Legal Writing Tip: Using a Second Pair Eyes to Proof Your Work

Leslie A. Gordon

I’ve long recommended that lawyers get a second pair of eyes on important documents, either a professional editor or a trusted colleague. Ideally, within the bounds of attorney-client privilege, the editor should know little about the subject matter so as to provide a truly fresh and dispassionate perspective. An editor, after all, serves as the reader’s proxy.

Accept your need for editorial input and submit your work knowing it’s not the final draft. No matter how awesome you think your writing is, be prepared to rewrite. A good editor will point out flawed logic, disjointed organization, repetitive points, confusing language, punctuation errors, and will offer tips for fleshing out arguments.

When you receive a critique, you may passionately oppose certain comments, but don’t respond immediately. Evaluate the substance, not the delivery, of the feedback and accept or reject it graciously. Don’t be defensive. Good editors are on your side – they aren’t trying to impose their style on you, they’re trying to enhance your work. The whole purpose of using an editor is to weed out imperfections at this stage, before it gets to the client or a judge.

That said, the editorial process not a one-way appraisal but a conversation, and you needn’t accept every change. Inquire about the editor’s rationale and, in objecting to changes, pick your battles. (If you’re convinced that every single suggestion is bad, that’s a sign that you, not the editor, are difficult. The same goes for roommates.) In the publishing world, it’s an accepted truism that the best writers are the most receptive to editorial input.

Working with an editor is an excellent way to improve your writing beyond just one document. Use insights from the editorial process to critically reexamine your own writing and anticipate comments during the drafting stage of future documents.

About the author:

gordonA former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. She is the author of Cheer: A Novel, which is available on Amazon. She can be reached via email at leslie.gordon@stanfordalumni.org. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @LAGordonWriter.