A DIY Legal Keyboard

Inspiration: The LegalBoard Keyboard

The LegalBoard is a dedicated keyboard designed to make a lawyer's day-to-day writing more accurate and efficient. It does this by providing dedicated keys to insert commonly used symbols like the section symbol (§) or paragraph symbol (¶), instantly toggle underlining or italics, start a bullet list, insert common citations like "plaintiff" and "id." and much more. I encourage you to check out the LegalBoard and all it can do in the link above.

When I first saw the LegalBoard, I immediately realized how I could use it in my practice. For example, as a transactional attorney, I find myself using the section symbol frequently and it's always difficult to insert it into text. I would usually end up simply searching quickly for it on Google, then cutting and pasting it as unformatted text into my document. I would also like a way to quickly toggle Microsoft Word's track changes function on and off with the press of a single key.

The LegalBoard seems like a great solution for a lot of lawyers. But I realized I only needed a small subset of the functions the LegalBoard provides, like inserting common citations or toggling small caps. Since I don't do court briefs, citations and specific formatting doesn't come up very often. Also, I can't say goodbye my beloved WASD Cherry MX keyboard. So I, instead, set about trying to find a way to recreate the features of the LegalBoard in my own way.

My Solution Using AutoHotKey

First, I put together a list of the functions I wanted to implement, based on my day-to-day needs:

  1. Insert the section symbol (§)
  2. Insert the paragraph symbol (¶)
  3. Insert the copyright symbol (©)
  4. Toggle on/off Microsoft Word's track changes
  5. Shortcut to do an "insert unformatted text" in Microsoft Word (which I use frequently when copying model language from one document to another)

That was it. It would be easy to add other shortcuts and functions later, but that was my starting point. And, since I have a keyboard with a dedicated number pad, I decided to take the same approach as the LegalBoard and use the number pad for my hotkeys.

AutoHotKey

As I searched the Internet for something I could use to provide an answer, I came across several references to a program that had what I needed. AutoHotKey is a powerful, free, open source scripting language for Microsoft Windows (I am running Windows 10 and I use Microsoft Office 365). AutoHotKey does far more than I would use it for, but it's been around a long time and has a loyal following, so I decided to see if I could use this bit of software to address my needs.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Download and install AutoHotKey. You can download AutoHotKey here.

Step 2: Install AutoHotKey. It's very straightforward, but if you wish you may find this video walk-through helpful.

Step 3: Write your custom scripts. When AutoHotKey is installed, you will be prompted to create a script file for the program and AutoHotKey will create one for you with the ".AHK" extension. Open that file in your text editor of choice (Right-click -> Open with -> Notepad, for example). AutoHotKey will begin with a sample script in the file, which you can use or delete as you wish.

Here is the full text of my .AHK file you can copy and use if you'd like.

NumpadHome::
  send, §
Return

NumpadUp::
  send, ¶
Return

NumpadPgUp::
  send, ©
Return

NumpadLeft::
  send, ^+e
Return

NumpadClear::
  send, ^+o
Return

This script is very simple, it maps the numeric keypad as follows:

  • 7: §
  • 8: ¶
  • 9: ©
  • 4: toggle track changes
  • 5: Insert unformatted text

Obviously, the last two items are specific to Microsoft Word. However, the other hotkeys work across Windows, meaning it's easy to insert the special symbols while I'm using Notepad, Gmail in Google Chrome, or even my Twitter client.

I created a quick reference that I taped above my numeric keypad so I can quickly see all the functions. You might find it useful to print and use yourself.

Set AutoHotKey to run when Windows is started

You can always start AutoHotKey by double-clicking the .AHK file and it will continue to run in the background until you shut down your computer. If you'd like, you can make it start automatically when you reboot Windows by following the instructions here.

Do Even More with AutoHotKey

My use of AutoHotKey to date has been limited to the functions above. However, it's a very powerful program and you can do much more with it. For example, you can map keys to launch programs like Microsoft Outlook or Adobe Acrobat at the touch of a button or highlight text and launch Google Chrome to execute a Google search using the highlighted text with a single key press. Those scripts and many more are available here. Use AutoHotKey to insert large blocks of text that you use frequently or insert today's date (even within a file name) by following the scripts here.

This LegalBoard-like solution has worked great for me for the past few weeks. I am planning to continue to add more functions to my system as I find a need in the future. In fact, I just added the "insert date" function from the latter link above as I use that format in my file naming convention.