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How To Catch Drafting Mistakes Before They Derail a Case

August 14, 2020 (3 min read)

Attorneys are held to a high standard in all aspects of their work and responsibilities. This is important to maintain the standards of a respected profession, and it is required by the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct. As per Rule 1.1, “competent representation requires… thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary,” for the proper representation of clients. This is true down to the words, phrases and punctuation used to advocate for clients.

Drafting errors and mistakes can be distracting, and in the most egregious circumstances, they can actually derail a case. Even simple drafting mistakes pose a risk to a lawyer’s reputation. Catch your drafting mistakes, whether they are grammatical or stylistic before they derail your case by paying attention to the fine details and proofreading your work carefully before every submission. Don’t hesitate to use the technological tools at your disposal to help ensure that your filings are perfect before they are submitted to the court.

How Can I Improve My Legal Drafting Skills?

Writing mistakes can easily make someone appear lazy, unprepared or poor at time management. Mistakes can also lead to harmful results for your clients. For example, an error in legal drafting on a contract or a settlement agreement can limit your clients’ opportunities in an irreversible way. 

The key to effective contract drafting is to memorialize a transaction in understandable and complete terms. A contract error can lead to misunderstandings and disputes about a contract’s terms, conditions and parties. Ambiguous phrases with potentially alternative meanings, especially ones that are adverse to your client, can be a grave mistake in drafting for contract law.

Contracts are unique to certain parties for specific circumstances. Therefore, a contract error can be difficult to spot. Still, a mistake in a contract can have detrimental effects on your client, their business and their future business relationships. 

When drafting legal terms, don’t take anything for granted. To perfect your legal writing, be sure to use the following legal drafting skills:

  • Cater to your audience. Draft your written work to speak to your specific audience.  If you are writing to the court, your advocacy should be persuasive. Tell a story that is both factually and legally accurate while also properly representing your client’s perspective. When communicating with your client, you should be clear, concise, objective and detailed in your delivery. In both cases, always be sure to correctly state the legal claims, defenses, and terms that apply and suggest a resolution with the appropriate remedy. 
  • Proofread and edit your work. Proofreading your work is key to catching a drafting error. Proofread for grammar, punctuation, spelling and tense. Use action words and present them in the active voice. Proof for clarity, which means avoiding ambiguity as well as legal jargon. Make every word meaningful. To make sure your delivery is clear and accurate, have a colleague proofread your documents. A second set of eyes will view your work differently and provide helpful insight while ensuring you don’t have a mistake in your contract.
  • Use sound resources and sources. Use a standard template to draft your contract rather than just making changes to another document. Lawyers have been known to leave mistakes, so make sure your citations and authorities are correct and up to date. Misstating legal precedent in your case will almost certainly lead you down the road to defeat. 
  • Be organized. The best writing will be well-structured and logical. Be clear, concise and organized. Having a roadmap for your audience to help them follow you through your train of thought and bring your reader to the same conclusion that you present.

Consistently practicing good legal drafting skills will pay off by preventing embarrassment when communicating with clients and the court. Save your credibility by taking the extra time necessary to avoid mistakes. 

Using a drafting tool like Lexis® for Microsoft® Office is a great complementary resource to enhance your legal drafting skills and minimize the likelihood of error. This is especially true with respect to mistakes that often find their way into contracts. Lexis for Microsoft Office allows you to integrate your drafting and research into a single workable format and improve your document accuracy. Overall, this is a great way to increase your efficiency and accuracy while decreasing time spent on drafting and research.