Riting correctly – Elizabeth Cruickshank and Penny Cooper

Please read the following two sentences

As a trenee your all to focussed on geting facts write. U can easly think thats enuff w/out bothering abowt how u prezent urself.

As a trainee you’re all too focused on getting the facts right. You can easily think that’s enough without bothering about how you present yourself in print.

Now ask yourself:

– Which of the two sentences above was the easier to read? And why?

– Which one took you longer to read?

– Did the first one confuse or irritate you?

– Did you feel that the first one was inappropriate for an article with a serious purpose?

– What impression did you have of the writer of that first sentence?

Consider your readers

As a piece of perfect prose the second sentence is not a shining example, but at least you can get to the meaning without querying the presentation. If you are a texting aficionado, you may have found the first sentence easier to read than we did to write it, but this rather makes our point. The partners in the firms that you are applying to as well as most of your potential clients did not grow up communicating by textspeak.
Potential employers are looking for applications for training contracts which are not only persuasive but also do not distract because of careless spelling and grammatical construction. This is not because they are mere pedants, although some can get excessively hung up on the niceties of language, but because they know that what they write for clients needs to be as clear and immediately comprehensible as possible. Clients have been known to give their tax work to their lawyers rather than their accountants simply because they could understand the former but not the latter. If clients feel that their current lawyers are trying to mystify them, even if this is not the case, then they will most probably look for a firm which they can understand.

Carelessness costs money

Firms are also very aware of the cost of professional indemnity insurance. Last October the Law Society indicated that some firms were quoted premiums which in some cases were 300% higher than the previous year, despite there being no change in the firms’ circumstances. Firms see carelessly presented training contract applications as a sign that the applicants could be careless trainees, who are likely to cost them in litigation and increased insurance premiums. They certainly do not want to waste precious associate and partner time in training you to write properly.

More than one commentator has recently predicted that disputes over contract drafting will be likely to “fuel a boom in litigation against lawyers.” It is likely that some of this litigation will be the result of careless drafting done by a tired and busy lawyer.

One of the interesting and too often forgotten things about learning is that we not only learn correctly by repeating the things we get right, but that we also learn our mistakes through repetition. If you can’t be bothered to learn to write correctly now, when you are leading a relatively stress free life, you will find it all the harder to master the rules of good presentation when you are actually at work, earning money for yourself and your firm and being assessed.

So what can you do about it now?

The utilisation of polysyllabic vocables being a mundanity enhancer is making an erroneous uncertainty camouflage mechanism.

All this means is that using long words does not hide your ignorance. As well as using too many long words, the sentence also uses verbs incorrectly; it is quite simply a muddle. One of the greatest skills a good lawyer can have is to be able to explain matters clearly to clients.

In order to write well a lawyer needs to have learned to spell accurately, have a sound grasp of what words actually mean and also an understanding of basic English structure – what is known as grammar. Spellcheck can help you with the first requirement, a straightforward dictionary like the Shorter Oxford or a simple Google meaning search can help you with the second and a book such as the English Grammar Workbook for Dummies by Geraldine Woods will get you started if you have not studied grammar in any formal way in the past.

Elizabeth Cruickshank and Professor Penny Cooper of The City Law School are the authors of ‘All you need to know about being a Trainee Solicitor’ (Longtail, 2008) which will be published in 2010 editions in China and Nigeria.

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