know the fear of sending out a draft document - be it to a senior lawyer or to a client. You want to do a good job but legal drafting being the way it is, that requires you triple-check all the small details.
That’s why we created this legal drafting checklist - an overview of all the common drafting mistakes that typically manage to sneak into your legal drafting. You can use the checklist below as a final check-up to ensure that a draft is ready to be sent out.
How to use
Before you send out your next draft, take a look at the potential errors in the list below.
Check off an issue once you’ve checked your draft for it. A progress bar will fill up.
Once you’ve checked off all issues, your draft is ready to be sent out!
% of the checklist completed)
Your word processor’s spellchecker is your friend, but don’t rely on it blindly! It won’t be able to catch things such as:
Grammatical consistency – e.g. if there are two “Purchasers” in a document but a clause references “the Purchaser”, this will not be considered a grammatical error.
Consistent (non-)use of articles – some lawyers prefer using an article when referring to a party (“the Provider”, “the Client”), others prefer dropping that article (“Provider”, “Client”). Ensure consistency on that front.
Consistent use of semicolons and enumerations
Semicolons are often confused with other punctuation marks. Pay attention to where you put them, and remember that semicolons are not interchangeable with commas or colons. Use a semicolon to connect closely related but independent text.
The data importer shall inform the data subjects:
of its identity and contact details;
of the categories of personal data processed; and
of the right to obtain a copy of the clauses.
Consistent use of terminology
An example of inconsistent terminology is using both “Supplier” and “Provider” in the same document when you are referring to a single party.
Also make sure to use the same terminology for referring to a clause (e.g.: “section”, “clause”, “article” – typically doesn’t matter which one but be consistent)
Terms in the document and terms in the definition list are synchronised (so-called “
All terms used in the definition list should correspond to terms used in the rest of the document.
A quick way to check for this is to go down the list of terms and use the search functionality, combined with the “Match case” option, to search for capitalised instances of the words in the definition list.
Capitalised terms in the rest of the document should conversely make an appearance in the definition list or should be defined in-line.
Finally, some defined (i.e.: capitalised) terms will be used in the document without a capital letter. This can be done with good reason, but it’s important to double-check whether it is necessary. For example: the term “the Services” can refer to an exhaustively defined list of services and be used alongside the term “the services”, which refers to any other service that fall outside that limited scope.
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Consistent numbering & headings
Level 1, 2, 3,… headings should all have consistent font, font size, capitalisation, etc.
Make sure that hardcoded numbering in your titels and subtitels is removed.
Note that some lawyers prefer to have no level 2 headings for clauses with a single paragraph. Your preference is your own, but be consistent. If your organisation has a style guide, definitely check what the preference is on the styling front.
Consider setting some time aside to familiarize yourself with how styling actually works in your word processor of choice - it will save you plenty of headaches and long nights down the road!
It’s okay to have different fonts in a single document – for example: titles in Arial Bold and body text in Times New Roman. Just make sure whatever setup you go with is applied consistently.
The indentation is the blank space at the beginning of a paragraph.
First-line idents: Use this to indent the first line of a paragraph.
Hanging idents: This is an indent that indents all text except for the first line.
Yes, the Tab-key can help in setting up indentation space, but know that it has the potential to significantly mess up your styling. If you are aiming for consistency, use your word processor’s built in styling functionalities to create indentations!
This is the space before and after paragraphs. Ensure that paragraphs of the same type offer the same amount of spacing.
With text alignment you can set the horizontal alignment of your text.
Justified: This is easy to read and has a formal feeling. However, when there is a line with a small number of words, odd spaces can occur.
Left: This is most used as it follows the natural flow of language and the eye’s gaze.
Right: Only used in languages that read right to left.
Centred: This is difficult to read with long bodies of text.
Headings give your document a structure and help readers navigate it and understand the content hierarchy. Pick one heading style for each level. Make sure the headings are easy to differentiate.
There should be one Heading 1
Any subheadings below that must be Heading 2
Andy subsections of the Heading 2 headings must be a Heading 3
And so on
Ensure consistency in how bullets are displayed and know that that there are different levels, that correspond with different kinds of indentations and different symbols.
Example of the different variations:
Bullet level 1: *
Bullet level 2: (i)
Bullet level 3: a)
Besides choosing the style of your bullets you can also change the distance of the bullet indent from the margin.
Numbers in body text
Different lawyers have different preferences when it comes to written numbers in the text of a document.
Hundred (100Whether) euro
100 (hundred) euro
The use of both numbers and letters is highly outdated, but you will still see some lawyers insist that you use it. The key here is to be consistent.
First, the legal expectations for date notation vary between countries, it is important to be aware of the form that is used in a particular country.
Second, harmonize the date notation throughout the whole document, to avoid confusion and ensure accuracy.
Day-month formats such as 20 April 2022 or 20/04/2022.
Month-day formats such as April 20, 2022 or 04/20/2022.
Use the same type of punctuation marks to set off direct speech, a quotation, or a phrase (e.g. “ “ or ‘ ‘). Quotation marks can be curly or straight so make sure you consistently use the same type in a pair.
Also double-check whether each opening quotation mark has a related closing quotation mark. Searching your document for a quotation mark should always yield an even number.
Consistent headers or footers
Make sure any section breaks are accounted when setting up page numbering. These can sometimes cause:
numbering to reset in the middle of a document,
headers not being consistent,
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Get your facts straight
Any factual information that you already know of should be filled out correctly – e.g.:
Commencement date of the contract.
Names and other identifying information of the parties (including full legal name).
Search for “[” and ”]” to complete or remove any square brackets where necessary
Square brackets are universal designations of placeholders (e.g.: [name]).
If you want to include placeholders, make sure you have a closing bracket for each opening bracket and vice versa.
If you want to remove/fill out placeholders, make sure you remove the brackets.
Exhibits and schedules are in correct sequence in the document and correctly tied into the actual exhibits and schedules
Many documents that contain exhibits, schedules, annexes, etc. will have a list of these documents – typically in either a designated list or in a general table of contents.
It’s important to match the numbering in that list with the actual numbering of the attached documents.
Double spaces removed
A quick double-tap of the space bar is an easy mistake to make. The replace all functionality in most word processors (Ctrl/Cmd + H) allows you to replace all double spaces with a single space.
Cross-references all functional
Select all text in the document (Ctrl+A) and refresh your cross-references (F9). Then search (Ctrl+F) for “Error!” to find any error notifications for broken cross-references (typically portrayed as “Error! Reference source not found.”).
Note: this only works if you use dynamic cross-references and not hardcoded references. If you are still using the latter, you have bigger problems to worry about.
Remove drafting notes
Few things are more embarrassing than sending out internal comments/reminders/thoughts, especially when you send out a document to a client.
These drafting notes can take the shape of:
Comments – overview can be found via the review pane.
Footnotes – overview can be found via print view.
In-line drafting (e.g.: [Drafting note: ….] – harder to track, if you do use this style, it’s important to be consistent in how you do it. For example, if you always start with “Drafting Note”, then you just have to search for “Drafting Note” to gain a comprehensive overview of remaining notes.
If you are working with Track Changes in Microsoft Word make sure that all changes are removed. Navigate to the “Review” tab and accept all changes.
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If you’re tired of repeating the same checks over and over and want to explore a new way of drafting, then check out our document automation platform