The lawyer’s moral obligation to write well
Grammar Nazis

Owning your downloaded legal authorities

A few years ago on my other blog, I advised legal researchers to own their downloaded legal authorities. For those who missed that post, here’s the skinny version.

First, when you download cases from Lexis, Westlaw, Fastcase, or whatever, download in a word-processing format (Word or WordPerfect), not PDF. This will enable you to edit them before printing or saving them, which in turn will enable you to do the following things:

  • If you find the case difficult to read, re-format it. Change the type face or enlarge the font size.
  • Delete all the headnotes having nothing to do with why you downloaded the case, saving only the pertinent headnotes. This simple tip not only saves you the trouble of wading through dozens of useless headnotes; it also saves paper when you print a hard copy.
  • While you’re at it, delete the lawyers’ names. Every little bit of clutter-elimination helps. And nobody will mind except the lawyers’ mothers.
  • Use Word or WordPerfect to highlight the parts that are most important.
  • Instead of writing in the margins of a hard copy, use Word or WordPerfect to insert comments. That way, your comments will be saved on your electronic copy.
  • Edit the document header to add all information needed to cite the case. This will later save you the trouble of printing an entire 24-page case when you only need one page with one juicy quotation.
  • Here’s a new one I figured out: If the case is part of a quantum study, insert the dollar figure up front, on the first page, in big bold text.

One thing should go without saying: Do not change the substance of the opinion itself. Instead, highlight the important parts, as you would with a hard copy. Whatever part of the case you intend to use, you must see it in its full context.


Martin Magnusson

This is brilliant!


Fantastic suggestions - I have implemented some of these! Thanks for the great tips.

Paige A. Nichols

I also (in Wordperfect) reveal codes and delete most of the formatting (headers, footers, margins---anything to save space), including the columns. I find it much easier to skim an onscreen case that is not formatted into columns.

And I use search and replace to eliminate all hyperlinks. Some might find them useful, but I don't use them and am always annoyed when I accidentally hit one and find myself careening out of my document and into Westlaw.

Ray Ward

Paige: Thanks for commenting. On formatting, this may be the one and only time that for lawyers, Word is better than WordPerfect. In "Normal" view mode, Word displays two-column text as a single column. So you can read on-screen in one column, but print your hard copy in two columns.

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