn’t indirect sour grapes either.)

I mostly hear this refrain from opposing counsel, but judges sometimes make the same stupid remark. That remark is referring to a declaration as “self-serving”, and arguing that it should be disregarded on that basis. In reality, if you are filing declarations that aren't self-serving, you are doing something horribly wrong.

Let me give you the facts of the case in question so you’ll see what I’m talking about. Continue reading

Don’t Be That Attorney — Misstating Record on Appeal

Misstated RecordAs reported elsewhere, we received a very satisfying verdict of more than $1.5 million resulting from a defamatory email sent by a defendant, concerning our client. The defendant did not go silently into the good night, and appealed the verdict, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to support an award of that size.

That's all fine and good, but in appealing the verdict, the defense attorney completely misstated the record. On an appeal based on insufficient evidence, the appellant is required to set forth all the evidence that would tend to support that verdict. Indeed, if the appellant fails to do so, the Court of Appeal can deem the issue waived.

I devoted a full two-thirds of my responsive brief on appeal just setting the record straight by pointing out all the misstatements made by defense counsel. Continue reading

You’re Not Alone — Everyone Gets Some Crazies

Crazy CallersI genuinely thought I was part of some long-term punking. I get so many calls from people wanting to hire me who use the same lines to try to get me to take the case.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, “I have a slam-dunk case that is going to make some attorney wealthy, but I need an attorney who can understand this case and won't be intimidated by the other side.”

There's one guy out there — I have no idea how I ended up on his distribution list — who sends me weekly flyers like you might get from a real estate agent trying to sell you a business, but they are all for HIS own personal cases.  They are on impressive pre-printed forms, and the client just fills in the blanks.  They look something like this: Continue reading