When senior attorneys express concern to me about a young colleague’s work, they invariably focus on minor proofreading errors. This laser focus on perfection—justified, or not—means that you, too, must focus on proofreading. Lawyers and judges are crazy about the little things so you must aim for perfect. Yes, perfect is the enemy of done. But in the legal world, you are not done until it is perfect. Sloppy proofreading errors will detract from your credibility and drive your colleagues to distraction.
Failing to perfect your paper can also damage your reputation in a very visible way. In 2004, a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reduced the fees due to a lawyer by $30,000 where the court considered the lawyer’s work “careless, to the point of disrespectful.” In a scathing opinion, the court gleefully repeated some of its favorite typographical errors and characterized those errors as “epidemic.” I’m not citing or linking to the opinion here, because I promised not to pick on people in this blog. But the opinion has been widely discussed on the Internet—increasing its visibility on search engines. You never want to find yourself in the position where a Google search of your name delivers a scathing indictment of your abilities.
Proofreading is a different skill than writing or editing and it requires a different mindset. It’s tedious, scientific work. It requires you to resist the urge to think the big thoughts and to drop down to the level of sentences and individual words.
In my next posts, we’ll discuss some of the techniques for proofreading, so stay tuned!