Lawyers are expected to draft flawless, error-free documents for their clients which are not only legally correct but are also free of any grammatical nuisances. Lawyers can take a checklist approach to ensure that no mistakes are made while drafting legal documents like employment agreements, property documents, corporate agreements, etc.
Over time, lawyers are able to incorporate the checklist approach naturally while drafting legal document Here’s a checklist for lawyers that can help them write stronger documents and speed up the process of revision and editing;
Complete Revision: Editing has a lot in common with revision. However, editing is a separate step that cannot be started unless the document is revised once. Revision means going through the document once to see that all necessary stipulations are included, all facts are stated and all legal provisions are mentioned. Revision is the first step after a document is drafted.
Editing the Draft: Editing is the next step to make your legal documents strong and bulletproof. It is important to check the document once to ensure no grammatical, arithmetical or any such error is made in the document.
Edit for Organization: Write an effective opening paragraph and check for the following:
- Are the arguments organized logically? When writing a brief, many lawyers lead with their strongest arguments. But if a lawyer is responding to something an opponent has already written, the lawyer might need to mirror the opponent’s presentation, responding to arguments in the same order.
- Are headings used? Pages of plain text can be an imposing barrier for readers. It is important for a lawyer to break arguments with headings and subheadings. Headings will also make it easier for a reader to get the meaning. Use of bullets to organize lists of similar information is also important.
Edit for Substance:
- Were facts of the case stated correctly? If a lawyer wants to maintain their credibility as an advocate, their statement of facts must be beyond reproach.
- Are the case citations complete and accurate? It is important to include correct citations in a legal document.
- Is the document’s tone appropriate? If the lawyer chooses a wrong tone, the reader might be too distracted to consider the substance of the document.
- Was the document checked for overstatement? If the readers think that a lawyer has overstated their position, the lawyer might never recover their credibility.
Edit for Readability:
- Whenever possible, lawyers must replace the complex with the simple. Cut out sentences and paragraphs that are repetitive or unnecessary.
- Can any sentences be shortened by breaking them in two? Long, complex sentences might be a fixture in legal writing, but they detract from comprehension.
- Can footnotes be moved into the text or omitted entirely? Sometimes a footnote contains an afterthought that detracts from the body of text. These can be deleted. On other occasions, a footnote might be so material that it should be moved into the text.
- Is the meaning clear? If the meaning isn’t clear, a lawyer must edit until it is. Often, complicated writing is not a sign of brilliance but muddled thinking.
Edit for Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation: Three grammar rules:
- Was the document checked for grammar and usage errors? Good writers care about grammar and usage. A lawyer must find a grammar guide and keep it handy.
- Is each sentence examined for subject-verb agreement? This is a grammar error so common to legal writing that every lawyer should check it every time. Singular subjects require singular verbs; plural subjects require plural verbs.
- Rewrite the document that uses passive voice.
Make Final Checks: A lawyer must ensure the following to make final checks in every legal document:
- Are the headings numbered correctly?
- Are acronyms defined?
- Are long quotations properly indented?
- Are the parties referred to in the same way throughout the brief?
- When referring to the parties, has the lawyer used the proper form of singular, plural, and possessive(e.g., plaintiff, plaintiffs, plaintiff’s, plaintiffs’)?
Finish by Proofreading: Proofreading is the last step lawyers take before a legal document is finished. It’s not editing, but can be viewed as part of the editing process. The primary goal of proofreading is to look for typographical and spelling errors.
After having a checklist for legal documents in place, lawyers can confidently draft legal documents free of any errors and hand them over to judges, clients or opposing counsel.