The Faster Way to Modernize Your Precedent Documents

By Ivy B. Grey

Are your legal documents showing their age? That’s the question that the Association of Corporate Counsel asked. If you’re reading this, then you probably already know that it’s time to update your form documents and bring them into the modern era.

But updating documents doesn’t have to be difficult. Most of the frustrating, small style changes that you will need to address to refresh your precedent documents can actually be handled automatically. Here are seven things that you should find and fix to modernize your precedent documents:

  1. Use Italics, Not Underlines

Underlines in citations are a holdover from the days of typewriters. To update your documents, replace underlines (including those in citations) with italics.

  1. Single Space After Periods—Not Two

Now that lawyers are using word processing tools like MS Word, it’s no longer necessary to manually insert two spaces after a period. The spacing automatically adjusts. So delete those extra spaces!

  1. Do Not Use Scripted Ordinals

Superscript in ordinal numbers (i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd) does not match current legal style guides. When superscript appears in legal documents, it looks like the drafter does not know how to manage default settings. To update your documents, convert superscript to plain text.

  1. Use Curly Quotes, Not Straight Quotes

Straight quotes are a holdover from MS DOS and WordPerfect. Curly quotes better frame your words and are particularly helpful when you have multiple sets of quotes within each other. Make your documents modern by changing to curly quotes.

  1. Replace Outdated Gendered Language with Gender-Neutral Terms

Using gendered language, such as “chairman” or “policeman” to refer to people of all genders in those roles is no longer acceptable. Modern writers now use gender neutral terms.

  1. Cut Out Legalese

Plain language writing does not mean “dumbed down.” Archaic language is rarely necessary and often leads to confusion—particularly when it’s inconsistent. Commit to updating cumbersome legalese, such as “during such time as” and “including, but not limited to, to easily understood terms.

  1. Improve Text-Wrapping and Readability with Non-Breaking Spaces

A document looks old and sloppy when pairs of symbols and numbers, and citations are broken up across lines and spaces. Keep pairs of symbols and numbers and citations together by replacing regular spaces with non-breaking ones.


Making these seven updates is easy when you use technology. Start by making most of these updates for free by using MS Word’s built in Find-and-Replace function. To create better, cleaner documents, use PerfectIt with American Legal Style, which will help you proofread and edit legal documents better and more efficiently.

Another great way to speed through precedent documents is the Wildcard Cookbook by Jack Lyon. In it, you can learn more advanced ways to use Find-and-Replace, such as to:

  • delete manual line breaks and tabs after applying styles;
  • update number ranges in citations from xxx-xxx to yyy-yy to meet Bluebook style guidelines;
  • perform multi-step find-and-replace functions; and
  • convert in-line serials to bulleted and punctuated lists.

These are just some of the great resources out there. For many more, I’ve created the Lawyer’s Guide to MS Word Resources. It’s a free download here.


Ivy B. Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt. It adds polish, reduces frustration, and saves non-billable time. Her work on technology competence and ethics has made her a respected thought leader in legal tech. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a FastCase 50 Honoree and Women of Legal Tech by the ABA Law Technology Resource Center. During her decade of legal practice, Ivy was named a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area for five consecutive years, and her significant representations included In re AMR Corp. (American Airlines) and In re Filmed Entertainment Inc. (Columbia House).

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