Not too long ago, I posted a note entitled “The Little Stuff Matters.”  The post featured a sign from a car window, in which a parent rightly extolled his/her son’s military service.  There is perhaps nothing more worthy of public adulation than military service.  And yes, the service-person does fortify the many freedoms that I enjoy here at home.  However, the window sign appeared to mock those familiar bumper stickers that celebrate honor roll students.  In the process, the sign unfortunately misspelled a word.  In my post, I pointed out the “catastrophic irony” of the misspelling, under the circumstances.  One responder countered that the service-person’s sacrifice is far more important than his parent’s ability to differentiate homophones.  Very true!  Not only do I agree, but that was precisely my point!

The “irony” I meant to highlight is the sign’s apparent condescension towards “honor roll students,” and the reason I think it is catastrophic is because it deflects attention from the parent’s original source of pride — the son’s brave and selfless military service.  In my post, I conceded that the definition of the word ‘homophone’ is pointless in the grand scheme of things.  In my opinion, technicalities like spelling have very little (if any) correlation to a writer’s content, ability, or intent.  It is for that very reason that I hate to see technicalities steal the spotlight from substance.  For example, the best-qualified person for a job might be passed over because of an inadvertent typo in his/her resume.  In that case, both the applicant and the employer get the short end of the stick.  Nobody wins — and frankly, it just seems downright unfair.  But of course,  it happens every day.  And that’s why I teach my students that The Little Stuff Matters.  Maybe it shouldn’t — but the reality is, it does.  And when the content involves a serious or consequential subject, I’d argue that the little stuff matters even more.

What do you think?  In the legal context (since this is a legal writing blog), are judges warranted in doubting the credibility of lawyers whose briefs have spelling or grammar errors?  We all make them, after all.  Is it just a matter of degree?  How strict should judges be?  Lawyers: in your practice, have you ever suffered a substantive loss due to a technical mistake in writing?  And do you secretly feel more confident with every typographical error you read in your opponent’s legal memorandum?   Or do find that those trivialities make little or no difference in the end?

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