Proofreading is everyone’s responsibility. I wondered how often a judge actually makes an error. Unfortunately for judges, I’m pretty sure any error they make is immediately made known and picked up by every legal news source in the country. So be thankful that unless your error is egregious or it is a slow news day, it may not be spread so far and wide!
We’ll start with the U.S. Supreme Court and some examples of
errors made. Apparently, there is a website that publishes the corrections that
the U.S. Supreme Court has made to correct misspellings, wrong word choices,
missing words, and grammatical missteps in Supreme Court opinions. This term,
according to the National Law Journal in this
ABA Journal article and this
Above The Law article, they include:
The word “palate” in the phrase “painter’s
palate” was corrected to “palette” in a concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas
in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The phrase “lassez-faire” in an opinion by
Justice Stephen G. Breyer in Ohio v. American Express was corrected to
The word “against” was inserted after “protects”
in a sentence describing Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The original
sentence in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision referred to “a law that
protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual
A problem with subject-verb agreement in a
concurrence by Justice Sonia Sotomayor was corrected in Hughes v. United
States. The first version of the opinion read, “The integrity and legitimacy
of our criminal justice system depends upon consistency.” The word “depend” was
substituted for “depends.”
“The Judicial Power of the United States” was
changed to “[t]he judicial Power of the United States” in Samuel Alito’s
dissent in Ortiz v. United States, since that’s how it’s written in original
In Jesner v. United States, Justice
Kennedy incorrectly described the facts of Filártiga v. Peña-Irala,
mixing Paraguay with Peru.
As much as Court watchers like to point out mistakes,
sometimes the U.S. Supreme Court stands by its choices. The word “miniscule” in
Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s dissent in Trump v. Hawaii was unchanged. Some
think the word should be “minuscule” while others disagree, saying that
“miniscule” isn’t the preferred word, but it’s not wrong.
In other courts, sometimes judges or law clerks insert reminders for things they need to follow up on and sometimes those reminders don’t get taken care of. The same can happen in any law office. This is one reason I try to highlight those notes as I see them so that as someone is scrolling through, at least it should make them slow down to see why something is highlighted. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel filed an opinion on a Motion to Dismiss with what Above the Law describes as “an uncomfortably honest assessment of the underlying research.”
Sometimes the error is not related to spelling or sentence construction, but is an error in numbers. Recently, an Oklahoma judge admitted that he made a $107 million math error in an order for Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in the opioid epidemic. The portion of the award devoted to a treatment program for addicted babies should have been $107,683, but in the order said $107,683,000. What’s a few zeroes between friends, eh? The number will be changed in the next version of the order.
Just know that errors happen to everyone but good proofreading skills will hopefully make those errors less likely to happen.
I recently hit the jackpot on menu errors when I found three in the same menu. First, it appears they only offer you one brussel sprout and then they spell that wrong. It should be Brussels (named after the city of Brussels) sprout.
Then, they off a “blackend” shrimp risotto, even though they spelled it “blackened” in the description.
And finally, they offered the rainbow trout with “oyser” mushrooms. It should be “oyster” mushrooms.
It is never my intent to make fun of any establishment–just to use these errors to teach you something–so I have marked out the name of the restaurant. And regardless of the errors, the food was delicious!
This was a category in some education sessions I recently attended. The one thing going for it was that they were consistent. It was spelled “Begginer” throughout all the material. While I loved the categories so I knew if something would be too far above my head for me to learn anything, I also love when someone proofreads the material going out to attendees.
This part of a menu from a local restaurant caught my eye because first, I love jalapenos so I notice those right away and, second, it is spelled differently in two places in the same paragraph. Worse yet, the second one is spelled so correctly it even includes the tilde.
My sister found this one on the local Facebook Marketplace. Obviously, the word should be “intact,” which, according to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, means “untouched especially by anything that harms or diminishes.”
A reader sent this one to me. I even researched it because I know that some zucchini has fuzz, but nothing in the recipe has anything to do with removing any fuzz and the general description of zucchini says nothing about fuzz. I’m pretty sure they meant to say “fuss.”
It is really important–particularly in email–to pay attention to how someone may read what you’re writing. Especially because they can’t see you and read your body language. One particular incident that I’ve seen is using “resent.” Do you mean “resent” or do you mean “re-sent”? The reader can’t tell from your body language what your intent is, so it is important to read your emails as someone else might read them.
If you think an email could be misconstrued, rewrite it. Personally, I think it is far more important that the information is accurate, things are spelled correctly, and everything is grammatically correct than that you impressed them with vocabulary.
Sometimes when people misunderstand your email, they fire back something in self-defense that they normally wouldn’t, which leaves you wondering what in the world is wrong with them.
Back in the “olden” days (before email), you had to write out a letter or note with what you wanted to say. Then you had to put a stamp on it, walk it to your mailbox or the post office, and wait for a response. That process gave you a little more time to draft, redraft, and draft again the perfect message. Today, we are moving so fast and trying to get so much done that we seldom slow down and really think about what we’re doing. Here are a few other things that come up in email that are completely avoidable:
Don’t get too used to using the “shorthand” name entry for your emails. There could be more than one person in your contacts list whose email starts with “ks,” so you could end up sending it to someone you didn’t intend to, which could easily have disastrous consequences.
Make sure the email address is spelled correctly. It is embarrassing to have to re-send an email just to the client because you got their email address wrong. Plus, anyone who hits “reply all” to that email will get a message that the client’s email didn’t go through and will either have to look it up or leave them off. Neither of those is a good option.
Don’t fire off an email when you’re angry. You can write it out–but I would suggest you leave the “to” line blank–but let it simmer for a while. There is no better way to start an email war than to fire the first shot with an angry (and unnecessary) email. The odds of successfully recalling such an email are very, very small.
So drop the “lawyerspeak” and spend more of your energy making sure the facts are correct, things are spelled correctly, and your intent is understood. Email is certainly a valuable tool, but it is easily misused so be careful!