Every young attorney thinks they are excellent team players. However, if you want to be the go-to choice for prime writing assignments from senior partners, you must learn to become a valuable team player in a legal context. For legal writing, being a team player requires learning a different kind of attitude. It relies on being able to harness critique to improve what you do and how you work. So here are six tips to help you get the most from writing critique and find success in legal practice.
1. Schedule a Time for Critique
When you seek out and schedule feedback from your superiors, you show that you are proactive, which creates a positive impression. You also control when you receive feedback, which means that you can do so at a time where you feel secure, calm, and ready to listen with a growth mindset. Scheduling critique also has a side benefit of causing you to build in more time for revisions, which results in a better work product.
2. Keep Perspective
Remember that critique is about the written document, not your value as an attorney. This is only one document that may need improvement, and it is only one data point for your work. In other words, keep in mind that you and the reviewing attorney are on the same team working to meet client needs. Don’t take any criticism personally.
3. Don’t Get Defensive
Give yourself a moment to accept that there is a gap between the perception of your document as being complete and the reality that it is not complete yet. Feeling disappointment about receiving critique is normal. Now focus on making this critique a dialogue so that you don’t become defensive. Ask questions, take notes, and actively participate in your learning.
4. Learn for the Future
Take a step back and look for the rules when you receive constructive criticism on your writing. This includes basic grammatical rules such as never ending a sentence in a preposition as well as your firm’s rules on style and voice. Uncover these rules by asking questions about the changes in your document. Make sure you understand why each change was made.
5. Always Ask Questions
You must make sure that you don’t misinterpret the direction and continue to make the same mistakes in the future. So ask a lot of questions. Learn to differentiate between rules that are necessary for your writing and mere stylistic preferences. This will help you prioritize the feedback and carry it forward.
6. Submit Your Work Early
The best way to minimize the impact of a mistake is to leave enough time to fix it. Accept responsibility, and then get to work. When you leave enough time for corrections and revisions, you leave yourself time for another chance to incorporate the feedback and produce a stellar document by the deadline.
Don’t Make It Personal—Try Software
All six tips are easier said than done. It’s hard not to feel nitpicked when you’ve spent a lot of time creating a written document that you believe is elegant, nuanced, and, frankly, perfect. Avoid that feeling by using software to catch your errors and improve your written work before you turn it in:
- PerfectIt with American Legal Style helps with proofreading. PerfectIt spots legal-specific typos, inconsistencies, and other mistakes that no spell check or grammar check can find. It also helps to enforce the legal writing style guidelines that every attorney is expected to know, but rarely looks up. These are the errors that are hardest to spot, but ones that attorneys at any level are expected to be able to find and fix.
- WordRake helps with editing. It can find and correct overly complex and bloated language and legalese and transform your writing into plain English. It functions using the track changes feature and suggests revisions that will make your writing clearer.
By cutting out small errors, you make the best impression with your text so reviewing attorneys have nothing (or very little) to nitpick. That puts them in a more positive and receptive mindset about all of your writing.
About the Author
Ivy Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt, which is a proofreading and editing program for lawyers that runs inside of MS Word. It adds polish, reduces frustration, and saves non-billable time. Ms. Grey is also a Senior Attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP. She’s been named as a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area three years in a row, and her significant representations include In re AMR Corp. (American Airlines), In re Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, In re Eastman Kodak Company, and In re Nortel Networks Inc.