October 14, 2014The Main Message
One of your partners calls you up and says “I have a filing due in thirty minutes. I forgot I needed to look at the draft until just now. I have an associate standing by to make any edits that you have, and I’m stuck in traffic. He’s walking it over to your office right now. Would you please look at it?” What should you do first?
Thirty minutes is far too little time to edit a brief properly. If it’s an unintelligible mess, you won’t be able to fix that. If the research and analysis is incorrect, you won’t even be able to detect that in such a short period of time (unless you know this area of law cold), and couldn’t fix it even if you knew it was wrong. Thirty minutes to deadline with a previously unedited brief is apply-lipstick-to-the-pig time. But some lipstick can indeed be added in this much time.
First, ask the associate, when he arrives, to sit down. Have him tell you what the filing is about, what the main point of the brief is, and what you need to prove to win. Take the time to know exactly what the brief should be conveying before you even look at it.
Then look at the brief and see if it tells you the same thing, in plain language, right away. If not, write a few sentences so that it does. Flip through the rest of it to make sure that the main headers and initial paragraphs all point in the same direction and support the main theme. Take your best thirty-second shot at fixing any that don’t seem to. Spend twenty minutes on this.
Spend the rest of your remaining time before you must hand it back scanning for typos, obviously awkward sentences, and other signs of overt ugliness. While these may be, to a logician, less important than substance, you don’t have enough time left to fix substance. You can catch some typos in a few mintues. Most judges take points off for sloppiness, reasoning that if you can’t be bothered to spell words correctly, you probably aren’t too careful with your research and analysis, either.
When the associate says he has to have the brief back to get it filed on time, put down the red pencil and hand it back. Then make a note on your calendar to have a talk with your partner tomorrow about working out procedures to make sure that every brief gets its due investment of time and care.