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December 20, 2013

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Bill Turnier

A bit off point, but perhaps of interest to many readers, White Out (originally Liquid Paper) was invented by the mother of Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. She was a secretary who cooked up the stuff for use at work and eventually sold the product to Gillitte.

Jimbino

Worse than typos are the grammatical errors. Even Eugene Volokh, who prides himself on his ability to teach law students to write well, continues to say "forbid...from." Of course, it's "forbid...to" followed by the infinitive.

As in "I bid you to dine with me" and "I forbid you to dine with me."

Eugene writes, "I forbid you from dining with me" and would no doubt say, "I bid you from dining with me."

If I hire a lawyer, I want one who's educated and who doesn't solve grammar questions by googling or N-graming.

Fmr clerk

I don't know, I think this may be somewhat artificial obsession of law schools (and, maybe, law firms with lots of money). In law school we were always told this kind of thing, that it undermines your credibility with the judge to have errors, etc. When I was clerking though, certainly plenty of briefs had typos or errata and it just wasn't something anyone had time to care about. Maybe the clerks notice and laugh if it's a particularly egregious mistake, but it's not like the outcome of anything is going to depend on this. (A separate, and real issue is briefs so incoherent at level of both language & substance that you can't understand what they're even arguing, but that's of course not the level of error that you're talking about in this post.)

anon clerk

I see typos in nearly ever brief that comes before our chambers, and I'm not especially good at catching them. Mostly, I don't mind, and think people who get too bent out of shape over a small number of occasional errors are being silly. It is extremely difficult to get out every typo in a large, complex document (perhaps written by more than one person.) The only thing that annoys me is when a brief is riddled with typos and other mistakes. (Cut and past errors are common, for example.) When the errors are very numerous and obvious, it does show that no one has bothered to even look over the brief a second time before sending it in. This is the sort of look-over an intern or secretary could easily do. At that level, I do worry that the lawyers have not really take the case seriously, and that it shows a real lack of respect and care for the client.

Calvin Massey

When Daniel Manion was nominated to the Seventh Circuit, his political opponents tried to make much of the fact that some of his briefs filed when he was a practitioner contained typographical errors. He survived that criticism and has had a fine career on the bench. I grimace when a typo or grammatical error escapes me and finds its way into print. Of course we should strive for perfection, but when it eludes us, as it will, we ought not attach undue significance to our failures.

Former Law Review Editor

I try to avoid typographical errors. I try to avoid grammatical errors. Many large firms produce excellent product akin to published product. That comes at a cost. Large corporations are willing to pay $500 per hour for highly edited work. Most others are not willing or able to do so.
It takes time to polish and edit. Legal aid will not pay for it. Insurance companies will not pay for it. (Some insurance companies will not even pay for legal research -- and I'm not making that up). Write the best that you can, in the time available, for the money available.

As my nom de plum suggests, I was an editor of a law review. The difference in quality between the initial draft and the published product was apparent.

When I was a law clerk, I ignored the mistakes, formatting errors, typos, and bad citations of solo practitioners or insurance defense firms. I was upset by similar mistakes from biglaw or the US Attorney's office. The small guy lacks time, money and staff. The big guys were just being lazy.


Jack

The typos in comments to a post about typos are hilarious, whether intentional or otherwise. Bill Turnier, Wite-Out and Liquid Paper are different products with different histories owned by different companies.

On the merits, it is hard to see how close attention to detail can hurt the case, and it can help. Winning is often an accumulation of marginal advantages. So lawyers who want to win are careful with their paperwork. This assumes, of course, that there is some possibility of losing the case. If not, don't file anything, as prosecutors in criminal appeals sometimes do.

If we are talking about deal documents, I doubt anyone would defend the idea that missing or added periods and commas are no biggie.

BC

Jack hits the most important nail on the head in his last sentence.

I have never met or appeared before a judge who formed an opinion of me or my case based on a typo or 2 in a brief. To err is human and, in that context, the stakes are low. A client might point them out - but again, it is not that big of a deal. A former client of mine (AGC of a Fortune 100 company) still gives me a hard time about a typo in a brief I wrote a decade ago (in a significant case I won for him).

HOWEVER, in a contract, a typo can be absolutely devastating. I teach contract drafting and spend much of the in class time having my students parse various agreements for typos, inconsistencies, lack of clarity, etc. in the hope that they will learn to draft carefully. In the drafting context, the stakes can be enormous and any error can be critical. So, this is an important lesson to learn, but in the correct context.

Steven Lubet

Regarding drafting errors in documents, see Dodgers, Los Angeles.

Kathy S

I think it is important to consider whether we (human beings) are fully in control of whether we really have the ability to consciously "ignore" typos and other errors. I'm not talking about one or two typos in a long brief, but a brief that has a lot of them or grammar errors or otherwise doesn't look professional. Psychologists call these "peripheral cues" (because they are not about content) and studies show that they can affect how a reader judges the content of a document and can also affect decision-making on outcome. But this impact happens subconsciously -- and, to some extent, is an emotional reaction. And so much of our decision-making takes place on a subconscious and emotional level. So, even if your conscious mind thinks "I'm not judging this public defender's brief for its typos" (or worse, "the judge isn't forming an opinion about me based on these typos"), those typos very well might be having an impact on the decision. I'm not saying this is necessarily a good part of decision-making, I'm just saying that some studies show it is a reality of decision-making. Under those circumstances, I'll continue to proofread (obsessively, probably) and teach my students to do the same.

VAP

At my large, corporate law firm, I learned to hate typos. As a result, I find typos distracting and find myself compelled to circle them (and sometimes correct them). Each time this happens, I'm distracted from reading a brief or a deal document. Given that your job in a brief is to persuade the reader, if you can avoid distracting me from your point by avoiding typos, you will be better off. Given that your job in a deal document is to make sure that your intent will be upheld even when the opposing side is trying to rip your document to shreds, you will be better off if you avoid typos.

As a result, I try to instill a hatred of typos in my students.

anon

The comments from Jack, BC, Steven, and VAP brought to mind my years on a hiring committee in biglaw. We'd all have the same stack of resumes to review and if we were waiting for more members of the committee to arrive, invariably someone would yell, "typo race!" and we'd race through the stack to find typos. The corporate associates who did deal docs were freakishly talented at spotting them -- outright errors, inconsistent punctuation or formatting, inconsistent font usage, use of two different terms for the same thing, you name it. I realized what an important technical skill it was for them.

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