Deep Dive: American Legal Style 4.1
Last updated: 28 July, 2021
By Ivy B. Grey
American Legal Style now consists of more than 125,000 corrections for legal users—that’s four times as many corrections as were available just six months ago. Here’s the story behind the improvements.
1. Introduction to PerfectIt’s Legal Checking
PerfectIt is a proofreading and editing add-in for MS Word that checks for errors using familiar spell-check-like functionality and informative commentary. It delivers faster, more accurate proofreading and editing for professionals, ranging from copy editors and consultants to lawyers and scientists.
American Legal Style is the legal-specific stylesheet that builds on PerfectIt’s basic checks. It finds errors that only a trained legal writer or editor would know to look for. It checks everything from consistent treatment of defined terms, presentation of Bluebook citations, inconsistent use of similar words and phrases, and typos and transposed letters in legal-specific proper names, including judges and law firms, as well as errors in terms of art. American Legal Style also helps legal writers to avoid foreign legal terms and embrace plain language. PerfectIt with American Legal Style is used by hundreds of law firms and court systems.
2. History of American Legal Style
a. Building American Legal Style
Ivy B. Grey drew upon her experience in legal practice and law review to create the first version of American Legal Style in 2015. She wrote about the first three years of its development in the American Legal Style 4.0 Deep Dive. For American Legal Style 4.1, she dug deeper. Based on conversations with members of the legal community about what they look for and prioritize in their documents, as well as students of her CLEs on legal writing, editing, and proofreading, Ivy created American Legal Style 4.1. The incorporation of user feedback is evident in all aspects of American Legal Style 4.1. It makes the program more powerful, nuanced, and user-friendly.
In this new release, Ivy went far beyond the books to capture much of the legal writing guidance that can only come from experience or mentoring. Ivy distills this information into rules that can be standardized and applied to any kind of legal document.
b. Looking Back on Past Versions
This is the fourth release of American Legal Style. Ivy started with modest goals and largely focused on incorporating established and well-known rules for legal writers. Ivy reviewed and assessed the rules found in the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation; The Redbook: A Manual On Legal Style by Bryan Garner; and Black’s Law Dictionary. She also drew from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style; Legal Writing in Plain English; Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage; and Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. Ivy also included common embarrassing errors, such as “statue” instead of “statute” or “casual” for “causal”. All these elements remain in American Legal Style 4.1, but now there’s much more, too.
3. What’s New In 2019
a. A New Approach to Citations, Legal Writing, and Defined Terms
In PerfectIt 4.1, you’ll find the following new categories: Citations, Legal Writing, and Defined Terms. Now, all citation errors and legal writing style errors have been isolated and grouped together in their respective categories. This reorganization better reflects expectations and usage. Additionally, thousands of new corrections have been added in these categories.
The changes also reflect how people think about review tasks. Lawyers tend to review more effectively when they consider the same type of error at the same time. PerfectIt draws more potential errors to your attention, but the reorganized checks mean that you can make even better and more consistent choices.
In addition, now transactional users and others who do not use the Bluebook (or use another citation system) can get all of the benefits of American Legal Style without wading through Bluebook corrections. And litigators get even more Bluebook corrections that can be run repeatedly as you add to your briefs and memos.
b. Words and Phrases Used Inconsistently
Unintentional and inelegant variation can wreak havoc in a legal document. Despite the availability of document assembly software and clause banks, lawyers introduce variations and inconsistencies into their work, either through cobbling together documents by multiple authors or writing without attention to detail. Spellcheck cannot find these errors and even the most careful legal writer is unlikely to notice them in a long document. PerfectIt does.
Now PerfectIt can find:
- Common legal phrases with inconsistent punctuation, such as missing commas.
- Common legal phrases with inconsistent wording.
- Common similar terms used interchangeably.
- Commonly-used defined terms used interchangeably in a document.
To give just a few examples, PerfectIt finds:
- If you write “lawyer” but you also sometimes write “attorney”, PerfectIt will catch your inconsistent use and allow you to conform your document.
- If you use “Mortgagor”, “Bank”, “Lender”, and “Creditor” as defined terms in the same document, PerfectIt will ask you if you meant to do so and would like to make the terms uniform.
- If you write “reasonable efforts”, “best efforts”, “good-faith efforts”, “efforts that are reasonable”, “commercially reasonable efforts”, “efforts in good faith”, “efforts that are in good faith”, and “efforts that are commercially reasonable”—any two (or more) of those phrases—in the same document, PerfectIt will ask you if these variations were intentional and whether you would like to make them uniform.
- If you write “includes, but is not limited to”, “includes but is not limited to” (without the comma), “includes, without limitation”, “includes without limitation” (without the comma), “including, but not limited to”, “including but not limited to” (without the comma), “including, but not limited to,” (with an additional comma), or “including, without implication of limitation,” (with the comma), then Perfect will find all of these variation on the same phrase. It will call your attention to them and give you the option to make them uniform.
