At the ABA TECHSHOW March, we stumbled upon a document-editing software called WordRake, a powerful add-on to Microsoft Word designed specifically for lawyers. The system “rakes” your documents in search of superfluous words in order to create the most concise and clear version of legal prose possible. One simply has to highlight the intended text and click “rake” to receive near instant edits to one’s document. In theory, the idea is brilliant—you conform to the knowledge level of your client in order to ensure their complete grasp on the matter at hand. However, as with all computer-generated editing services, the software does not come without its flaws.
To see how WordRake operates, we downloaded a trial and tested out the system using a few sample legal documents. First, a section of text from the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade was raked. With this example, both the benefits and the drawbacks of the system could be easily seen. For example, WordRake came up with this edit:
In this instance, WordRake succeeds in its goal of removing unnecessary words to retain your reader’s attention. It keeps the text concise in order to get straight to the point. However, at a different occasion, WordRake made this change to the text.
In my opinion, the word “could” conveys a different message than the phrase “was permitted to.” The former suggests that the physician simply had the physical ability to intervene. Conversely, the latter implies that an outside body had convened to agree upon the permissibility of Dr. Hallford’s actions. With this edit, the document loses information that consolidated text cannot provide.
A second example of legal text that can be utilized with WordRake is a will. A sample “simple will” was raked for corrections and edits. I first looked at Article VIII: Residuary Estate, in the sample. WordRake suggested this correction:
Although the phrases “at the time of my death” and “during my death” do technically mean the same thing, they have vastly different connotations. Even though the client is planning for death with the creation of the will, the idea of it having duration may seem somewhat morbid. With this edit, WordRake does indeed keep accuracy of language, but it fails to include human empathy in its work.
The final type of legal document used to test the WordRake system was a sample customer contract. Under the Termination section of the contract, the following was raked:
In this instance, WordRake successfully aids in communication between lawyer and client. When it suggests changing “in the event of termination” to “if termination occurs,” the system utilizes concise language in order for the reader to better understand the purpose of the writing.
Overall, WordRake can be a very helpful tool for lawyers to increase both conciseness and productivity within their firm documents. However, it also comes with the same stipulations as word processors such as Spell Check, in that, it is still a computer. It is generated by applying mathematically derived software code to the English language, and the result is a robotically-made point. When and if you decide to try WordRake, remember to navigate the occasional pitfall in the system in order to get the most out of this groundbreaking editing software.