Rethinking the Way that Young Attorneys Write: How to Build Trust through Clean, Consistent Documents

By Ivy B. Grey

Writing is a reflection of an attorney’s abilities. And loss of trust in an attorney’s written work is the beginning of the end for any attorney’s career. Surprisingly, it’s the cosmetic and seemingly non-substantive errors that cause the reader to determine that a junior attorney is sloppy, uncaring and untrustworthy. Yet these errors can be toughest to spot, especially when juggling all of the other burdens placed on young attorneys.

Managing Competing Deadlines

Drafting memos and agreements is a key part of learning and development for young attorneys. The work needs to be done well–and quickly–because the assigning partner could easily do the work themselves. Young attorneys also have to manage competing deadlines which can mean being in the office at 11 p.m. with multiple assignments due in a few hours.

If you’re a young attorney, you have to choose what tasks you do in your peak performance hours. Do you prioritize additional research or a final proofread? Putting off proofreading, or failing to allocate adequate time for it, increases the likelihood that errors will turn up and go uncorrected, which will cause your boss to lose faith in your work. This is the paradox that exists at the crossroads of having plenty of billable work and a limited number of peak performance hours.

Protecting Your Reputation

The fastest way to damage one’s reputation as a young associate–even with the brightest and sharpest legal mind–is to produce inconsistent documents. That may sound surprising, you might think all that matters is the strength of your legal arguments, but you need to see it from the perspective of a senior attorney. Senior attorneys know that young associates can learn to produce better substantive work over time, but they also know it is rare that an attorney ever becomes more detail-oriented. Convincing a talented young attorney that they must invest more time in polishing their written work is too difficult. Even if the substance is spot on, it’s easier to find someone else to take on the tasks that matter.

One of the biggest challenges is that young associates don’t realize that their career is stymied by these ostensibly minor typos, mistakes and inconsistencies. As a young attorney, you only get a few chances to prove that you are careful. That’s why proofreading software makes a big difference. It helps to find mistakes for you, and it saves time so that you can do more in your peak performance hours.

Software Can Help

PerfectIt with American Legal Style can’t replace proofreading a document manually. However, it can cut the amount of time you spend proofreading. PerfectIt is an add-in for MS Word that is widely used by professional editors, but that includes a built-in style sheet for lawyers called American Legal Style. It checks spelling, capitalization, italicization, consistency and other aspects of legal style. So, for example, PerfectIt checks whether the terms of art that you’ve used are supposed to be italicized according to Black’s Law Dictionary. And it checks if the defined terms that you’ve used are capitalized consistently throughout an entire document.

Capitalization ErrorFigure 1: PerfectIt finds capitalization inconsistencies

PerfectIt helps you produce cleaner work, and it helps to ensure that no senior attorney ever labels you as “slow,” perhaps one of the most dreaded (and often unfair) of all reputations to develop.

Best of all, PerfectIt is inexpensive. At $99, it pays for itself the first time that you go home at 11 p.m. instead of 3 a.m. So you can use technology to operate at maximum capacity and squeeze a bit more productivity out of the work day without being hindered by tired eyes or lack of focus. Protect your reputation with assigning attorneys by producing error-free and consistent documents every time. By using PerfectIt with American Legal Style, you can meet your goals: stay busy, produce flawless, outstanding work and quickly take on the next project. There’s a free trial, so click to download it now.

 

Ivy B. Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt. It adds polish, reduces frustration, and saves non-billable time. Ms. Grey is also a Senior Attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP. She's been named as a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area three years in a row, and her significant representations include In re AMR Corp. (American Airlines), In re Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, In re Eastman Kodak Company, and In re Nortel Networks Inc.