How to impress doing mundane trainee tasks: part 2

The first part of this three-part series focused on printing and booking meeting rooms. Whether doing these tasks yourself or delegating them, the key thing to take from it is that while a task may appear straightforward, there will always be ways for you to shine!

This second part of the series features a task that is common for all lawyers regardless of their PQE. A lawyer will always be required to proof his or her work and attention to detail is one of the most talked about skill in the legal world.

Proof reading/implementing comments

You have been given an agreement of some sort and your task is to incorporate the red pen mark-up into a hard copy document, either to be circulated to the other side or to your client for sign off.

The first thing you need to ensure is that you can actually read your supervisor’s writing. While on first glance, this seems like the easiest task known to man, you may find that you are reading a completely different language when you get back to your desk.

Before you are hit with this horror – and trust me, it can be a terrifying realisation (especially when you are pressed for time) – have a quick run through the comments with the person who marked it up. That way you can clarify what he/she is actually trying to say. If there is no time to do this (make sure you are sensitive about this before asking for them to go through their mark-up), then the next best person to ask is their PA or secretary. These are people who work closely with the lawyer in question – who have had to amend their bills and can easily pick out their handwriting from a line up. Chances are, they will be able to make sense of the scribbles.

Once you know what the document says, make sure to clarify instructions. Does your supervisor want you to put comments in track, in clean in a new a version, in clean in the same version? These are all vital questions, especially when it comes to monitoring how many turns a document has had for billing purposes. Regardless of the way your supervisor wants it done, make sure that is the first thing you do before rushing to implement comments.

It is very easy to miss minor mark-ups, especially punctuation, but make sure you approach this task like a forensic investigator. Use a different colour pen than the one used to mark-up the document so that you can cross off the changes as and when you implement them. Look out for universal changes. Your supervisor may have only marked it up once, but it is up to you to use your initiative and realise that if a party has been removed from the first two pages of the agreement, the chances are they are not a party altogether so you should remove all reference to them throughout and from the signature pages.

Do not just implement comments blindly. Sometimes your supervisor has given you a mark-up and has inserted a poorly drafted sentence – don’t feel like you have to leave it in. Re-draft it, but be sure to bring this to his/her attention if you have made substantial changes – this is why it is better to run redlines/leave amendments in track – it makes it a lot easier to monitor changes.

Reviewing documents from bottom up or using a ruler can help when it comes to accuracy when proofing. Finally, make sure you double check your own work and this can be done by running a redline for yourself to make sure that you have picked up on everything in the hard copy.

Try and use such tasks as an opportunity to learn. If you are copied in the email correspondence, you will know if these were amendments made in response to comments received from the client or the other side’s counsel. Consider the amendments you have been asked to make, and if they are considerable or interesting, when your supervisor is available, ask him/her why they were made, why certain comments from the other side were not accepted etc.

This is a really important learning opportunity, particularly in negotiations, because (1) you have a better understanding of the documents you may one day be required to draft and (2) it makes following email negotiations a lot easier and enjoyable.

At the end of the day, any drafting contact with a document is important learning time.

Mayowa Olusola is a newly qualified solicitor at a large international firm.

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