Attention to detail is what law is all about. If you sell to law firms, in-house legal teams and lawyers generally you should maintain excellent attention to detail or risk losing your sale. Learn it here, and why it matters.
What is attention to detail?
Attention to detail is thoroughness and accuracy when accomplishing a task. Behavioural indicators of an individual or organisation demonstrating excellent attention to detail include the below:
- Provides accurate, consistent numbers in all paperwork
- Provides information in a useable form and on a timely basis to others who need to act on it
- Maintains a checklist, schedule, calendar, etc. to ensure that small details are not overlooked
- Follows policies, procedure, safety and security measures in using various equipment or managing data
- Their work product requires little or no checking, having been successfully proofread and sense checked beforehand
- Writes down important details in messages or communications so the details are not lost or forgotten
Attention to detail is critical to legal work, lawyers and law firms
1. Law firms sell attention to detail
Law firms are built on attention to detail. So too are legal careers. Its absence can undo a lawyer and sometimes an entire law firm.
Lawyers are paid to check and re-check that the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed and thereby protect their clients’ interests.
A good example is the due diligence of an acquisition. Lawyers are paid to sweat the details, check facts are correct and accurately paper the intentions of their client and counterparties via contracts.
Likewise, litigators win or lose based on their ability to find a smoking gun in the evidence, or holes in their opponent’s argument, that in either case unlocks a win for their client.
It’s all about detail, detail, detail.
2. Lawyers have it drilled into them from day one
Attention to detail is tattooed onto lawyer brains from day one of their legal education and on the job training. It’s the most frequent area for further attention (pun intended). Most lawyers regard attention to detail as a lifelong pursuit.
3. A lack of attention to detail can end a legal career or law firm
Here are a few examples of why attention to detail is critical to lawyers and legal teams:
- A single word or punctuation mark out of place can change the meaning of a clause or contract. Mistakes like these can flip meaning or inadvertently grant excessively onerous or favourable terms to one party when none were in fact agreed nor intended.
- A missing or incorrect digit can drastically alter the price and payment due under a contract, or even redirect it to the wrong bank account and potentially lose it forever.
- Emails attaching or containing confidential information about client A sent to the wrong recipient, or worse, a recipient with directly opposing interests to client B (e.g. if client B is the buyer and A is the seller of a substantial asset) can have career-ending effects. It can also incur huge legal liabilities for the firm involved.
- Failing to file and maintain records of legal or regulatory filings on behalf of clients can incur huge liabilities and in some cases render void valuable legal rights such as security for a loan, leaving the lender unsecured for its debt. If that lender’s loan is in the millions and they have no way of recovering its value (i.e. no security) should the borrower become insolvent this is a big problem, not just for the lender but also their lawyers.
- Misspelt or ungrammatical emails, letters or documents can give clients a bad impression, costing that firm their business.
- Inheritances have been lost, or nearly lost, due to deficits in attention to detail.
- A missed deadline can cost millions or nuke an M&A.
4. Lawyers manage other people’s risk
Lawyers are also more generally in the business of managing other people’s risk (i.e. their client’s). Their job is to ensure a client’s intended decisions and actions stay within the law and protect their stated position. Getting that wrong isn’t an option.
5. Lawyers are also an insurance policy
In this way, lawyers are another form of insurance. But they are quite literally a form of insurance – if they make mistakes you can often sue them, claiming against their public liability insurance.
6. The takeaway
The takeaway is this:
The smallest detail can instantaneously destroy a legal career, and sometimes a law firm.
When lawyers look to buy products and services they likewise expect, and need, you and your offering to be a safe pair of hands.
Lack of attention to detail will cancel any chance of you and your offering meeting this standard.
But come on… How badly can you get it wrong?
Spectacularly wrong so it turns out:
1. The $5m Oxford comma
A misplaced Oxford comma cost a truck company $5m. Three dairy-truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy in 2014 for four years of unpaid overtime wages.
The case hinged on a missing comma after “packing for shipment” in the following clause of Maine state law, which listed exemptions from overtime as follows:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
1. Agricultural produce
2. Meat and fish products; and
3. Perishable foods
The missing comma, in this case, would have separated “packing for shipment” and “distribution” into distinct activities, both separately exempt from overtime.
