New Lawyer Mistakes – Legal Proofreading

The Deadly Sin of Typos

Legal proofreading, today’s article is the third piece in our look at the most common mistakes that new lawyers make when they enter the profession.  All too often, new lawyers fail to properly proofread their work, which can be as costly to their reputation as the other two mistakes we looked at.

In case you missed part one and two, follow the links provided to get some solid suggestions to help sharpen your skills in these other areas.

We’re going to continue that sharpening process now, and help you raise your game by demonstrating the detrimental effects of improperly proofing your work.  As always, we’ll leave you with effective remedies and solutions that you can use immediately.

Your Name Is Tied To Your Work

For whatever reason, many new lawyers fail to properly examine their work and ensure that it is grammatically correct and free of typographical errors.  While this may only cost percentage points in university and law school, the consequences can be much more severe in the real world setting.

Judges, clients and supervising attorneys are going to judge you much more harshly than your professors and instructors, and it is your reputation and livelihood that is at stake this time, not your grades.

When mistakes and typos are visible in your work, the assumption will be that you do not pay attention to detail.  This is quickly followed with concern that other mistakes might be present.  Mistakes that carry more weight and consequence than poor grammar, like incorrect citations.

Yes, poor quality legal proofreading is a slippery slope for your reputation.  The first few errors may be forgiven.

Several more mistakes and you are now seen as sloppy, and who would want to hire a sloppy lawyer?

Consistently make mistakes and you are going to be deemed inept, and very likely lose your job or your client.

As we know, words and terms are highly important in the law profession and even one misplaced word can make a difference.  Fortunately, there are solutions available to you so you can safeguard that all-important reputation and produce top quality work.

Solutions For Better Legal Proofreading

Proofreading your work so that it is error free is a matter of summoning the discipline to process your documents through a few effective techniques.  I will list them here for your convenience:

  1. If it is easier for you to proof from a paper document than an actual screen, go ahead and print out your document before starting.  You can use a blank piece of paper to hide all but the line you are proofing for an added measure.
  2. To ensure that you have an error free document, it is best to run through it several times, focusing on one type of problem at a time.  Do one proof for spelling, another for grammar, another for flow and readability, and one for formatting.  The more time you spend with your piece, the more refined it will become.
  3. Always double check your facts, references, figures and proper names.
  4. I highly recommend you read your document out loud at least once.  You will catch flow and readability errors better, and spot run-on sentences easier.  You will also get the chance to hear how the document will sound to someone else reading it.
  5. If you want to be absolutely certain that you have no errors in your work, force yourself to read one word at a time and go backwards through the piece.
  6. If time permits, I highly recommend that you set aside your work and walk away from it for awhile.  Even 15 minutes will help, but ideally overnight.  This will refresh your mind so when you come back to your work you will polish it up with renewed focus and fresh eyes.

As Mark Twain said:

You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes–but not often enough–the printer’s proof-reader saves you–& offends you–with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right–it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.

Closing Thoughts

So you see, another common mistake that new lawyers make can be easily avoided.  With the proper awareness of the problem, and the employment of a few simple solutions, you can keep your reputation untarnished and build it up instead of watching it fall apart.

Become known as the lawyer with the impeccable attention to detail rather than the sloppy one who can’t seem to spell properly.  Use the techniques provided to properly proofread your work, and if this is an area that you simply can’t improve upon, outsource the issue and have a professional proof it for you.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the space provided, I would love to hear from you!

Until next time!

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