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Product Review: Is Best Authority the Best Choice for Your Firm?

Create a table of authorities using Best Authority or MS WordAlthough rules in all state and federal appellate courts; many federal district courts; and some state trial-level courts require that every brief submitted contain a table of authorities (TOA), many solo and small firm lawyers don’t know how to create a TOA using Microsoft Word’s native “Table of Authorities” feature. Best Authority is a Microsoft Word add-in that, according to its creators, helps lawyers create TOAs four to eight times faster than “any other method they’ve used.” It’s compatible with Word 2003, 2007, and 2010. (Best Authority Light and Word 2010 were used for this review.)

How Best Authority Works

Creating a TOA with Best Authority is a five-step process:

  1. Startup
    • What it is: during this step, you set preferences for how Best Authority will process your document.
    • How it works: the most important part of this step is determining the formatting and organization of the TOA. To help you, Best Authority offers a number of preset “schemes” (option sets); there is also an “Advanced” option that allows you to modify the schemes to satisfy your court’s requirements. Although I am usually comfortable setting advanced options in Word and other programs, I found the “Advanced” dialog—which requires you to choose options based on how they appear in different schemes instead of simply listing the choices for each option in a drop-down menu—to be extremely confusing.
    • Comparison to native TOA creation: TOA preferences are set by choosing “Insert Table of Authorities” on the References tab. You can choose from four preset formats (which cover font, spacing, etc.) or modify Word’s preset TOA style to suit your needs. You can also choose which categories of authorities to include and create additional categories.
  2. Scan
    • What it is: in this step, Best Authority scans your document for citations. The software recognizes Bluebook, California Style Manual, and all other citation formats.
    • How it works: after scanning a document, Best Authority displays a summary of how many groups (cases, statutes, etc.); authorities; and citations (i.e., including full and short citations for each authority) it found.
    • Comparison to native TOA creation: the first full citation to a source must be marked manually. If you also create a short citation and use the “mark all” function, Word will search for and mark all occurrences of that authority that precisely match the short citation you have created. However, Word will not recognize or mark any short forms that do not precisely match the short citation you have created (such as “id.”).
  3. Review
    • What it is: in this step, you review the citations that Best Authority found in its scan of your document.
    • How it works: in Review mode, Best Authority displays a review pane on the left side of the screen. Citations are organized by the category in which they will appear in the TOC (cases, statutes, etc.). In the document, citations are highlighted with different colors for long citations; short citations; unmarked or suppressed citations (citations that will not be included in the TOA for a variety of reasons [e.g., a citation that appears in a quotation]); suspects (items that appear to be citations, but Best Authority wasn’t sure); and references (citations to factual materials, such as transcripts, that are excluded from the TOA). When you select a citation in the review pane, a green outline appears around the corresponding citation in the document; conversely, when you click on a citation in your document, a green outline appears and the corresponding citation is selected in the review pane.This step is where you will fix some incorrect citations. If a citation is incorrect in a manner that has prevented Best Authority from marking and categorizing it, you can correct the citation in your document at this time. After completing the Review step, you must repeat the “Scan” step for the corrections to be incorporated in the TOA.However, in Best Authority Light, many types of citation errors cannot be corrected at this step. Instead, the only way to correct these errors is to note them (the product training video shows the errors being noted on a printout of the draft TOA), then manually make the corrections on the final TOA in the “Edit” step. Examples of errors that must be manually corrected in the “Edit” step include: (1) text incorrectly marked as a citation (must be manually deleted in the “Edit” step); and (2) a section number in isolation (e.g., “§739(d)” instead of “Cal. Code Civ. Pro. §739(d)”; in the “Edit” step, “§739(d)” must be manually pasted into the “Statutes” category, and “Cal. Code Civ. Pro.” must be typed in before the section number). According to Levit & James, Inc. (the program’s creator), the Best Authority Premium Edition eliminates the cumbersome process of noting changes and then making them later during the “Edit” step.
    • Comparison to native TOA creation: most changes to how and where you want a TOA entry to appear should be made when you initially mark a citation for inclusion in the TOA. At any time, you can edit or format a TOA entry; add or change a citation category for a TOA; or delete a TOA entry by following these instructions on the Microsoft Office website.
  4. Build
    • What it is: in this step, Best Authority builds the “finished” TOA. However, the TOA is not actually finished because, as explained above, you may still have to make some TOA edits manually in Step 5.
    • How it works: This step does not require any user input.
    • Comparison to native TOA creation: you can insert a TOA at any time by following the steps to insert a TOA (as described above). To update the TOA at any time, place the cursor anywhere in the TOA (the TOA background will turn grey to indicate that it has been selected) and choose “Update Table.”
  5. Edit
    • What it is: in this step, you can manually make any changes to the TOA that weren’t made during the Review step.
    • How it works: if you make changes to your brief after you have manually edited the TOA that Best Authority has created, and those changes require you to repeat the “Build” step, the manual edits will be lost when you rebuild the TOA.
    • Comparison to native TOA creation: most changes to how and where you want a TOA entry to appear should be made when you initially mark a citation for inclusion in the TOA. Any changes you make manually to the TOA will be lost if you subsequently use the “Update Table” option.
Pricing and Support