Without the comma, the drivers argued “packing for shipment or distribution of…” was a singular activity exempt from overtime, not two separate activities. Since they had distributed, but not packed, the products, the exemption did not apply and they were owed overtime wages. The appeals court agreed, ruling the passage ambiguous.
If a comma had been there, the law would have explicitly ruled out those who distribute perishable foods.
2. Liquidating the wrong company
In the United Kingdom, the High Court found the government responsible for typo inflicted damage on a Welsh company.
An agency meant to report that “Taylor & Son, Ltd.,” was in liquidation, but instead used the name “Taylor & Sons, Ltd.”
Sadly the latter company had been doing fine and was completely solvent. However, it nevertheless quickly entered insolvency after clients and creditors were spooked by the false report that Talor & Sons, Ltd was being wound up when in fact it was Taylor & Son, Ltd that was being liquidated.
The extra “s” cost about $14 million (US). Oops!
3. Buy high and sell low… or how to make a $340m loss
Widely regarded as the most costly pricing mistake of all time, in 2005 Mizuho Securities Co., a division of the second-largest national bank in Japan, attempted to sell shares of a recruiting company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Instead of offering single shares for 610,000 yen apiece, a typo led to the sale of 610,000 shares for 1 yen apiece.
In less than one day Mizuho lost nearly $340 million. Ouch!
Attention to detail is often used to vet business partners
Van Halen, rock & roll and… attention to detail
Van Halen were a popular 1980s band. A famous story about the band concerns their contract rider, essentially a set of special conditions attached to their touring contract. Although contract riders are commonplace, Van Halen’s was special.
The band’s rider demanded, among other things, a bowl of M&Ms from which all the brown ones had been removed.
Most contractual counterparties (and the media) felt this evidenced that fame had gone to their heads and they wanted to make people do ridiculous things just because they could. To be honest, why wouldn’t you?
However, as David Lee Roth (lead vocalist) later wrote in his autobiography, the rider’s purpose was simple: it was an easy and essential way of testing local promoters’ attention to detail:
“We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks full of gear . . . [a]nd there were [often] many, many technical errors. . . . So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say . . . “There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.” So when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, [we’d] line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to [find] a technical error. They didn’t read the contract.”– Crazy From the Heat, David Lee Roth
Details save lives
But why does a rock band sweat these details? As David Lee Roth described, their lives can literally depend upon it.
All too often the proper set-up and inspection of stages, lighting and rigging in film, theatre and music has caused some very serious and some fatal accidents.
Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, was infamously shot dead by a faulty prop gun whilst filming The Crow. As recently as 2016 Harrison Ford was nearly crushed to death filming The Force Awakens by a faulty set door. Details save lives.
Takeaway: attention to detail says a lot about a person’s, or an organisation’s, due care and attention and commitment to delivering excellent products or services. It’s a proxy for sincerity and security. In other words, are they capable of keeping you safe?
Poor attention to detail in legaltech
Like Van Halen, legal buyers vet vendors based on attention to detail. Who knew?
Here are some howlers from the world of lawtech that derailed sales cycles, or at best made for uncomfortable conversations…
1. Knowledge Mismanagement and the Rotten Roadmap
If your product claims to be the best for precision, accuracy and understanding of legal data then make sure your roadmap materials aren’t nonsense.
One vendor shared a superficially glossy looking pitch deck outlining its value proposition, core product and roadmap. Page one looked good. It made some bold claims.
However, on page two there were no fewer than 13 blindingly obvious and easily avoidable mistakes. Many more errors littered the remainder of the document.
What were they? Pretty serious ones. Here are two illustrative examples:
- Like most AI products the main UI is split down the middle. Document on one side and review form with extracted data points on the opposite side. In the document viewer was a screenshot of a leveraged finance credit agreement. This document had been classified by the ‘AI” as an “ISDA” – an entirely different type of financial contract relating to swaps and derivatives. They couldn’t be more different. A loan agreement is not an ISDA document.
- In the review form was a list of data points entitled “Lease Review”. Sadly a leveraged finance agreement is also not a residential lease. But it didn’t seem to matter. The “AI” was shown to have accurately and precisely extracted from the loan agreement data points exclusively related to real estate, including (a) Landlord, (b) Tenant, (c) Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, (c) Rental Amount, (d) Rental Term and several others… bizarrely the data points list also included a single ISDA related data point to enhance the sense of madness.
