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Have you ever heard the term “legalese” used to compliment a lawyer’s writing? I haven’t. It seems excellent lawyers do not always produce excellent legal writing. Whether due to a lack of time, of mental energy, of colleagues available to proofread, or of awareness of just how bloated a legal document can get, good lawyers sometimes can—and do—send out bad documents full of extra, meaningless words.
Those interested in a quick, inexpensive tool to help them unclutter their writing should consider WordRake. This software program, developed by Gary Kinder based on his years of experience helping lawyers improve their writing, works with Microsoft Word 2010 to help lawyers move beyond basic spell-checking and proofreading to achieve clearer writing.
WordRake operates similarly to spell-check and suggests improvements to certain words or phrases that are often used but rarely needed in legal documents. You start the process by clicking the “Rake” button in the WordRake tab, which the program adds to Microsoft Word for you. Then you watch as WordRake uses Word’s Track Changes feature to strike through text it suspects is unnecessary or unnecessarily long and suggest its own substitutions.
By reviewing each of WordRake’s suggestions and accepting or rejecting them, you can quickly clarify your writing, shorten your documents and improve your eye for good writing in the process.
I tested WordRake on several publicly filed documents and found that it worked quickly (13 pages of single-spaced text were raked in less than a minute) and made many suggestions that, I believe, streamlined the writing in the documents and made the documents easier to read. Lawyers who submit documents to courts with strict word count limitations should find WordRake extremely helpful in identifying potential cuts. For example, WordRake suggested that “pursuant to” become “under,” that “in respect to” become “regarding” and that “in the absence of” become “absent.” That’s six words saved right there. Going beyond simple word substitutions, WordRake also identified several complex passive-voice constructions and suggested more direct active statements.
WordRake is not a one-button fix for all writing, and it can only work if the author reviews all of the proposed changes to determine which are truly improvements. For example, not all of WordRake’s suggestions will be logically correct in the context of your document or consistent with a particular grammatical construction. Sometimes you will reject WordRake’s suggestions when you want your writing to track the language of a statute or an important case. I have also noticed that WordRake can be brutal on the introductory phrases that often help a reader move more smoothly from one idea to another. In those cases, WordRake allows you to reject its suggestions and return to your original text, or even to write something completely different (and better) having considered WordRake’s input.
I found WordRake easy to use and helpful for spotting opportunities to simplify my writing. After a short time working with the program, I also noticed that I was spotting unnecessary words as I was writing and editing my own work before I ever clicked the Rake button. In the same way that even the best spellers have come to rely on spell-check as a final safety net to catch misspellings, I believe that even good writers will still find value in WordRake to help them quickly spot and deal with extra words clogging up their writing.
Carol J. Gerber is an attorney and the owner and founder of Gerber Amalgamated LLC, a legal technology consulting company devoted to helping attorneys make better use of technology in their practices.
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