Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tip #7 - Notes of Decisions

Ah, liquid gold.  "Notes of Decisions," or, as you probably know them "NOTES OF DECISIONS" is a fantastic resource for finding cases when you're starting with a statute.

Here's how it works.  Type in your statute and you'll get a screen that starts off with the heading and the text of the statute.  I'm using Westlaw again, despite the fact that they refuse to give me an endorsement deal...

Scroll down until you reach the famous "NOTES OF DECISIONS" heading and you'll see a list of categories.  These categories will always include the elements of your statute as well as other things that have come up as difficult issues for courts.

Click on whichever category suits your needs, and the document will move to a list of headnotes that fit under that category.  Click on any case that interests you, and you're in business.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tip #6 - Italics or underline?

Here's a very simple tip about whether to use italics or underlining for case names.  It doesn't matter which you choose, but pick one.  Nothing is more distracting than seeing a document with both. 

Take this quote, for example:

"Courts review a grant of summary judgment de novo Willingham Sports, Inc. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 415 F.3d 1274, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005)."

Yes, even that small inconsistency is grating.  If you italicize Latin phrases, you must italicize case names and vice versa.

Some courts or partners you will work for may have a preference that you should follow.  My old firm preferred italics.  No matter what, however, as is often the case in law, you must be consistent.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tip # 5 - How to create a new section in Word

For some documents, you may want to have different headings on different pages or different kinds of page numbers (roman, then arabic).  The way to do this in a single Word document is to create a new section where you want the changes to take place.

That is done by clicking "insert" and then "break."  A window will pop up with page and section breaks.  You want the section breaks kind.  You can choose from several options but the one you'll want is "next page," which starts your new section on a new page.

You can then treat the new page (and anything that comes after it) as a different document and changing its formatting won't affect the earlier pages.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tip #4 - How to add a Section Symbol

There are two ways to add the "section symbol" (§) to documents in word.  The case by case way and the macro way.

In the case by case way, you need to click on "insert" then "symbol."  Then click on the "special characters tab."  The § symbol will be located in the list window.  Click "insert" and you're done.  Check out these illustrations!

But perhaps you don't want to do this every time you need the section symbol.  If that's the case, you can copy and paste the symbol every time you need it or you can create a macro for it.

To create a macro, go back to the symbol popup screen and click "shortcut key."  In the next window, figure out what combination of keys you'd like to press to make the section symbol appear.  I've chosen "alt-S."  Click "assign" and you're all done. 

Works for the paragraph symbol (¶), too!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tip #3 - How to remove superscript for ordinal numbers

Ok, what does that even mean? 

When you're citing to cases (most commonly, federal circuit court cases), you have to put the Circuit number in the year parenthetical.  Example: (4th Cir. 1986).  The problem is that Word likes to raise up the "th" so that it looks like this: 4th, which is incorrect.  Word does this automatically so it's up to you to fix it.

How do you fix it?  The easiest way is to hit the "undo" button or press Ctrl-Z.  It will undo the superscript and you can continue.  Another way is to ensure that you don't hit the spacebar after your "4th" - put the spaces in advance.  That one takes a bit more forethought.

The final way to fix this is to get Word to stop superscripting automatically. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options, and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Then, deselect the Ordinals (1st) With Superscript check box and click OK.

 Hope this helps!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tip #2 - How to find case page numbers in Westlaw or Lexis online

If you're looking up a case in a book, the page number for your pinpoint cite should be easy to find.  When you're looking at cases online, things get harder.

Here's an image of a case on Westlaw with the page numbers circled. 

Here it is on Lexis:

As you can see, the page numbers are in bold with an asterisk (or two or three) in front of them.  Everything after the number is on that page and everything above that number is the page before.  For example, everything between the symbol *916 and *917 is on page 916 and everything before *916 but after *915 is on page 915.

Please note that for cases that are published in multiple reporters, there will be multiple page numbers (denoted by a different number of asterisks).  The Bluebook will tell you which reporter to use (for this case, which takes place in Massachusetts, it's the N.E. 2d).  Make sure you use the pin numbers associated with that reporter, which should be easy to tell from the citation.  For this case, the citation is 567 N.E.2d 912 so we want the page numbers in the 900s.

Questions?  You know what to do!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tip #1 - how to avoid orphan headings

This is probably one of my favorite tips - I use it a lot when I'm writing articles or pleadings.  A common problem people have is when their headings land on the bottom of the page without any text underneath.  Most people just hit enter to put it on to the next page but if things move around, that title may end up on the next page with a bunch of spaces above it and that will have to be fixed.  It can be a real hassle to make sure all of those things look right, especially if they keep changing.  So, here's how to fix it in Word (WordPerfect users, if there is a similar trick, please send it to me).

1.  Highlight the offending heading and, if there's a space below it that is also on the same page, that space
2. Click Format, then Paragraph
3.Click the Line and Page Breaks tab
4. Check the box next to "Keep with Next"

Now your heading will always be kept with the paragraph below it and you won't have to fix it again.  You can do this for every heading you use or just do it when you see an orphaned heading.

Time saved!


Welcome readers!

I wanted to give a little description of what this blog is about.  I have been a lawyer or legal academic for almost 10 years and, in that time, I have learned a series of tricks or shortcuts that make legal research and writing easier.  Anyone who is or has ever been in law school should have gotten the basics of both research and writing (IRAC, I'm looking at you) but practicing law gives you a whole new set of teachers and makes certain time-saving techniques life-saving as well.  So, I will be posting on a (roughly) weekly basis my latest tip to save time or correct a common error.  Please feel free to email me your own tips (you will get credit on the blog!) or even ask me a question for how to do something quicker.

Thanks for reading!