It was a mess. Perhaps the “AI” had evolved an ability for professional negligence? Or maybe this is the AI apocalypse Elon Musk has repeatedly forewarned? Who could have foreseen Skynet would birth itself via legal?
Why is this bad? It completely negated the marketing spiel on page 1 espousing the vendor’s supposed market-leading understanding of legal process, legal data and knowledge management concerns regarding precision and accuracy.
The moral of this story is don’t blindly copy and / or share mock-ups from your UX / UI / Product team (what was later discovered to have happened) without sense checking that what they’ve produced reflects real data and use cases.
It only takes a few minutes to check each other’s work. Please do. Look after your colleagues.
2. Useless training videos
Check what you upload to your official YouTube marketing channel, website, support site or social media. One vendor maintained a laughably incorrect set of user training videos on YouTube for over 6 months. They were also shared with vendor clients for their training needs.
These videos sought (but failed) to showcase three things:
- a thorough understanding of the legal domain, in particular, real contract review tasks and use cases;
- the vendor’s unrivalled accuracy at extracting the correct data in the correct manner from contracts; and
- crucially, how to use this software to confidently automate legal processes where attention to detail is 100% critical.
What the video actually demonstrated was a mess.
A mess of ISDA documents (covering swaps and derivatives) shown as being part of a “lease review”, complete with real estate data points shown extracted against ISDA documents.
For even the most junior lawyer, this makes no sense. ISDA’s don’t include tenancy provisions. It also made the video unnecessarily confusing.
It looked like the vendor had not bothered to understand its user, nor their core needs: attention to detail in due diligence. Worst of all, it rendered the training element entirely redundant.
3. Client control + replace
This happens all too often. We’ve lost count of the times a vendor has accidentally emailed one law firm, only to have included a competitor firm’s name in the subject line, email body or worse still, the proposal and pricing document.
Don’t do this. It looks terrible. Do you want to imply every client is interchangeable and non-unique? We thought not. You should make your clients feel special.
It also suggests you aren’t able to manage your own confidential data or that of others… so why would a buyer ever trust you with their data? If you’ve shared data about firm A with firm B by mistake, what makes firm B think you wouldn’t also accidentally or deliberately share firm B’s data with firm A? The answer: not a lot.
If a law firm employee commits this sin it’s very possible the offending employee would be read the riot act, or worse, fired.
4. Blindly promote your competitors’ content
Make sure your social media team understand your product or service, its competitors (direct and indirect, actual and potential) and your clients and their needs.
Do not promote competitor content… it suggests you don’t understand your own business. It also looks daft.
Pay special attention to:
- Blogs – check that they aren’t the social media mouthpiece for your competition. Sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious… but it only takes a few clicks to figure this out. If in doubt, don’t re-post.
- Fact check articles in the mainstream media – are they a promoted / sponsored post by a competitor? If so, don’t re-post, retweet or share if it promotes a rival product in direct competition to your own!
How to develop your attention to detail
Check your work:
- Proofread it for typos and errors. Correct anything erroneous before sharing it.
- Pay special attention to numbers, dates, names, claims and screenshots of the product and their corresponding description, labels or explanation – does the audio match the visual and vice versa?
- Sense check it. Can you understand what you’ve produced? Will the client understand it the way you intend?
- Have you used real-world, practical examples and data based on a thorough understanding of your clients’ user personas? If not, why not? Get to know them.
- Take regular breaks.
- Use a fresh pair of eyes. Come back to a unit of work product after an enforced break. Alternatively, or in addition, ask a colleague to peer review your work. There is a reason lawyers, doctors and scientists peer review… it prevents mistakes and ensures quality. Be like them.
- For written material, read it back to yourself out loud or run your finger along each line as you read. It sounds daft, but it really works.
- Use a spell checker, or your AI. This is 2019 after all.
Perfection is the enemy of done
So the saying goes. And it’s true. Laser focus on perfection at all costs usually means nothing gets done.
But that’s not what we’re arguing here.
This article is a simple plea to do things correctly, not perfectly. You can have a correct pitch, demo or set of marketing materials without it being perfect.
Invest a little extra time before you send that email, attach that document, or share your latest sales pitch deck or marketing material. If you don’t and it’s riddled with errors, what impression does that provide? Hint: a bad one.
And make sure you get the buyer’s name and organisation correct.
It’s not rocket science: don’t be a berk, check your work.