What is Legal Proofreading?
I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last 12 months. This question and several variants thereon. What is a legal proofreader? Does your proofreading course teach how to be a legal proofreader? Does you proofreading course teach how to read court transcripts? Are legal proofreading courses worth the high price tag?
So, what is Legal Proofreading?
Well, first of all, let’s be clear: it isn’t the opposite of illegal proofreading. So far as I’m aware, there is no situation in which someone might be told, “Put down the red pen, punk! You’re going to be doing all your proofreading in the state penitentiary from now on.” I could be wrong, but nothing springs to mind.
I’ll be honest with you, when people first started asking me these questions, I had no idea what a legal proofreader was or what legal proofreading entailed.
So, I did a bit of research. Which is to say, I Googled it.
"What is a legal proofreader?"
All I got was a handful of results telling me I could make $$$s as a legal proofreader or court transcript proofreader. I then turned to Google once more.
"Court transcript proofreading jobs."
This time nothing. Quite a lot of insurance transcript proofreading opportunities popped up (and that might be the subject of a future blog post), but nothing for court transcript proofreaders.
Now, I’ll admit, I only did a quick toe-in-the-water search, so I’m not saying for a moment that those jobs don’t exist. I’m sure they do.
So, thanks very much Google but it looks like I’m going to have to take my search offline.
When is a legal proofreader not a legal proofreader?
I asked a few proofreading colleagues and a friend of mine who happens to be a solicitor and lecturer in Law.
Turns out, there’s no such thing as a Legal Proofreader. But there are people who proofread legal documents. There are people who proofread court transcripts, people who proofread legal journals and people who proofread books on the subject of the Law.
But wouldn’t you call a person who proofreads legal documents a Legal Proofreader?
I suppose you could. It wouldn’t hurt.
But that would make me a Construction Proofreader.
Hang on, Mike. We haven’t got to the bottom of what a Legal Proofreader is and now you’re telling us there are Construction Proofreaders?
Actually, what I’m saying is there’s no such thing as a Construction Proofreader in much the same way there is no such thing as a Legal Proofreader, but in both cases these terms could be loosely applied.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Is this a Matrix thing?
No. Prepare to not have your mind blown.
Over the last several years, I have proofread heaps of documents for the construction industry. I’ve proofread case studies detailing various construction projects, from luxurious residential high-rises to schools, universities and laboratories. I’ve proofread technical documents for a whole host of construction materials, including acoustic insulation, fire-resistant building boards and thermal bridging barriers. I’ve proofread brochures, adverts, press releases and every other type of marketing collateral you can think of to promote construction products, systems and brands.
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’ve proofread:
It’s not for the fainthearted and having an understanding of construction terminology, building regulations, material-testing standards etc is a huge advantage. Because I have this knowledge (gained through experience, not qualification) I could refer to myself as a Construction Proofreader.
But let’s be absolutely clear, the ‘construction’ and ‘proofreading’ skill sets are completely discrete from one another. At no point am I ‘construction proofreading’ a technical document. I am proofreading whilst simultaneously calling upon my knowledge of the construction industry.
Likewise, the ‘legal’ and ‘proofreading’ skill sets are completely discrete from one another. If you are proofreading a court transcript, you will be using your proofreading skill set and your understanding of the formatting, content and purpose of court transcripts.
Now, if you want to call that person a Legal Proofreader, go ahead. That’s fine. Me? I’d call a person who proofreads legal documents a ‘proofreader’. I’d call a person who proofreads construction documents a ‘proofreader’. I’d call a person with a PhD in Botany proofreading a dissertation about ‘Epigenetics and Polycomb Regulation in Plants’ a ‘proofreader’.
The benefits of additional skill sets
Possessing secondary (or in many cases primary) skill sets opens up opportunities for you to proofread in areas that might be out of reach otherwise. If you have a background in education, you’re more likely to be given an opportunity to proofread a University Prospectus. If you previously worked as an accountant, you’re more likely to be given the opportunity to proofread a company’s end-of-year report.
But at no point do you need to learn:
You need to learn to proofread.
You can then call upon your additional experience and knowledge to give you better access to these additional proofreading opportunities. If you don’t have the necessary experience of knowledge, you should seek it entirely separately from the proofreading aspect. Take court transcript training course if you want to proofread court transcripts.
Now if you only want to proofread court transcripts and you’ve found a course which is more cost-effective than taking both, then go for it.
My advice? Learn to proofread first, then specialise. For one thing, there are lots of opportunities for proofreaders which don’t require much in the way of specialist knowledge, and those markets open up to you the moment you’ve learned to proofread. With no knowledge or experience beyond that of a proofreader, I’ve undertaken proofreading work for IT businesses, online lingerie sellers, opticians, beauticians, dentists, solicitors (yep, without Legal Proofreader status), accountancy firms, charities, timber merchants, carpet manufacturers…
Better, I would say, to be a busy proofreader who proofreads a wide range of materials – including legal documents or scientific dissertations or construction-product datasheets – than a proofreader who is limited to particular document types or sources of work.
Legal proofreading, in summary
So, in summary, what is a legal proofreader (or a court proofreader or transcript proofreader)? Well it’s a proofreader who proofreads legal documents or court transcripts. But, first and foremost, that person is a proofreader.
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My name's Mike Sellars and I'm an experienced proofreader and the author of The No-Nonsense Proofreading Course. Click here to find out more about me.
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