CBA Record July-August 2020
many articles on legal writing technology and trains law firms and judges through his consulting company, write.law. Regalia flipped my questions. He asked instead by email, “How can a good writer, and especially a good lawyer, justify not using editing software? …. How can lawyers charge clients for hours of their billed time (as is standard practice) when they could use a tool that would cut down those hours significantly with a click?” Regalia cautioned that we are far from that point yet, but attorneys should look at what the editing tools offer. He pointed out the most basic level of editing software catches typographical errors “about 10 timesmore efficiently and consistently than a human lawyer editing the same document.” These could be wordmisspellings or use of straight quotationmarks instead of curly. Regalia sees no problem in using editing software for this limited purpose. This makes sense. Editing software catches more than the human eye and does it more quickly. It is closer to an enhanced spellcheck; it catches errors we might miss in our own edits. The next level of technology is flagging generic readability issues, such as passive voice, long sentences, excessive adverbs, and more. Many editing software packages stop with highlighting these issues and leave them for the writer to fix. Others, such as WordRake and BriefCatch, offer edits, as described above. Regalia sees no problem with attorneys using the software. These are limited tools. “You can’t turn on BriefCatch or Grammarly and write well,” according to Regalia. He has used editing tools on briefs filed in practice. They helped him catch typos, a few clunky phrases, and some awkward
sentences. They do not craft arguments or persuasive language. In addition, the tools always require a human hand to accept or reject proposed changes. The final step of technology is true AI –where the software writes the complete brief for you. Compose is the closest thing to true AI on the market right now. It is not perfect and requires strong human interaction to produce the bare bones of a draft brief. Lawyers must check thoroughly the suggestions fromCompose. Regalia is a big fan of Compose, but he agrees, “With Compose, I think we need to be a bit careful. And as more tools like Compose are released—similar concerns. I think most important will be teaching folks how to use these tools smartly.…[T]he same is true for every other piece of tech that lawyers use. If they don’t use them smartly, all sorts of bad stuff happens. From inefficiencies to much worse.” In a perfect world, writers would learn from editing technology and improve their writing long-term. The potential is there to teach by example. After using WordRake or BriefCatch, writers might come to recognize wordy phrases or passive voice and eliminate them in their first drafts. The educator in me hopes so. Lawyers are busy people up against tight deadlines. It is in our clients’ best interest to file the best briefs possible for the greatest value. Legal writing technology can help lawyers edit writing more quickly and thoroughly. Technology is another tool lawyers can and probably should use. It won’t write your arguments for you, but it maymake your writing easier to read and save your clients money.
In addition to WordRake, BriefCatch, and Compose, lawyers may be interested in the following editing apps:
Pro Writing Aid This advanced tool gives you visual insight into your writing that other tools don’t. It will highlight your writingmechanics to help you learn new techniques, but can also offer style edits with a few clicks. One downside is that it has a bit of a learning curve. PWA helps shore up all sorts of style techniques: Like missing transitions, pronoun problems, clichés, vague word- ing, sentence-length variation, over-dependence on adverbs, passive voice, and over-complicated sentence constructions. prowritingaid.com Grammarly Grammarly is great at catching even tricky typos, like words spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. Grammarly works differently than Word in that its editing suggestions are made in a side panel. This allows you to see a more detailed explanation about why the edit may help, empowering you to understand the reasoning behind the suggestion. www. grammarly.com Expresso This is a phenomenal—and free—tool that will give you tons of insight into your writing. Simply paste your writing into the online platform and select which writing weakness you want help spotting. Expresso highlights the chosen weakness so you can decide how to fix it. You can also use this tool to track changes in your writing over time. www.expresso-app.org
Descriptions courtesy of write.law.
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