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One piece of advice I always urge junior and senior lawyers to follow is to identify and use templates. Junior lawyers should ask for sample documents to follow for formatting, style, and substance when getting new assignments. Senior lawyers should share templates and precedent to help newer lawyers prepare work product that meets their expectations.

Templates will make your job easier, but they aren’t the be all, end all of creating work product. You still need to think critically and carefully about how the template meets your needs in your matter and applies to the specific legal and factual circumstances at play. In short, even when you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you should still kick the tires.

With that in mind, here are some issues to consider when working from a template:

Unique Facts

How do the facts of your matter impact the template you’re using? If you were asked to draft a deposition notice and the partner emails you a sample template, you’ll need to edit the caption, date, witness, etc.

Unique Law

Always read the cases cited in a document or form you intend to reuse; they may not apply to your situation, even if you and your supervising attorney initially thought they would.

Double Check Current Laws, Rules, & Regulations

If you are working from a template citing old law that you think should apply to your situation, run a quick check to ensure those cases haven’t been overturned, and that there isn’t anything better to cite instead. Similarly, check any statues or regulations cited in the form to confirm they apply and haven’t changed.

In addition, court rules change more frequently than you might expect. Before filing any document, always check your court and judge’s rules and individual practices. Cases may last years; in that time, a judge may completely overhaul how they like to receive filings. I once had a judge revise his procedures for discovery letter motions about a year into a multi-year discovery period on my case. His changes were major, including dropping the page limits from five to three. One party to the case didn’t check his updated rules and filed an improper motion, which he struck from the record. These errors tend to be fixable—he did let them refile—but are not a great way to impress your client or a judge.

Different Perspectives

From whose perspective was the template drafted? If you’re working on an agreement and find a sample to use, think about the original parties to that deal. With which one is your client most aligned? Are the agreement terms favorable to that party or do you need to revise them?

Clarify as Needed

Read every word of the template carefully. Does it all make sense to you? Just because another lawyer thought the agreement or motion was clear doesn’t mean it is. Make improvements where you can, and never circulate or file something you don’t understand fully.

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