There are two versions of Best Authority. The Light Edition, at $225 “per litigator,” is targeted at small firms or firms with infrequent, short, or simple TOA needs. It does not include the network administration features of the Premium Edition (which starts at $360 per litigator, with volume discounts available) or, as noted above, the ability to make permanent edits to the TOA at the “Build” step (which Levit & James considers an advanced feature). The license allows each litigator to install Best Authority on an unlimited number of computers, which is helpful if you have a desktop computer at the office and a laptop for travel and home use. You can get a free trial by using the “Request an Evaluation” link on the Best Authority website; you can also get a comprehensive overview of how the software works by viewing the 45-minute Light Edition training video.

In addition to in-program help, a Best Authority user guide and quick reference card are available at the Best Authority website. If you want more help, the $45 annual per litigator “software subscription service,” (SSS) will get you unlimited US-based email and phone support weekdays 9 a.m.–6 p.m. EST; a “courtesy level” of phone support is available if you have an expired SSS.

The Bottom Line

Best Authority’s primary benefit is that it automatically finds, marks, and categorizes citations. Another significant benefit is its ability to identify “suspects,” thus drawing your attention to citations that in some instances are incorrect in your document. Some options in the “Startup” step can help you avoid errors in your TOA (for example, you can set the program to omit pin cites from TOA entries, even though they appear in the text of your document).

However, during the Review stage, it’s still up to you to ensure that all citations have been marked; are in correct form; and are correctly categorized. Best Authority does not tell you how to fix a citation that is so “broken” that Best Authority could not classify it for TOA purposes. Moreover, the fact that a Best Authority Light user can’t fix all types of individual citation errors during the Review stage, but must note changes that must be made and later make them manually, is a significant drawback because any changes made manually during the “Edit” stage will be lost if you have to rebuild the TOA after you have edited it. By contrast, with Word’s native TOA feature, any adjustments to a long form citation that you make in the “mark citation” dialog are retained even if you update the TOA. Additionally (and this is more of a personal preference), when I know a citation will differ from a TOA entry, I would rather make the necessary adjustments early in the TOA-creation process than at the end.

Finally, don’t expect Best Authority to ensure that all your citations comply with the Bluebook (or any other citation manual): that’s simply not its job (so, for example, it won’t tell you that “Apex Insurance Company” in a citation should be “Apex Ins. Co.”). Moreover, if you want a TOA entry to vary from the brief text (for example, if “Apex Insurance Company” is properly spelled out in full in your brief because it appears in a textual sentence, but you want it to appear as “Apex Ins. Co.” in the TOA), you must manually make that change in the “Edit” step.

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