We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Kenneth Reich, written on a topic so far unique to the LOMAP Blog: legal writing. Mr. Reich offers mentoring services to attorneys with various levels of experience. (For more on Mr. Reich, you may view his profile, at his website.) During his career, Mr. Reich has served as a mentor to law firm associates, junior government colleagues, recent law school graduates and law school students; he enjoyed these experiences so much, in fact, that he has established a mentoring consulting service as an adjunct to his continuing law practice. Mr. Reich provides mentoring on a group and individual basis, with a focus on: the development of practical skills; the provision of advice in specific matters, including substantive advice in areas of Mr. Reich’s practice; business development advice; and, career counseling.
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To write effectively, as to practice law effectively, means paying attention both to substance and details. Unfortunately, a badly written memo to a partner, or a poorly written brief to a court, detracts from the merits of your position and leaves a permanently bad impression. Moreover, the electronic age has provided a multitude of tools that, if not used properly, can tarnish an otherwise well-written document. The following are selected tips for paying attention to details in the electronic age:
(1) The computer is merely a means of translating ideas to print. Don’t let it become a substitute for a detailed outline and thoughtful drafting.
(2) Spell-check is only a tool. Don’t lean on it as a crutch, or you could end up with a sentence like this: “Wear you live may influence what you where.”
(3) Check the title of the pleading against the title in the certificate of service in the final draft–computer memory can be your worst enemy. The same applies to the caption.
(4) Check your cites, including the text of the cites. Then, check again.
(5) Write no less than two, and as many drafts as are necessary, until you are satisfied that your document is ready to be filed in court or given to the other side–before presenting it for review by the client or your supervisor.
(6) Print off drafts for review–reviewing on the computer screen risks that you may miss both the big picture and the small details.
(7) You can never be too careful.
When you’re crafting legal documents, you need not rely solely on yourself. Apply general writing resources that can be useful for any attorney. There are still few good substitutes for a good dictionary and thesaurus.
Paying attention to details in writing is as important as getting the arguments right. It is actually more important, because misspellings or other errors of detail will leave the impression on the reader that you are not careful, or worse, not trustworthy. A poor first impression will inevitably cause the reader, consciously or unconsciously, to give less credence to the merits of your position. The same advice applies whether the document is being provided to a partner for review, or submitted to a court for filing. Check and check again.