Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Devil is in the Details: The Top 5 Document Blunders

As legal document preparation professionals, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that each and every document we prepare is, in a word, “perfect.” Many legal documents can be confusing to the average consumer, and improperly prepared forms can have potentially devastating consequences.

Our clients are often intimidated by the paperwork, lack a thorough grasp of spelling and grammar, or are simply overwhelmed with the entire document generation process. If they could do it themselves (or do a better job than the LDA), they would prepare their own documents. They turn to us for the confidence that their documents will be accurate, timely, and hassle-free. This, my fellow LDAs, is the vital role we fill for the self represented litigant.

Watch out for these common mistakes:

  1. Typographical errors that result in a different word – one that happens to be spelled correctly. Spell check will not catch these mistakes because no word is misspelled. Depending on the context, the error may also pass a computerized grammar check with flying colors. Yet, the meaning has changed completely (sometimes humorous, always embarrassing). Examples: Hearsay vs. heresy, “The evidence is inadmissible; it is heresy.” Procession vs. profession, “All vehicles traveling in a funeral profession must be accompanied by a motorcycle escort.”
  2. Using a semi-colon when a colon is warranted, or substituting a period in place of a comma.
  3. Mixing up your homonyms. The worst offender, particularly for legal professionals, is using council (an assembly of individuals or elected officials) in place of counsel (an attorney or group of attorneys, or the advice they give). Other obvious offenders include effect and affect, capital and capitol, its and it’s, etc.
  4. Blending words to create your own, “new” word. For example, “irregardless,” often employed by the user who actually means either “irrespective” or “regardless.” Over the years, this word has been heavily criticized “for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and –less suffix in a single term.” (100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses & Misuses, From the Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries, 2004.)
  5. Careless “copy and paste” and sloppy “fill in the blanks.” As LDAs, we work from templates. We copy and paste, or fill in the blanks on forms from a practice guide, our own pleading bank, or a template from another source. Every [he/she/they] must be substituted with the correct pronoun, and this must be consistent throughout the document. Exhibits must be referenced in the proper order, and numbers or letters must actually refer to the correct exhibits. A pleading that runs several pages offers many opportunities for incorrect or inconsistent word usage.
While paralegals typically have the benefit of attorney review, that often comes at a price. The last thing a paralegal wants is for the supervising attorney to catch one of these blunders.

LDAs, on the other hand, answer only to our clients. When we make a foolish, easily avoidable mistake, it casts doubt on our overall professionalism and attention to detail. It calls into question our credibility, reliability and reputation. As the type of business that relies heavily on word-of-mouth referrals, this is definitely not the kind of advertising we want!

As ALDAP continues its efforts to promote the LDA profession as a viable alternative to full attorney representation, we urge all LDAs to slow down just a bit. Take that extra few minutes to proofread your completed product. If time allows, “sleep on it” and come back to the document the next day for a fresh read. If the document is lengthy, use a “checklist” to ensure that every he/she/they or Exhibit A/B/C is correct. Do it twice. Have another person in your office take a look at it – someone who has not previously worked on the document. It is commonly understood that “we see what we want to see” when proofreading a document that we have prepared ourselves.

The credibility of our entire profession depends on our ability to deliver a high-quality work product that resolves our clients’ legal issues with accuracy, professionalism and confidence.

2 comments:

Christine M. Parizo, R.P. said...

Excellent advice! Thank you!

Anwalt für Arbeitsrecht said...

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