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May 28, 2021 Practice Points

Editing Your Legal Writing: Avoiding Common Mistakes

A few basic missteps that every attorney, paralegal, or law clerk should keep in mind when reviewing pleadings.

By Stephanie Richards

It comes as no surprise that the legal profession spends a lot of time drafting documents. The sheer volume of written pleadings drafted by litigation attorneys leaves room for human error. Basic errors in pleadings submitted to the court can undermine your credibility. Thankfully, these mistakes are common and easily avoidable with a little effort.

Karin Ciano with the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility provided some great advice in a recent Continuing Legal Education course. Ciano reminds us that minimizing basic mistakes on legal documents goes a long way with credibility. There are a few basic mistakes that every attorney, paralegal, or law clerk should keep in mind when reviewing pleadings.

Common mistakes which can have a negative impact on your case—or even your reputation—include:

  • Failing to obey the jurisdiction’s or judge’s rules.
  • Mistakes on the first page of legal pleadings.
  • Misspelling party names in the caption or body of the pleading.
  • Distracting formatting with margins or text.
  • Excessive and unnecessary emphasis.
  • Sentence fragments.
  • Apostrophe misuse.

Finding these mistakes in a pleading can be incredibly distracting for a fact finder or opposing counsel. A quick review for these errors will save your credibility with these important people and could even save your case. 

Stephanie Richards is an attorney at Goosmann Law Firm in Omaha, Nebraska. 

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