HB Ad Slot
HB Mobile Ad Slot
HB Ad Slot
The Greatest Irony in the Practice of Law: Lawyers (and Their Clients) Live by Words That No One Edits
by: Gary Kinder of WordRake  -  
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Creation of WordRake, First Editing Software for the Legal Profession

Lawyers compose the largest group of professional writers in the world, and they write with far more on the line than any other writers – people’s lives, companies’ fortunes, the future of the environment, millions, sometimes billions, of dollars – and yet, THE IRONY: Lawyers have no editors. Think about that. Let me say it again, Lawyers have no editors.

My realizing that irony was the genesis of WordRake editing software.

All other professional writers have editors to help them communicate more clearly and concisely. After teaching tens of thousands of lawyers how to improve their writing over the past 25 years, I am convinced that lawyers would also welcome editors, but two huge problems arise: First, even if one editor could handle ten lawyers, that’s still 140,000 editors we would need in the U.S. alone. How do you find that many gifted editors who also have law degrees? Second, and perhaps more important to lawyers and law firms, How do you bill their time to the client? 

While teaching lawyers how to find and delete meaningless words, I had looked for ways to simplify the process and discovered about a dozen “signs” that reliably point toward dull and unnecessary words. For example, around the words “of” and “in” we often see words we can delete:

Employees typically stayed in North Dakota during the pendency of their rotation.

The requested information included, in part, all bank statements of . . . . 

I wondered if these dozen-or-so signs formed a finite set reliable enough to create a patentable method for helping lawyers edit themselves quickly. Could I teach a machine how to do this? And now I’m having a vision. We wouldn’t need 140,000 gifted editors with law degrees, and the cost would be so miniscule (literally pennies a day) every lawyer could have it. What if every lawyer had a button: MAKE ME A BETTER WRITER?

If they had that button, without anyone else knowing, they could push it, and almost instantaneously have a backup to help them communicate more clearly and concisely? Partners could spend less time editing associates. Associates could write with more confidence. Litigators could more easily meet page limits.

But teaching a machine how to edit is far more difficult than teaching a human. A machine has not even a rudimentary understanding of pre-school grammar. You have to teach it everything, and the 175,000 words in the English language make for a lot of permutations.

For the WordRake software to be helpful, it would have to do more than simply delete or replace common, unnecessary words like “herein” and “indeed.” It would have to untangle patterns and know when not to edit and when to suggest complex edits. To create editing algorithms that would detect patterns of unnecessary words, I analyzed the finest writing I could find, not just from lawyers in briefs and memoranda, but from professional writers with professional editors in Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and magazines like Esquire, Vanity Fair, National Geographic. If unnecessary words made it through the maze of professional writing and editing in these publications, all of us could use the help.

In the spring of 2003, I filed a patent on the signs as a method for editing written text. The U. S. Patent & Trademark Office granted the patent in 2007, on Christmas Day. When I was in Washington, responding to the Office Action, the patent examiner, who specializes in linguistics, said he had never seen anything like it. He approved all 48 Claims.

In 2011, I formed a technology company, WordRake Holdings, which now holds five more patents for text editing methods. The company’s main product, WordRake editing software, “rakes” Microsoft Word documents and highlights dull and unnecessary words. A few examples of sentences raked:

We stand in agreement agree that this section has pertinence pertains to any contract.

A lot of the time Often what happens is that the little impulse that gets me started on a story leads to something that’s more interesting.

There are three Three principles that help to resolve this issue.

The purpose of this This document is to explain explains the difference between an IRA and a Roth IRA.

The former Microsoft engineers who joined the WordRake team gave the software a tiny footprint, so it would be easy to install and would “play nice” with other Word add-ins, and made it lightning fast: it will edit 10 pages in 30 seconds. Lawyers are busy people.

Shortly after we launched WordRake editing software to the legal market, we hired a New York publicist, who researched the market. She told us she had good news and bad news. The good news? There was nothing like us on the market. The bad news? There was nothing like us on the market. Nothing to compare our software to for quick recognition: It is not a spellchecker; not a grammar checker; it is an editor that will help lawyers (and other writers) identify meaningless words.

I see WordRake software as a “collaborator.” Although the brain can discern things a machine cannot discern, a machine can see things the brain cannot see, is too tired to see, or doesn’t know to look for. I spent ten years writing my third book, Ship of Gold. After reading every sentence in the manuscript a thousand times, I could no longer “see” the words right in front of me. All lawyers experience this. And this is where WordRake and Writer collaborate. No software can match a talented editor, but no lawyer can keep in her head all that we can teach the software.

Although I would like to report that WordRake editing software never makes a mistake, that would not be true. It gives an accurate edit 80% to 90% of the time, and lawyers tell us they accept 50% to 90% of the edits. But here’s the collaboration again: if it suggests an incorrect edit, often the lawyer either sees what it was trying to do and makes the edit, or notices another weakness in the same spot.

Only recently did I realize perhaps WordRake’s greatest benefit: Writing is a lonely and personal process; using fast editing software as a collaborator helps to relieve problems imposed by deadlines, firm politics, and personalities. WordRake only reports; it does not judge. Before she sends her memorandum to the partner, an associate can use the software to edit in the quiet, private atmosphere of her office. What happens in WordRake, stays in WordRake. Likewise, a partner can “rake” an associate’s brief and tell him, “It’s not me telling you to take out this garbage; it’s the software.” Then the partner can devote more of his valuable time to substance.

Several state bar associations have now signed agreements with WordRake to promote the software to their members, and the people running the associations also use it in their own administrative offices. With the “Plain Writing Act of 2010” mandating that federal government employees write clearly and concisely, large government agencies have signed multi-license, multi-year contracts with WordRake. Close to a thousand law firms now use the software. Law schools, where many of the writing problems begin, are inquiring. An expert on legal technology and speaker at this year’s ABA TechShow called the WordRake Software, “One of the most exciting technologies to come to the legal world in years.” The irony that occurred to me so many years ago – Lawyers have no editors – hid the desire: the most prolific writers in the world wanted editors, but only if those editors could be quiet, unobtrusive, efficient, and cost effective. WordRake will continue to innovate and bring new, cost- and time-saving editing products to the legal profession.

When I taught my first writing program 25 years ago, I did not envision a career teaching writing to lawyers, let alone creating editing software. But after doing both, here’s what I know to be true: practicing law is the toughest profession on the planet, and it’s getting tougher. Lawyers and law firms are in upheaval over Alternative Fee Arrangements; partners have little time to mentor associates; clients refuse to pay for firms to train the new lawyers; a judge’s reading load has increased exponentially; many law school graduates now join the legal profession lacking solid writing skills; and clients demand faster and clearer communication. The need to write words clearly and concisely in a modicum of time is more important now than it ever has been. With WordRake’s editing software now available, failure to edit those words we live by should no longer be the greatest irony in the practice of law.

HB Ad Slot

NLR Logo

We collaborate with the world's leading lawyers to deliver news tailored for you. Sign Up to receive our free e-Newsbulletins


Sign Up for e-NewsBulletins