Most Common Errors in Law Proofreading

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Even the most artful contract drafts require careful attention to ensure the grammar is polished, formatting is consistent, and company standards are met. If you’re a legal proofreader, understanding how proofreading mistakes happen and which errors to look for will develop your competencies, but coupling your skills with artificial intelligence (AI)-powered legal contract review technology can improve the quality and consistency of your work even further.

What Common Errors Do Legal Proofreaders Make?

Natural proofreaders aren’t born; they are trained. Proofreading is a learned skill that can be developed and honed over time, yet even the best proofreaders may falter with lapses in care, attention, and focus. Legal proofreading errors commonly stem from tiredness or overwork, but may also occur simply because the human mind is fallible. The brain tends to process the beginning and end of words and phrases, unconsciously filling in the gaps for expediency’s sake. And it can be difficult to maintain consistency over the course of even just a few pages.

Legal proofreaders can mitigate common mistakes by:

    • Getting a good night’s sleep 

    • Reviewing documents during different times of the day to determine peak alertness

    • Having others proofread their proofreading work, and vice versa

    • Getting up and walking around every 50 minutes

    • Reading more slowly and aloud, if possible

    • Creating specific proofreading tasks instead of “proofreading as you go”

    • Asking for internal records to cross-reference all names, dates, dollars, and particulars in a contract draft

What are the Common Law Proofreading Errors?

Black’s Law Dictionary, The Bluebook, and The Redbook are considered the gold standards for legal proofreading, although many corporate legal departments have their own playbooks outlining specific company rules, standards, and guidelines. Competent proofreaders will familiarize themselves with these guidelines before getting started. Once they do, they can then start looking for the following common drafting errors in legal documents:

Style Inconsistencies 

Consistency is key when it comes to stylistic choice. Ensure the following elements remain consistent across the contract draft:

    • Use of italics

    • Title, sentences, and uppercase headings 

    • Bullet style

    • Defined terms

    • Indentations

    • Footnotes

    • Bolding and underlining

    • Font style and size

    • Numbering (3 vs. three) 

    • Date and time formatting 

    • Spacing around hyphens and dashes

    • Symbols (% or percent; + or plus; & or and)

    • Capitalization

Word Usage 

Keeping a list of commonly confused words can be helpful. These may include:

    • Homophones (your/you’re, by/buy, new/knew, forego/forgo, farther/further)

    • Preferred language (“lawyer” or “attorney,” “contract” or “agreement”)

    • Misused abbreviations (e.g. and i.e.) 

Punctuation Errors 

Punctuation is subtle, but can make a legal draft look very sloppy when the following mistakes are made:

    • Hyphenation: Defer to your legal department’s internal style guide for preferences.
    • Pairs: Always open and close quotes and parentheses.
    • Commas: Consider the use of an Oxford (serial) comma 

    • Spacing: Consider how many spaces are added at the end of each sentence
    • Apostrophes: Know the difference between its/it’s and how to indicate singular and plural possessive nouns.

Inaccuracies 

In a legally binding contract, all information must be complete and factual, particularly:

    • The names of all involved parties

    • Addresses and locations

    • Exact dates and dollar amounts

    • Facts, statistics, and references cited

Definitions

Some legal documents define terms in a dedicated section and include acronyms in parentheses. Once defined, the acronym may be used throughout the rest of the draft. Other contracts may only use the longer form of a key term and never abbreviate it to avoid confusion. It is imperative to ensure that any ambiguity is clarified by the defined terms section if the immediate meaning can be interpreted in multiple ways, or if it isn’t immediately obvious.

Duplications and Omissions

Cut and paste is a common theme when drafting legal documents, which often results in:

    • Omissions: Cross-check the legal playbook and templates to ensure all clauses are included.
    • Duplications: Look for passages unnecessarily added in two different sections. 
    • Inaccurate facts: Facts unique to the document from which the passage was cut are not revised in the document into which it has been pasted.

AI-Powered Legal Software and Its Growing Role

As with many other industries, the legal profession is currently experiencing a digital transformation. Legal software based on AI is the future for departments heavily involved with contract review. 

AI excels at assessing large volumes of data and efficiently comparing information in a current draft to a company’s existing legal playbook. In fact, AI-powered contract review solutions can complete a preliminary review and redlining in less than five minutes — cutting the total review time in half while identifying deviations and omissions faster than the human eye ever could.

Keeping humans in the loop for AI oversight is still important; after all, the former are needed to input automation rules and stylistic preferences as well as review the unique terms of each transaction. But legal proofreaders in particular are finding that spending less time reviewing contracts frees up time for more value-adding work — potentially reducing the risk of costly errors.

LexCheck is transforming how tech-forward legal departments tackle proofreading and contract review. Contact sales@lexcheck.com, or request a demo to experience the technology first-hand.

gary-sanghaGary Sangha | Founder & CEO

Gary Sangha is the Founder and CEO LexCheck. He's a serial entrepreneur and an academic. Gary previously founded Intelligize, a legal technology company that was acquired by LexisNexis. He's affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University and started his career as an attorney at Shearman & Sterling and White & Case.