Legal writing is an important skill for lawyers across all practice areas. Much of a lawyer’s work involves writing, whether it’s internal communication like memos, client correspondence, or official documents like motions and briefs.
For legal writing to be effective, you must conduct thorough research, ensure the document flows, and present information at a level that’s appropriate for your purpose and target audience.
Continue reading for tips to strengthen your legal writing.
What Is Legal Writing?
Legal writing is the type of writing used for documents on legal matters, such as briefs, memorandums, contracts, and motions. Typically, the purpose of legal writing is to persuade, though the tone and style may be tailored to a specific audience. For example, documents intended for judges will have legalese, but plain language should be used for clients.
Foundations of Legal Writing
Effective legal writing relies on robust logic and reasoning that supports arguments, which translates into your skill for how you present your legal arguments in other areas.
Through the legal writing process, you will learn to identify gaps in your reasoning, convey ideas with authority, and distinguish unfavorable authority, which are all skills that inform your career. Over time, you’ll find that you become stronger in other areas of your legal practice.
Step-by-Step of the Legal Writing Process
The more you write, the more comfortable you’ll become with legal writing and legal document management. Here’s how you can get started and build a strong foundation:
Consider Your Audience
Before you write, think about who you’re writing the document for. Is the purpose to inform or persuade? Is your reader well-versed in legalese and advanced legal concepts? Or do you need to present the information more plainly?
These questions will inform how you structure the document you’re writing.
Understand the Goal
What is the outcome you’re hoping to achieve with your legal writing? For example, court documentation may be intended to persuade, but a contract is usually written to inform. Knowing the purpose at the start will influence the structure, tone, and voice you use.
Use an Outline
Working within an outline may seem restrictive at first, but it’s key to developing strong legal writing skills. With legal writing, the readers expect a certain structure to assist with comprehension, particularly among other legal professionals. A good outline also helps you keep your ideas concise and focused.
As you get more comfortable and learn to master the conventions of legal writing, you will have an opportunity to get creative.
When you’re finished with your outline, you can convert it into a template to use in the future and save time.
Look at Examples
If you’re stuck, take some time to read examples of what makes a memo or brief effective. The documents you read in law school are likely different in their style and audience than the ones you’ll be drafting yourself as a working lawyer.
As you read, take note of the analysis, structure, tone, and format of the documents. Avoid looking at just one or two examples. Reviewing several well-written examples of similar documents will give you a clearer picture of how to make your own writing resonate with the reader.
Focus on the Most Important Information First
It can be difficult to stare at a mostly blank page. The best way to begin is with a solid introduction that guides your document’s purpose, followed by the main ideas that compose your argument.
If you’re struggling to get started, focus on the sections that come more easily or your strongest arguments. From there, you can add supporting arguments and edit to ensure everything flows well.
Edit and Proofread
No matter how experienced you are, you won’t get it perfect the first time. When you finish writing, begin editing and proofreading to give your document a final polish. You should do several passes with a different focus each time.
For the first edit, make sure the information is complete and the content flows well from one section to the next. On the second run, focus on the nuances and see if you need to add or remove any information to make it clearer. Take as many drafts as you need but save the proofreading for the last edit to catch any typos or errors.
Tips to Sharpen Legal Writing
Once you have the basics of legal writing down, you can sharpen your skills and learn how to get a little creative. Here are some tips:
1. Limit Jargon
While you certainly need legalese in some contexts, using too much with the wrong audience will only make your writing confusing and ineffective. It’s appropriate to rely on legalese for court documents because a judge or attorney may read it, but plain language should be your go-to for most of your writing.
2. Create Templates
Templates are like generalized outlines that you can adjust to suit your specific documents. This will provide a blueprint for your writing to maintain consistency and develop your process. With law practice management software like PracticePanther, you can upload custom document templates to streamline the process.
3. Use Proper Formatting
Formatting for legal documents follows specific elements that ensure they’re complete and polished, but the specifications and requirements for paper size, font, margins, and binding can all vary.
Despite these differences, your document should always have good grammar, consistent tenses, limited slang and hyperbole, and an active voice. Tools like Grammarly can help you refine your writing skills from a technical standpoint.
Final Thoughts on Legal Writing
Legal writing can take some time to master. No one gets it perfect the first time or even the first few times. Like any other skill, it takes learning and practice to become an effective legal writer.
There’s more to it than just putting words on paper. Legal writing requires research, planning, and editing to have a polished finished document.