With PerfectIt’s help, you can now quickly standardize and make consistent common legal words, phrases, and related punctuation, including near-synonyms. This reduces risks and makes documents flow.
c. Defined Terms Checking
In addition to checking for inconsistent capitalization, American Legal Style 4.1 includes new checks aimed at resolving even more errors in defined terms. PerfectIt now checks for consistent use and presentation of defined terms, which increases accuracy throughout your documents and improves appearance.
PerfectIt now helps find and make consistent:
- Formatting of defined terms;
- Use of quotes around defined terms; and
- Use of articles when creating a defined term.
PerfectIt will also alert the writer to:
- Terms defined twice;
- Defined terms that were created but used only once;
- Terms that were used but not defined; and
- Terms that were used before they were defined.
Finally, PerfectIt will also look at errors in subject-verb agreement for the most frequently-used defined terms along with the most common verb pairs. Because writers will often take an existing document and modify it, writers will usually Find-and-Replace All in a document, which can lead to hard-to-spot errors in subject-verb agreement. This is particularly problematic when the party changes from plural to singular or vice versa. Now PerfectIt will find the most common errors.
d. Legal Writing Style Guidance
American Legal Style 4.1 finds more legalese words and phrases and recommends plain language replacements. It:
- Corrects spelling and italicization of Latin and French words, and recommends plain English replacements for them.
- Standardizes and makes consistent common legal words, phrases, and related punctuation.
- Recommends editing nominalizations; removing overused crutch words; and replacing legal, business, and other industry jargon.
- Recommends other style changes and provides helpful guidance to encourage plain language replacements.
e. Proper Spelling of Proper Names
There’s not much that is more embarrassing than spelling a judge’s or law firm’s name wrong. The new Names & Places check finds spelling errors in proper nouns that aren't included in standard spellcheck dictionaries but are commonly used in certain industries.
Some included proper names are:
- AmLaw 200 firms and firms participating in NALP recruiting;
- Prominent historic, legal, or governmental figures and locations;
- Governmental bodies and offices;
- Current and former Supreme Court justices, federal judges, and immigration judges; and
- State and lower level judges for states with the largest and most active dockets, such as New York, California, and Texas.
- If you write “Louis Powell” or “Luis Powell”, PerfectIt will ask if you mean to refer to “Lewis Powell” of the Supreme Court.
- If you write “Baker & McKenzie” or “Baker MacKenzie”, when you mean to refer to the firm “Baker McKenzie,” PerfectIt will find it.
f. Citation-Checking—Super Charged!
PerfectIt now finds tens of thousands more citation errors. Conforming citations to Bluebook requirements has never been easier or more comprehensive. PerfectIt finds and corrects the presentation of letters, periods, and spacing in:
- Reporter names;
- Court names;
- Court document references and abbreviations (new); and
- References to rules, statutes, publications, and other legal publication services (new).
Checks for case name and other Bluebook abbreviations, signals, and subsequent history are also available.
When in a rush, legal writers often check for substance or for strict compliance with Bluebook rules. But there are a variety of possible errors that can make even the best-supported work seem sloppy. PerfectIt now makes it easy to clean up correct, yet sloppy or inconsistent citations.
PerfectIt checks for:
- Periods after the “v” between party names;
- Proper pin cite formatting and symbols; and
- Correct spacing related to publication dates.
g. Consistent Use of Symbols and Spacing
American Legal Style 4.1 now checks for consistent use of symbols within your document and conformity to Bluebook usage rules. It also updates spacing within citations and following symbols to improve presentation and reduce confusion so that your terms appear consistently regardless of font, spacing, or justification choices. No more odd, orphaned numbers on separate lines or pages!
Each of these checks is small, but these errors are hard to spot and legal writers can’t justify spending the time to search for them… yet these inconsistencies are sure to bother your readers.
PerfectIt will find and fix:
- Inconsistent use of symbols or words (section, sec., or §);
- Inconsistent use of spaces following symbols (¶¶ 9-12 or ¶¶9-12);
- Missing symbols before numbers (Bankruptcy Code 365 or Bankruptcy Code § 365); and
- Use of regular spaces after symbols, after titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Mx.), and in citations.
Here’s how American Legal Style has grown over the years:
Legal Errors Found
In addition to adding five new categories of checks for legal users, American Legal Style includes more than 125,000 legal specific corrections—that’s more than four times the corrections available in the last version. PerfectIt is now the most comprehensive proofreading tool available for legal professionals. It re-conceptualizes how legal proofreading should be done.
But major change does not mean major disruption. Familiarity and comfort is a key part of why PerfectIt has been successful and you won’t lose that. So select your next big writing project and download a fully-functioning, 14-day free trial of PerfectIt today. With PerfectIt, you can save time, improve accuracy, and reduce frustration—all while creating a better final document. There’s a free trial available so you can see for yourself.
About Ivy B. Grey, JD, LLM
Ivy B. Grey is the creator of American Legal Style and an advisor to PerfectIt. Her work on technology competence and ethics has made her a respected thought leader in legal tech. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a FastCase 50 Honoree and a Women of Legal Tech, class of 2018 honoree by the ABA Law Technology Resource Center.
Ivy practiced in the field of corporate bankruptcy law for ten years before making her transition to full-time legal tech in November 2018. Ivy received her LL.M. from St. John’s University School of Law and J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.