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January 04, 2006

Proofreading--Simple But Hard

I'm very happy that Pat Lamb had a short post on proofreading yesterday. Invoices--which if done correctly are a great way to communicate what you've done for a client AND a marketing tool--are of course one set of documents we all need to get right. Clients can be expected to read them. But generally we don't talk about proofreading enough. It amazes me that badly proofread pleadings and letters still emanate from some of the best American and European law firms. It mars and even desecrates otherwise good and sometimes brilliant work.

Mistakes will happen in law practice in any event--but the idea is to minimize them, and especially those you can control. Proofreading errors are avoidable, even under the gun, if you make ardor in doing it a habit. My recurring nightmare is that the GC of my best client says: "If at $___ an hour you guys can't spell, believe me, we can find a law firm tomorrow morning that can." For that reason, as mentioned in the last "Just Say It" post on writing for lawyers, Rule 5 (of 8) in the good writing section of our firm Practice Guide is:

5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. (NOTE: We have a written policy on proofreading you must actually sign.) Pretend that, for every typo you miss or grammatical error you make, you have to buy Dan Hull as many Heinekens as he could drink in one evening in his late twenties on St. Patrick's Day in the most expensive Capitol Hill watering hole he and his friends could find.

Together with writing simply and clearly, I can't imagine a more important habit for any lawyer to develop. Misspelling, omitted or misplaced words and off-the-charts bad grammar are often important errors which blot out otherwise good work--and ones we can control. It's that simple.

Posted by JD Hull at January 4, 2006 08:17 AM


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