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Man with index finger pointed up Get to the Point
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Get to the Point

Sloppy Writing Sucks!

By Theda C. Snyder

I’m tired of it. It’s off-putting. It hurts your professional image and undermines your marketing if you’re one of the perpetrators. I’m talking about bad grammar and spelling, the stuff that gets past spell-check. I see it in briefs. I see it in email messages—and, no, the format is not an excuse, especially now that email has largely substituted for more formal business correspondence.

Sve sloppy wrtng 4 Ur txts & tweets!

Here’s what I mean. I recently saw a brief talking about a high-level employee on a “rein” of discrimination. Referring to a “reign” would be a good, evocative word choice. Instead, the writer’s sentence made me think of a horse.

I daily receive emails in which writers don’t know the difference between there, their and they’re. Did these writers make it through law school having missed third grade?

  • Your writing will be better if you use a dictionary and thesaurus. Spell-check does sometimes suggest alternative word choices (I get it every time I use “advise”), so use it but pay attention. Don’t just blow through it. Be careful of Auto-fill, too. The unintended consequences can be embarrassing, to say the least.
  • Have someone else read your writing. This might be a secretary, your spouse, a colleague. How much time you spend on this exercise will perforce be dictated by the importance of the communication. Consider doing it with everything for a day to improve your awareness of the issues.
  • Always proofread before sending. A good practice is to save a draft of what you write and go work on something else. When you return to your draft, your fresh eye may pick up previously unnoticed errors. The longer the time between drafting and review, the better the review will be—although, yes, this is really hard at the fast pace of legal practice today.

We are all busy, and each of us has accidentally pressed “Send” prematurely. I find the email “Recall” feature to be of limited use, but it’s worth a try. Recipients get the message anyway, they just know you tried to recall it. (By the way, there is a body of law on the ethical duties of a lawyer who accidentally receives privileged information.)

Then there’s grammar. Remember prepositional phrases? If you do something “for” or “to” me, the object of those prepositions doesn’t change because there is more than one.

  • “He sent it to me” becomes “He sent it to John and me.”
  • “She did it for me” becomes “She did it for Mary and me.”

“I” does not belong in any of these phrases. For me (not “for I”), and other recipients, hearing or reading this sloppy-speak is like fingernails on a blackboard—from back when we had blackboards. The judge may feel the same way.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think less of people who are supposed to be well-educated but can’t speak or write grammatically. I sometimes need to grind my teeth not to correct them. There are others with this view among your clients and prospects.

And don’t get me started on “lie” and “lay.”

Theda C. Snyder is an attorney and structured settlement broker with Ringler Associates. She has practiced law for 33 years, including 10 years as principal of her own firm. Teddy is a frequent speaker and has written four books on law practice management, including Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition (ABA, 2010). She was inducted as a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management in 2011.

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Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers compensation cases throughout California. She is also available for freelance writing assignments. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.

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