Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Proofreading, Fact-Checking Key to Legal Content Creation

It often gets said that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, and I certainly believe that to be true. I’ve written somewhere north of 10,000 articles in my career as a legal marketer and, previously, a newspaper journalist. The vast majority of those articles were (thankfully) mistake-free and, to be honest, most of them long have faded from my overtaxed memory. But one egregious mistake still stands out in my mind, nearly 17 years after it happened….

Flashback to 1996: I was a rookie reporter at a small-town South Carolina newspaper, writing about anything and everything going on in the community. A local woman had returned home after successfully battling a rare form of cancer, and some friends were throwing her a surprise welcome-home party.

Anyway, the assignment went well, and the woman, whose name was Ann (or so I thought at the time), was a pleasant interview subject. Story written, on to the next assignment. But when the next day’s paper hit the racks, I realized I had botched the most basic rule of fact-checking. My story, which was peppered with references to “Ann,” ran with a photo reading, “Welcome home Anne” – the correct spelling of her name. So on the happiest day of this woman’s life, the local newspaper—meaning, yours truly—had gotten her name wrong. Anne was too nice to call and point out the mistake, but I’ve never forgotten it.

Although that happened in a different line of work, the lesson is completely applicable to legal marketing. Proofreading and fact-checking are an essential aspect of creating practice team brochures, firm Web sites, attorney bios, client alerts and any other type of legal marketing content. Factual errors, grammatical flubs and careless typos undermine your credibility, so take great care to avoid them.

Here are some simple steps you can take to trouble-shoot your copy:

  • Always use spell check, and look up any words you don’t know.
  • Double-check facts, even if they are provided by an attorney. (Yes, lawyers can make mistakes, too.) Not only can factual misstatements reflect badly upon a legal marketer, they also potentially can get your firm in trouble.
  • Proofread everything you write. I find it helps me to set a completed project aside for a few hours, then reread it with fresh eyes.
  • An extra set of eyes always helps. Ask a colleague to read over your work before you publish it.
  • And whatever you do, make sure all names are spelled correctly. A person’s name is his or her identity. He or she may overlook other mistakes, but misspelled names always stick out.



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Bruce Buchanan

About Bruce Buchanan

After a 10-year career as a newspaper reporter, I've been the Marketing Copywriter for Womble Carlyle since 2006. My job has involved pretty much any type of communication that a 550-attorney, 14-office law firm might need. I'm based in the firm's Greensboro, N.C. office.

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