Using too much “legalese” with a client who is unfamiliar with certain legal matters, for example, may end up confusing them. ~ Anjelica Rivera
What is the best legal writing tip you would give to a new lawyer?
Here is what 9 legal experts had to say:
- Use Examples of Legal Documents
- Stick With IRAC
- Steer Clear of Overcomplicated Sentences
- Become a Storyteller
- Pay Attention to Content Structure
- Read What You’ve Written Aloud
- Start Off Strongest
- Be Clear, Consistent, and Straightforward
- Use Jargon Only When Necessary
Use Examples of Legal Documents
Memos and legal briefs are very different from judicial opinions, and you don’t want to write one like the other. So, before setting out to write a memo or brief, seek out clear examples written by other lawyers. You can use these examples as a legal writing style guide of sorts, and they can help you with the tone, length, vocabulary, and structure.
Court Will, Will & Will
Stick with IRAC
I would highly encourage new lawyers to stick to the “IRAC” structure of legal writing until they get more comfortable with legal writing. As you may already know, IRAC stands for the “Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion” structure of legal analysis. By sticking with this structure, a new lawyer can easily address any applicable legal issue in an easy-to-use and easy-to-remember format that effectively analyzes legal issues. While this legal structure may be one of the first concepts you learn in law school, it is actually an effective legal concept applicable to any lawyer that has to analyze a legal issue in written format.
Tate Meagher, Meagher Law Office, PLLC
Steer Clear of Overcomplicated Sentences
As a lawyer, your writing should always aim to inform the reader, not confuse them. Long and drawn-out sentences, using too many adjectives, abruptly jumping from one thought to another are all examples of writing mistakes that should be avoided at all costs. Instead, practice communicating in a way that’s succinct, informative, and to-the-point, without beating around the bush.
Riley Beam, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.
Become a Storyteller
Telling a story and developing a theme is expected in every lawsuit and it’s the lawyers’ job to be convincing. My tip is, to go about telling a story through your writing I recommend starting with a theme. Think of the theme as your foundation, starting with the statement of facts, outlining the narrative you wish to present, incorporating the legal analysis along with the key story elements. Keep track of your theme as you expand your analysis, as the theme supports your position.
Saskia Ketz, Mojomox
Pay Attention to Content Structure
Writing from the top down is the most excellent approach to structure any text. Begin by explaining what you’re writing about and why you’re writing it, then present evidence to back up your claims.
Choose your strongest or most persuasive arguments to focus your essay on, and then filter other supporting reasons. Use headings to separate sections and flow from one argument to the next, and use summary sentences to begin new sections. Using lists and bullets to make your work scannable for the reader may also be beneficial where suitable.
Axel Hernborg, Tripplo.com
Read What You’ve Written Aloud
It is easier to notice and correct faults when reading the material you wrote aloud. You immediately get a feeling of how the words you used fit together and function as a whole. You can determine whether your phrasing was awkward or fragmented, allowing you to redo or rewrite certain parts that don’t work. Reading aloud also helps to highlight whether or not your writing is on topic. You can more easily identify areas when you’ve diverted from the subject at hand or have unintentionally introduced a completely new thought. You can see if you’ve rambled on for too long, if a piece has gotten too unclear or out of order, and if you’ve used the same term too many times.
David Bitton, Doorloop
Start Off Strongest
Legal writing needs to be as persuasive as a marketing piece while maintaining a high level of legal knowledge and factual information. To make a compelling case you should always consider your piece’s structure and how the argument’s organization affects the reader. Start first with an explanation of the topic at hand and why you’re writing about it, then drop your strongest argument first. Once you pick your most persuasive points, start there and filter down into supporting arguments afterward. Use headings to section your writing into more palatable chunks and use bullet points for items that would be more effective listed for easy scanning.
David Aylor, David Aylor Law Offices
Be Clear, Consistent, and Straightforward
A new lawyer has to be specific and clear while writing any legal document. Therefore, it’s necessary to state your point directly within the first few sentences to assist the reader. You need to assume that the readers have little patience, and they get a glimpse of the entire write-up after going through the first 200 words. So, what you write in those 200 words will let them decide if they continue to read the whole content. You need to keep in mind:
Using active voice: The subject did this thing; instead of something being done to them.
Consistent tenses: Past tense is usually used but sometimes present could make the most sense.
Jonathan Tian, Mobitrix
Use Jargon Only When Necessary
I feel that using jargon, especially legal phrases, is only suitable in certain situations. Using too much “legalese” with a client who is unfamiliar with certain legal matters, for example, may end up confusing them and muddying the discourse with superfluous queries. Because another attorney, judge, or magistrate will be reading your court records, it is totally appropriate (and sometimes even important) to utilize the correct vocabulary and terminology. When possible, use plain language in your legal writing while demonstrating that you understand jargon and can deliver information in simple manner for the reader.
Anjelica Rivera, Cell Tracking Apps