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April 28, 2008

Notes from the Grammar Police

Whether from the school side or the employer side, the contributors to this blog have, in their collective hundreds of years of experience, read and reviewed hundreds of thousands of resumes, cover letters and fellowship applications.  Each of us has a pet peeve (or several dozen peeves).  Some will absolutely send your resume to the "NO" pile. This is not because we are Genetically Predisposed to Nag and Scold, but because we know that the one absolute requirement for law students and lawyers is that their spelling and grammar be flawless.

If you have but one resource, it should be The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White's classic prescriptive grammar and style book.  Though some will argue that their prescriptive posture is old-fashioned, you really can't go wrong with the rules in this book.  Grammar is not an area in which law students and new lawyers should even think of free-lancing.

If you absorb one rule to save your candidacy and your career, it should be that SPELL CHECK IS NOT THOUGHT CHECK.  Just because a word passes through a spelling review program doesn't mean that it is the correct word for your sentence.  Just because your secretary reviewed the document doesn't absolve you of responsibility for both content and form.

For more on grammar and your work as a lawyer, consult with the Director of your law school's legal writing program and with the many consultants who work with lawyers on writing issues.  One is Ross Guberman, whose advice appears at Legal Writing Pro.  Check out  When Bad Grammar Happens to Good Candidates

Susan Gainen
University of Minnesota Law School

April 28, 2008 | Permalink


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