If you’ve read through any contract or terms and conditions, you have a sense of the volume of words lawyers can produce. Even if we exclude the legal documents, lawyers write a ton. That ton needs editing, and you don’t need legal qualifications to do it.
A legal background would certainly put an editor head and shoulders above the competition, but it can also make an editor numb to the stereotypically impenetrable prose of the legal profession. You just get so used to the sound of it, it’s hard to remember others might find it hard.
A lawyer or paralegal with an affinity for language can make a sideways step into editing in the legal field. For the rest of us, here are some tips to help you edit legal documents.
What to Edit
While a lawyer may not let you at their legal documents, they can certainly see the benefit of editing and their client facing materials, promotional items and conference presentations. A lawyer may in fact have you edit legal documents and merely review it after.
How to Edit
“The main problems with legal writing are complexity of sentences, a lack of clarity in expression, wordiness and sloppy grammar,” says Cheryl Stephens, a legal writer and editor with a specialization in plain language. Such changes are the mainstay of any editing practice. A legal writing course can help guide an editor too.
What Resources You’ll Need
The Bluebook is the go-to reference for citations in the legal field. (Hot tip: several sections of this are available in the free app version.) A good legal dictionary is also a must. There is a growing desire for plain language, so training from plain language international can give an editor a leg up.
You can download Copyediting’s webinar on copyediting legal style right now. There is also a plain legal language editing course available online through Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.
Who to Edit For
“Legal publishers hire legal editors,” Stephens says. “Law firms use freelancers for promotional materials. Rarely, an individual lawyer wants a paper edited. Rarely, a law firm may hire a legal editor for client documents.”
What it Pays
Lawyers are pricey, and they pay accordingly—especially for an editor with special training or credentials. The majority of editors should expect to at least quadruple their fee. You should be able to pay for that university course with two billable hours.
Log in to leave a comment, or join the discussion over on Facebook or Twitter. Cheryl Stephens is a Canadian legal writer and editor with a specialization in plain language. She practiced law in the 80s and much prefers any other activity. Now she teaches and trains on communication topics. See her legal activities at http://www.plainlanguage.com/legal.html.