May 22, 2008
Proofreading errors are avoidable, even under the gun--if you make ardor in proofreading a habit.
Take invoices to clients. Invoices, if done correctly, are a great way to communicate what you've done for a client and they can even serve as a marketing tool. They are a genre of documents we all need to get right. Clients can always be expected to read them. So they need to be really "right", right?
Lawyers don't talk about proofreading enough. It amazes us 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. Our recurring nightmare is that the GC of our best client says: "If at $___ an hour you guys can't spell [or write], believe me, we can find a law firm tomorrow morning that can." For that reason, as mentioned in a 2005 WAC? "Just Say It" post on writing for lawyers, Rule 5 (of 8) in the good writing section of our firm's Practice Guide is:
5. Proofread, proofread, proofread. (Oh yes, at our firm, we have a written policy on proofreading you must actually sign before you start work. Go ahead, laugh.)
"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 thinking and writing simply and clearly, there's no more important habit for a lawyer to develop. Misspellings, 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 Holden Oliver (Kitzbühel Desk) at May 22, 2008 12:59 AM
Posted by: Dan Harris at May 22, 2008 12:00 AM
One of the senior lawyers at our firm used to say that you are only as good a lawyer as you are a proofreader.
One of my tricks, to avoid the natural tendency to see what you think should be there, is to read a document backwards. You'd be amazed at what you catch.
Posted by: T.J. Conley at May 22, 2008 06:09 PM