3 Tips for avoiding typos in your legal writing masterpiece
This may go without saying, but it is definitely worth repeating: typos in your written argument will ruin it.
Okay, maybe "ruin" is too strong a word because I'm sure you have at times submitted a document (like a brief, affidavit, or memo) to the court or your adversary that contained a few typos–and then still went on to win the argument.
I certainly have.
So I'm not saying you will NEVER win an argument if your brief has typos. What I am saying is this: modern legal argument is a persuasion game, and each part of your argument is a move in that game.
The more clear your argument is–meaning, devoid of typos (in addition to being grounded in case law and logical reasoning)–the more effectively you will move your client closer to winning, especially if the game requires you to convince a hesitant judge or pugnacious adversary.
But, if your written argument has typos, you risk forfeiting a move in the persuasion game and you might even give the move away to your adversary.
In law school (at Georgetown Law), my writing professor drilled into my mind that typos kill credibility. But honestly, at this point in my career, I have seen so many typo ridden documents, some of which were generated by the side that ultimately won the case, that I don't know if I still believe it. When I see a typo in my adversary's brief, I don't automatically assume that he's not being truthful or accurate. I just assume he's being sloppy.
But, I do know one thing for sure: typos kill clarity.
And in this day and age–an era of continuous partial attention, thanks to all of our electronic devices–clarity is uber important. Any written argument that doesn't read quickly, smoothly, and clearly risks being misunderstood...or even ignored.
So even if you think one, two, or a few typos don't matter, think again. You might be taxing your audience by forcing them to stop, think, and figure out what you are trying to communicate. Much better to have a document that is easy to understand from the beginning, so you make the most out of your move.
But there is another reason, too.
When you are sloppy and leave typos in your written argument, you give your opponent ammo to use against you in the game. And be assured, your adversary WILL seize on your typos to twist your argument into something that might actually benefit their position instead of yours.
So, what is the best way to avoid typos?
I have three tips to share, all of which I learned from my law school days. I call it the "proofreading special" and it is a great way to ensure that your written argument serves your client properly.
1. Save time to proofread. This is the one most lawyers get stuck on; and it is definitely the one that I have the most trouble with too because, let's face it, we are busy lawyers! But it is worth making sure that you have sufficient time to go back and read that piece of writing to make sure you said everything clearly.
2. Read once for typos. Written documents go through many drafts and rounds of edits. When you are nearing the end of the writing process, you should read your document a few times over each time focusing on one thing only (for example, reading for accurate citations, logical consistency, or argument "flow"). At the very end–right before you turn your masterpiece in to the judge or your adversary–read it once with your mind focused on finding typos.
3. Read backwards. When you read once for typos, read it from the back to the front. This is the only method I have tried that absolutely ensures that I find every single typo. By starting from the end of the document, and reading the sentences backwards, you will find typos that your eyes gloss over when you are reading from the front.
Okay, there is one more way you can ensure a typo free legal document: have me review it with my "proofreading special" and I will get it the rest of the way to the masterpiece finish line. If you are interested in using On Point Expertise to proofread your document, click the button below.