Checking Legal Documents

Video transcript

Welcome to PerfectIt’s legal checking. Use PerfectIt when you’ve finished drafting and have already checked for spelling and grammar. It helps you to check consistency, add polish, and ensure your work is in line with legal writing and style guidance.

To run PerfectIt, start it from the PerfectIt tab in MS Word. Click “Launch PerfectIt,” then turn on American Legal Style.

When you select American Legal Style, you’re turning on all of PerfectIt’s legal checking, including rules from the Bluebook, Redbook, Black’s Law Dictionary and other leading guidance. PerfectIt will remember that default for all future checking.

Click Start to run and PerfectIt scans your document.

PerfectIt checks hyphenation, numbers in sentences, abbreviations, italicization, capitalization, lists and much more. It updates as you check, and that order helps you to find the most errors, starting with hyphenation consistency.

Here it finds that “post-petition” appears with and without a hyphen. Every decision is left to the user. You choose the version you prefer. Click each location to check the context.

In this case, the modern preference, as well as strong urging from Bryan Garner, suggests prefixes should not be hyphenated unless there’s an ambiguity. With four closed matches to two hyphenated, the drafters appear to have been following that rule. Just click Fix to correct.

PerfectIt checks en and em dashes. It’s an easy thing to forget, but if we follow The Redbook, Butterick on Typography, the Supreme Court Style Manual or other guides, then the rule in legal documents is that en dashes should not be offset with spaces on either side. That’s easy to fix.

PerfectIt also checks for numerous errors related to Bluebook formatting. Here there’s a clear preference. Standard ordinal numbering is not used for second or third in legal citation. It is always written without the “r.” This mistake may seem insignificant, but it makes the author look amateurish. You can correct that with a single mouse click.

Here, the abbreviation for the bankruptcy court is wrong because it’s missing an “r.” This error is surprisingly frequent because spellcheck won’t recognize “bankr.” but will recognize “bank.”

Bluebook citation errors are extremely common, and include:

  • Improper abbreviations for states.
  • Missing periods in an abbreviation that requires them.
  • The proper abbreviation for exhibit.
  • Correct spacing after periods in court and reporter names.
  • And correct use of the section symbol.

Can you imagine how many Bluebook rules and tables you’d have had to look up to correct all of those?

But going back, this check covers more than just Bluebook citations. It covers terms of art from Black’s Law Dictionary as well suggestions from Bryan Garner. For example, the correct way to write “caselaw” is as one word. PerfectIt makes that easy to find and correct.

Looking at the menus, you can see all of the checks that PerfectIt carries out. To choose a few examples from these: 

Many lawyers use hyphens as a quick (but incorrect) substitute for an en dash.

Or this mistake may seem facile and silly. However, it actually isn’t. PerfectIt finds mistakes that spell check will not spot. If you search Google for “Initial public offering” without the "l" in public, you see that more than 5000 mistakes have been published for that error alone. PerfectIt runs this check to make sure you avoid embarrassment.

PerfectIt also carries out some basic checks for legalese. For example, Bryan Garner, Ken Adams, the Solicitor General, and many others have admonished lawyers to stop using “including but not limited to.” PerfectIt highlights that. But it also recognizes that some lawyers prefer this language. It provides a note to remind authors to be consistent if they decide to keep using it. The same goes for “pursuant to.”

PerfectIt also checks italics. As the Latin for “among other things”, inter alia has not yet been anglicized, so according to Blacks’ Law Dictionary, italicization is appropriate.

Click Next and PerfectIt checks for consistency of capitalization of defined terms. This entire motion is about a dispute over an auction and the qualifying bids. It’s extremely important that the defined terms are used properly and denoted properly. 

Like the previous fix, "Qualified Bidder" is a defined term and it needs to be capitalized consistently.

Skipping ahead, here, the drafter was defining the term, but failed to close the quotation marks. We can jump straight to Word and make the fix.

In addition to its legal specific checking, PerfectIt also checks figure headings, abbreviations, bullet capitalization and punctuation, and much more

PerfectIt ends with some final actions, including the ability to automatically generate a table of abbreviations, convert two spaces after periods to one, as well as a reminder to clear comments and document properties.

As you learn more about PerfectIt, you can even customize it to suit your house style.

PerfectIt is free to try, so download it from the Office Store or from legal.intelligentediting.com