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While lawyers need to be precise in the documents they prepare and review, typographical errors nevertheless occur in the usual course of business. At The Firm, however, any typographical or grammatical error, no matter how small or insignificant, is treated as if it were the end of the world. Well, at least in the sense that it can lead to the world in which you practice law. The Firm puts so much emphasis on typos that many associates are left to wonder if what they learned in law school is as important to their practice as is what was taught in grammar school. It is not uncommon for a lawyer at The Firm to be reprimanded or even disciplined for failing to detect typographical errors in documents. In the eyes of partners, the credit an associate may earn by doing an excellent job on the substantive aspects of a project can be easily outweighed by one or two typos. Many young lawyers have had the experience of preparing lengthy documents for more senior lawyers to review. After such review, no comments are given regarding the substance of what you prepared but errors in grammar, spelling or spacing are highlighted — usually in red ink. Typos can command the attention of groups of lawyers with cumulative hourly billing rates in the thousands of dollars. It is common, for example, for lawyers working on a project to gather around the same table and compare catches of typos. This creates a competitive environment where a lawyer can shine in the eyes of senior lawyers by making a “good catch” such as finding a period placed outside the quotation marks. (It also runs up the client’s legal bills.) One associate working on a transaction with a team of lawyers remembers sending a client a document containing a number of typos. When the partner on the project read his copy of the document, he chastised the associate in front the other lawyers working on the transaction. A day or two later, a copy of a letter written by the same partner to a client was circulated. The letter began “De8ar Mr. Watson.” The associate says that each of the other lawyers who witnessed his chastisement called him to make sure he had seen (and appreciated) the partner’s typo. There are certain precautions lawyers can take to guard against making or failing to catch typographical errors. • Spell check — God’s gift to the legal profession! • Avoid having to proofread under pressure. Typos that come screaming out of a page upon casual review at any other time are undetectable when the messenger is waiting, the Federal Express office is about to close or a client is pestering for an urgent document. • It is also advisable for associates to wait as long as possible before sending copies of their work to partners. This way, when the pressure is off, the associate can correct any mistakes made on documents already sent to the client. The partner will receive a perfect of version of the previously-flawed document and assume the client received the same. The associate will then spend the following few weeks worrying about the client mentioning the typos to the partner. • If all else fails, use the standard lawyer’s excuse — “It’s my secretary’s fault.” Young lawyers should also keep in mind that typos are not always bad. In fact, the best defense is often a good typo. Suppose you make a substantive mistake and render faulty advice. Your client relies on the advice and ends up bankrupt or in jail. Instead of admitting your incompetence, you describe the mistake to the client, the state Bar or the court hearing the malpractice claim against you as a “typo.” This excuse might get you out of a malpractice claim but won’t work in all situations. I once tried to use the typo excuse to explain why I had misspelled a partner’s name on a letter sent to a client. I wasn’t believed. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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