DISCLAIMER: While we are not lawyers or legal experts, we know a thing or two about creating and editing legal documents.
After you have finished writing a demand letter, legal memo or any type of legal document, you should always remember it is just a draft. As is the case with any type of written draft, there is still an editing and revision process that must occur before you finalize and send any type of legal document.
As we know, clients and today’s legal standards don’t have much room for mistakes. In the most extreme set of circumstances, a small typo in a legal contract can cost law firms their reputation and their client’s money. The most costly typo of all time happened in 2015 when Mizuho Securities Co. in Japan lost nearly $340 million in one day by accidentally listing their stock for 610,000 shares for 1 yen apiece instead of 610,000 yen apiece.
Putting an emphasis on the editing process will allow you to create and modify legal documents to depict a superior level of quality, structure and proper grammar time after time. The same approach to editing legal documents should transcend to all levels of your law firm.
1. Maintain a Layered Approach to Editing
A layered approach to editing is perhaps the most precise method you can use when revising and reviewing legal documents. For instance, if you approach a standard legal document (i.e. memo, draft letter, case file, etc.) as a single-layer document, you will only review it once before viewing it as a completed item. However, with a layered approach to editing, you will conduct a thorough, multi-stage examination of your work from start to finish.
Instead of conducting a single run-through, you will essentially advance from layer to layer – making sure you go above and beyond to preserve the quality and structure of your developed document.
2. Become a Relentless Reviser
It is highly recommended to avoid becoming too “attached” to your legal drafts and developing documents. This type of bond between you and your drafts can quickly cause you to overlook or even ignore key issues that may have been presented along the way.
Experts say that the best approach to take when it comes to making revisions (in addition to layering) is to delete unnecessary content in stages. For instance, you can first go through the document and eliminate every unnecessary sentence. If the sentence does not flow well with the remaining content or tie directly into your theme and/or purpose, it is best to leave that sentence on the cutting room floor. It would be a mistake to assume that one round of revisions is all that is necessary, especially if you want to be as thorough as possible. After removing unnecessary sentences, focus on reviewing the material again to eliminate unnecessary phrases, words and even punctuation.
3. Check Your Citation Format Carefully
Citation format plays a much bigger role in the editing and revision process than you might think. When writing a legal document or memo, you might be overly concerned with the actual content itself and how it flows. However, you may disregard the structure and formatting of your integrated citations within each document.
The American Bar Association (ABA) Journal advises you to explore and research the different standards required for citing authority within your respective jurisdiction. This element of legal writing may seem redundant to some, but means much more to others – especially experienced law experts who strive to avoid loopholes and misinterpreted practices and/or procedures. In most cases, each jurisdiction has its own corresponding style manual that outlines the citation requirements.
For an overall reference to use across the board, many experts rely on the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation and The Bluebook. Even if you are extremely comfortable with your citation skills, it is always better to be safe than sorry – especially since these references can come in handy in the future for one of your fellow associates or staff members.
Related article – Even the most experienced legal professionals are prone to making an error. We’ve compiled a list of common errors to look out for when editing legal documents.
4. Spell Check Isn’t Always 100% Accurate
“I use Spell Check all the time!” This is a very common response. Perhaps conducting a quick spell check within the word processing software makes it a more suitable option for the time being. However, what many people seem to forget is that spelling checks and grammar tools integrated within word processing software options can err at times.
It may be true that you can catch most misspelled words with the standard word processing software (such as Microsoft Word) just by clicking the “Spell Check” button. However, if you have ever manually reviewed a lengthy document after running the Spell Check, you may have noticed that a few words or phrases that were either incorrectly used or spelled flew under the radar of the integrated tool.
5. Read Your Legal Writing Out Loud
After you have made the necessary revisions and/or rewrites, it is a good idea to read the document or memo to yourself out loud. One may think that reading the document silently will suffice, especially if they are in a public place. But the key is to actually hear yourself reading your legal writing out loud.
Reading your documents out loud will benefit you and your legal writing skills in several ways:
You will make sure you use a conversational tone from beginning to end instead of an adversarial tone – especially for documents being sent to the court’s clerk office.
It allows for another glance at areas of your document that may have slipped through the cracks.
It helps ensure that your document flows properly, and titles and subtitles are properly aligned with the content.
It helps identify areas of your content that “Spell Check” approved, but where something still sounds a little off for one reason or another.
Related article – Whether you are satisfied with your current legal writing skill set or are always looking to improve it, we’ve put together a list of tips for boosting the quality of your legal writing skills.
6. Conduct a Final Check to Review Structure
Before you consider your legal document or memo finalized and ready for delivery, you should conduct a quick round of final checks just to be sure you did not miss anything. According to Lawyerist, you should pay attention to the numbering of your applicable headings along with the definitions of the acronyms used throughout the content. Keep in mind that proper grammar requires long quotations in legal memos and other business documents to be properly indented. You should also focus on the way that recipients are referenced throughout the brief using a proper form of singular or plural, as well as possessive tones.
When you get in the habit of taking those short moments to scan and edit your legal documents accordingly, you can feel a sense of comfort knowing that your reputation won’t be tarnished by costly little typos and grammatical errors.