Legal Editing Demystified: A Process for Polishing Your Prose, 0221 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 2 Pg. 18

PositionVol. 50, 2 [Page 18]

50 Colo.Law. 18

Legal Editing Demystified: A Process for Polishing Your Prose

Vol. 50, No. 2 [Page 18]

Colorado Lawyer

February, 2021



You've written a brief, client memo, or other work product. What's the best strategy for ensuring the piece sparkles? This article sets forth a recommended process for editing—defined broadly to encompass both honing your writing and correcting errors. Adopting such a process will guarantee high-quality work products that powerfully advance your arguments and build your credibility and reputation. In addition to a recommended editing process, this article includes (1) a concrete example of how a disciplined editing process can improve everything you write and (2) a sample checklist for document cleanups.

The Disciplined Approach

We've all run across legal documents that are embarrassingly muddled and mistake ridden. Most lawyers learn basic principles of legal writing in law school or perhaps as entry-level attorneys. So the problem usually isn't that lawyers don't know how to write, but rather that lawyers don't adopt a systematic approach to refining their writing and eliminating errors.

Whether you're writing for a judge, a savvy client, your boss, or another audience, a careful edit of your document is an essential—but often neglected—step. Part of being an effective advocate is ensuring that nothing detracts from the persuasiveness of your legal analysis. Your work product will be less credible if it's beset by poor grammar, typos, and die like. Worse still, writing that is convoluted, disorganized, or sloppy can obscure your message altogether.

I urge lawyers to follow a formal, multi layered editing process. By adopting a disciplined approach to editing, lawyers can hone their writing, make efficient use of time, and ensure their final work product is consistently professional and persuasive.

A Recommended Editing Process

Time is an indispensable element of the rewriting and editing process. Lawyers are notorious for cobbling together documents mere minutes before a deadline. But to craft a compelling written product, you'll need to reserve a significant block of time for multiple reads. At least once, you should review a hard copy rather than relying solely on a screen.

The editing process has several key steps: considering big-picture issues, boosting readability, improving style...

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