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Attention to Detail

November 13, 2014

Pedantry, usually considered a tired, useless fool’s game can be a virtue in the real world. Attention to detail counts.

I recently started work as a paralegal (just one week after my HSC!) , and what amazes me is just how meticulous one has to be in the job. When you watch TV and its depiction of law, you think of theatricality, knock-out blows and – in the office – frantic work and such. Obviously, one never trusts TV, but even still, paralegal work can be especially counter to this frantic notion.

Paralegals must print every single email the receive from clients for correspondence. Paralegals must draft every email, editing sentence by sentence, for solicitors to okay (or send back before being sent to a client). Paralegals double check email addresses and attached documents for confidentiality purposes. Paralegals rigorously keep track of time. There’s a lot of things a busy paralegal does.

Many people value conceptual knowledge and “blue sky thinking”. Indeed, based on the subjects I chose in high school, I prized such knowledge. But for all the conceptual knowledge in the world, you need a practical backing. Teddy Roosevelt said “Precept is a very good thing, but to my thinking an ounce of practical energy is worth any amount of precept without action” and he was right. For readers, the takeaway message is that there are fundamental skills like attention to detail that you must master, in spite of conceptual brilliance. I’ll discuss this more in a future post though.

In just one day of paralegal work I spent more time on deconstructing and rearranging sentences than I did for most of high school. Barring some year 12 assignments and E nglish Extension 2, the amount of time I spent rewriting sentences in clear English was minimal. Oddly enough, grammar is (foolishly) not taught in high school. If we may digress for a second, I found English a fascinating subject. Literary deconstruction is interesting and enlightening (some would argue it poisons your mind; there’s that too), and poignant issues are touched on. This is all well and good, English as literature deserves its own place. But, with English as a compulsory subject, I think there could be room for more fundamental concepts of writing to be rigorously drilled into students.

Again we come back to the point – precepts and concepts are good, but application and practicality matter more. Pedantry is an example of necessary attention to detail. If, for instance, you forgot to send one of many attachments, there’ll be a whole series of emails to deal with later.

You see, when you type an email to a client, its not the same as analysing rhetorical techniques. Your aim in sending emails to clients is to keep it simple and clear to a fault. While simplicity is underrated in essay writing (I’m at fault here!) , it is indispensable in communications. Your client must grasp your meaning. The solicitor who did not draft the reply that they send in their name must understand it. It must be understandable if called as evidence. In short, paralegals spend a long time on attention to detail, so that they can maximise clarity.

One point that needs to be discussed is just how busy solicitors tend to be. What I’m about to say is no doubt only a draft conclusion of sorts based upon my limited experience, yet paralegals work to make solicitors as efficient as possible. The solicitor deals with the arguments, high level correspondence etc. Checking addresses for accuracy, or having to redraft sentences is not something a solicitor should be doing, because their talents can be better put to use elsewhere. Specialisation can increase productivity in a firm, so obviously not everyone is a generalist!

What this is all to say is that attention to detail matters. Word choice and rewriting is always frowned upon in conversation for good reason, but pedantry does have its place in the world. It’s the application of fundamental grammar and other foundational practical skills. It counts.


From → Foundations

  1. I completely agree! It is crucial for paralegals to pay attention to details. I remember when I first started working as a Legal Assistant majority of work entailed preparing correspondences and make it easy to comprehend as possible. Filing out forms, sending out letters, writing emails, checking for grammar and preparing files is a nightmare if you can’t pay attention to details because if something isn’t right – you’re responsible.

    Great early morning read! Nice to see that someone else can relate.

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