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Professional Development

Be Better Than the Template

Kristen Helene Mowery

Be Better Than the Template
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As young practitioners, it is inevitable you will receive assignments that come with many big questions and uncertainty as to where to begin. So, where do you start?

Sometimes a partner will provide a template, which is always a helpful first step. Or you may need to find a starting point on your own. Even when provided with a template, some practice tips will ensure that you do not miss any important details and allow you to provide added value above and beyond a template.

Note the Difference in Both Unique Facts and Law

For example, your partner assigns you with drafting a commercial building lease. You might locate a form that serves as a strong starting point, as it includes many provisions that apply to the current deal. Suppose the prior deal had a strict end date, while the current deal has a complicated renewal structure. In this case, you must consult other forms and templates to pull appropriate language for the renewal option and then modify it to fit the terms of this deal. Working beyond a single form is essential to avoid missing provisions, as no two deals or cases are identical.

Pay Attention to the Perspective From Which the Template Was Drafted

Keep in mind your client’s role in the deal to draft the agreement to include favorable terms for that client. Similarly, there is likely a corresponding defined term for every unique piece of a deal that needs attention when working from a form. It is critical to cross-check defined terms to ensure they correspond to the appropriate referenced provision. Completing this process for every draft adds value for the client, as it avoids uncertainty when interpreting the contract’s terms down the road.

Ensure That the Law Is Still in Good Standing

It is common for attorneys simply to trust a form and overlook this practice. Laws are constantly evolving. Just because a provision complied with the law when the form was drafted, even if only a few months prior, does not necessarily mean it remains good law today. Your obligation as counsel is to conduct the appropriate research to ensure your work is comprehensive and accurate. A similar practice is always to consult the applicable federal, state, or local court rules when drafting a document to be filed with the court. As any litigator knows, court rules can vary significantly from one court to the next, and they often contain rigid requirements. Failure to comply with a court’s rules can result in an adverse outcome for your client.

Save Your Drafting Tips and Checklists

Once a document has been reviewed, edited, and finalized by your supervising attorney, it may prove helpful to save a copy to a separate folder with internal comments for specific things to remember in the future. In that folder, maintain a word document that contains a running list of these final drafts with a brief description of each for quick reference. This practice allows you to create your own template database—a robust and constantly growing collection of forms and templates for future assignments—which may prove invaluable on a difficult project you receive. This will be your starting place, and with that, you are likely to develop a new degree of confidence as a young associate.

Following these suggestions may also impress your supervising associates by highlighting your attention to detail and your dedication, not merely to complete the assignment, but get it done correctly and efficiently and add value above and beyond the template.