I thought about titling today’s posting with the idiom “the devil is in the details,” but definitely don’t want to encourage any religious commentary. I added the phonetic version of “attention” as used in the military to, hopefully, grab your, um, attention.
Paralegal job descriptions often list “detail oriented” as a requirement since paralegals routinely participate in the drafting of legal documents throughout a case. Family law paralegals deal with life changing documents when cases involve adoption, name changes and divorce — such as birth certificate amendments, notices of intention to retake prior name and deed transfers — each of which requires extra attention to detail.
I’m no expert on whether paying attention to detail is inherent or can be taught. Although I’ve never heard of any program that teaches how to learn paying attention to detail, I think it should be included in Paralegal 101. Presuming that attention to detail is a skill that can be taught, I have my high school English teacher to thank for my eagle eye (thanks Mrs. Fox!), but I’ll be darned if I can remember exactly how she instilled this trait. I think it was through her attention to detail and my paying attention to each correction that I learned this skill. I definitely became a better writer though the years by paying attention to attorney revisions and applying those editing tips to future drafts.
Maybe it even goes back further to, now I’m going to date myself here, “Schoolhouse Rock.” While most paralegals are familiar with “I’m Just a Bill,” there was a whole series of “Grammar Rocks” which included: Conjunction Junction [what’s your function],” Busy Prepositions and many others. Hmm, does anyone else remember “Prepositions! Attention! Forward, March!?” There’s that attention word again. But did you catch the interrobang? (Look it up!)
Speaking of looking things up, my daily Internet lifelines consist of Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/), Grammar Girl (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl) and sometimes, my not-so-secret buddy, Google. One of our attorneys also likes The Oatmeal (http://theoatmeal.com/tag/grammar) for fun and funny ways to remember tricky grammar and spelling rules. LinkedIn even has a page dedicated to “Attention To The Detail.”
Attorneys rely on paralegals to make them look good. Paralegals themselves need to “look good” in writing. The best guidance I can offer when proofreading an attorney letter or your own is to run a spelling and grammar check before printing the document and proofing it without interruption. Put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and close your door if you must. Ignoring a small detail now could lead to a big problem later.
Today, paralegals frequently communicate with clients and other professionals via e-mail. This is another form of communication where attention to detail is a must: how well and clearly you communicate reflects on both you and your employer. According to professional speaker and business trainer, Jeffrey Gitomer, “Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.”
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