An Introduction to Legal Editing
“Please edit this.” Have you been asked this before by a friend, colleague, or supervising partner? What kind of edits do they want? Suggestions for content? Corrections of punctuation, spelling, or grammar? It can be a difficult and frustrating request. There are so many ways to go about editing a legal document. At LawProse, we have a two-edit-per-page rule. That is, if you’re asked to edit a document, you must make at least two good edits per page. They can be micro edits or macro edits, but they must improve the document in some way. The goal is to achieve a 90% acceptance rate: Professor Garner should approve and incorporate 90% of your edits into the new version. This discourages an editor from covering the page with numerous weak suggestions. A good editor makes many passes through a document, focusing on a few related things at a time. First, read for substantive or macro edits. Does the point emerge quickly? Are the arguments consistent? Have you chosen the right tone? Second, line-edit. You should make a few passes in this stage focusing on different areas each time. Are the headings consistent? Can you convert your be verbs into stronger verbs? Can you cut each sentence by 25%? Have you found all the punctuation errors or formatting problems? Third, make a final pass to tighten and polish. Reading the document aloud will help you to discover missing words and awkward phrasings that might otherwise elude you. Although you can easily make global fixes on the computer, printing the document and editing a hard copy is an invaluable step that shouldn’t be dismissed. To save time in the process, lawyers and their staff should feel at ease with standard editing marks. A well-edited page ought to have a familiar look. Here’s a chart of the standard editing marks. Next week: Put your skills to the test with an editing exercise!