When I decided to start my own independent business to provide virtual paralegal services to licensed U.S. attorneys, one of the things which excited me most was the realization that as my own boss, I would control which tools I use to provide professional services in my area of expertise.
I have experienced firsthand that law firms often try to save money by using outdated software or cutting corners by failing to adequately train staff with the software programs the firm has chosen. That lack of training lands closer to the bulls-eye when attorneys themselves begin using desktop and laptop computers without investing some dedicated time for proper training. This mindset actually robs attorneys and their law firms of hard-earned profits rather than saving them money. Here is an example.
As a NALA Certified Paralegal with over 15 years experience in traditional law firms, I have had many opportunities to work on legal briefs. A common task delegated to paralegals, legal assistants, or legal secretaries is the preparation of the Table of Authorities. Few paralegals have received specific training for this task. Most are handed a previous brief as an example to follow. Somewhere towards the end stages of the brief preparation, the paralegal will review the References menu in Microsoft 2007 (or other word processing software) to scan the steps for creating a Table of Authorities. Most software options require that citations be manually “marked” and then Bingo! — your Table of Authorities is supposed to magically appear. Well, it does not happen that quickly, and there are many opportunities for errors because paralegals have not been sufficiently trained concerning the legal requirements for a Table of Authorities, nor have they been properly trained with the software which will be used to generate this critical first impression for your brief.
Recently I was introduced to Best Authority®, a software for building the Table of Authorities in legal briefs. This awesome tool works as an “add in” to Microsoft Word. The software goal? To help you build a perfect Table of Authorities for your brief in far less time.
The Best Authority Wizard provides a systematic approach for efficiently drafting, reviewing and finalizing a Table of Authorities. Its designer, Levit & James, has a long history of helping law firms address technology issues related to top computer and word processing systems. The company’s Word add-in products focus on dramatically increasing user productivity by reducing time-consuming tasks to minutes. Levit & James claims its customer base includes 60% of the top 200 law firms in the country. You might say some firms view them as experts in this department. Perhaps the rest of us, including this independent paralegal, can learn a lesson from the experts in the area of listing authorities for legal briefs.
I was interested in the software after coming across the Best Authority web site, but I was hooked after an online webinar/sales presentation with Ian Levit. I quickly realized that Mr. Levit knows far more about the elements of a Table of Authorities than I do. He was very familiar with requirements for different jurisdictions and has designed a tool which utilizes templates for standard widely used formats or enables you to customize your own template. Several versions of the software tool are available to match your need, and the company seems particularly attentive to training and support.
I am planning to add Best Authority Light to my paralegal toolbox because I believe it will significantly reduce the time I currently spend in creating a Table of Authorities. Levit & James says its customers are building a TOA 4 to 8 times faster than previous methods. The Best Authority Wizard launched within Microsoft Word provides a systematic, step-by-step process for Startup, Scan, Draft Review, Full Page Review and Build. Systems typically increase productivity and avoid critical steps being skipped when you are working under a time crunch. Avoiding skipped steps leads to a more accurate, professional finished product which will be pleasing to the Judge’s eye.
In the Startup step, you are prompted to select a template for your Table of Authorities. After setting the beginning and ending points of the brief to be scanned, a full document scan for authorities is performed in just seconds. While taking a peak at the Evaluation Version of Best Authority Light, I tested it on a 25-page brief in my files. Within just a few seconds, Best Authority generated a working draft copy listing each of the 80+ cited authorities (long and short form citations) in the appropriate section under Cases, Statutes, Other Authorities, Suspects, Non-TOA References with corresponding page numbers.
After printing this draft, I then moved to Draft Review. The working draft copy of my TOA opened in the upper part of my screen while my brief was held open in a different window in the bottom portion of the screen. When I clicked on the page number in the working draft (upper window), the software immediately jumped to the corresponding cited authority in the brief (lower window). The authority was highlighted in yellow on my screen for easy review. It’s amazing how errors stand out when they are highlighted in yellow!! Short form citations or mentions were highlighted in a different color. It was a breeze to quickly review all citations for necessary corrections. The sections for Other Authorities and Suspects call to your attention those items which may not have been cited correctly.
Full Page Review pulls up a screen similar to Print Preview, allowing you to jump from one highlighted authority to the next with editing options and shortcuts. After completion of the Review steps, you can then Build (generate) your final Table of Authorities.
I believe attorneys would greatly appreciate the opportunity to review a printed copy of the brief with all authorities magically highlighted! Easy!! Last minute revisions? No problem, proceed to Scan in your Best Authority Wizard, select Re-scan and follow the Wizard to quickly finalize your Table of Authorities.
Have you used Best Authority®, or perhaps another Table of Authorities tool? I hope you’ll take a moment to post a quick comment about the pros and cons of your tool of choice.