Legal writing refers to the analysis of fact patterns and the presentation of arguments in legal memos and briefs. Almost every legal internship and permanent position will require proficient legal writing. When drafting and filing legal briefs in the context of client-based or impact litigation, attorneys present their side's written arguments coherently. Predictive memos are sometimes needed in order to anticipate opposing counsel's arguments. You might be expected to research a legal question, analyze the relevant precedents, and provide an answer in a memo even if you are not a litigator. It is typical for academics to write for scholarly publications as well as teaching law students how to conduct legal research and cite sources. In some cases, government agencies and non-profit organizations hire legal writers to train their new employees in the art of legal writing or to supervise their legal publications.
A variety of written communication styles are required in legal settings. Writing is the medium through which a lawyer expresses their analysis and seeks to persuade others on their clients' behalf in many other cases. The legal profession has evolved objective standards for legal documents, which include being concise, clear, and to the point.
Legal writing can be divided into two types. The first type is any legal issues or problems requiring a balanced analysis. Interoffice memos and letters to clients are examples of the first type. This kind of writing requires the lawyer to be aware of the participants' needs, level of interest, and background. Inefficient and annoying would be a memo giving definitions of basic legal terms to a fellow partner. In contrast, omitting them from a letter to a client without legal training may make the situation more confusing and complicated.
Persuasive legal writing falls into the second category. An appellate brief or a negotiation letter written on behalf of a client are examples of this type. Lawyers must persuade their audience without provoking a hostile response through disrespect or by wasting their audience's time with unnecessary information. He or she must conform to the required document style when presenting documents to a court or administrative agency.
Another type of legal writing is the creation of contracts and wills. Guides are available to assist lawyers in preparing the documents, but each specific situation must often be incorporated into the "form". Poor drafting can lead to unnecessary litigation and otherwise harm the interests of the client.
Citations in the legal profession are unique. Although it gives the experienced reader enough information to evaluate and retrieve the cited authorities, the lay reader may find it challenging at first. Citation format requirements are generally specified in court rules for all memoranda and briefs filed with the court. However, these rules do not reflect changes in technology. Many lawyers and judges have turned to online and disk-based collections of law for research in the past few years. In response to these changes, legal citation norms for court cases have come under increasing pressure to establish new rules that no longer presume the print volume of a publisher (created over a year after a decision is made) is the key source for citations.
Why Is Legal Writing Important?
There are many types of legal writing to be found in the practice of law. They include:
- Predictive Writing: (e.g., objective legal memoranda)
- Legal Correspondence: (e.g., client advice and demand letters)
- Persuasive Writing: (e.g., motions and briefs)
“Legal writing is an important and integral skill,” said John Flynn, associate professor of law at Elon University School of Law.
In addition to their doctrine-based courses, law students in their first year need effective legal writing skills.
As a first-year law student, Flynn explained, you have to learn what the law is and how it was created, but you cannot put those concepts into practice before you learn how to write legally.
- See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP if They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.
Practical Tips To Improve Your Legal Writing Skills
You need to possess many different skills to be a good paralegal. You must be able to communicate well with your attorney in order to reach an agreement.
Written communication is just as important as spoken communication. The following are ten legal writing tips for a better legal writing process.
1. Attend Classes
Since you last reviewed grammar rules, it is probably been a long time since you did so. Back in school, we learned it and then unconsciously used it occasionally.
Therefore, your first step should be to review grammar, structure, and punctuation rules in order to refresh your memory. You may need to take a course in English if you are rusty. Keep a legal language guide by your side at all times.
2. Use Outlines
There are many benefits to using an outline. For instance, it helps you prepare for what you will write next. You get a clear picture at the end of your paper, by creating an outline. Then you can fill in the "holes" in your thought process and avoid making mistakes later on. Before writing, it is a good idea to create an outline.
To assist you in writing your legal documents, we have listed some tools and services below:
- Trust My Paper: This online writing service can write your paper for you.
- Grammarly: This online tool checks your text for grammatical errors, spelling, and punctuation errors.
- Studicus: This online writing service offers a variety of papers to be written for you.
- Hemingway Editor: This online tool highlights adverbs, passive voice, and complicated sentences in your text and asks you to get rid of them.
- WOWgrade: This online writing service, just like the two above, can write your text.
3. Identify and Read Challenging Material
Readers tend to be the best writers. Reading is a way to subconsciously absorb grammatical structures and figures of speech.
For this reason, it is so important to read challenging material such as legal research material, Supreme Court briefs and opinions, and detailed pleadings. During this process, pay close attention to the tone, vocabulary, and structure. In the meantime, stick to reading and learning this way while you practice your legal writing skills.
4. Be Concise in Your Writing
A document does not gain authority by adding more words. If you write concisely and tightly, you will make it much more interesting for the reader and will have a much greater impact. If you learn to write with clarity and pragmatic intent, you will become the master of legal writing once you reach the perfect balance between length and content.
There are several other tools and services you can use, as well: Google Docs (an online text editor that works well for teams), Grab My Essay (an online writing service), and Focus Writer (a text processor that improves concentration).
5. Never Use The First Draft
Never accept the first draft as a finished document. First drafts are just that - drafts. Writing well means editing regularly. Additionally, you will have to read and edit your draft a few times before you can call it a finished product. There may even be times when you will need to rewrite it completely for it to reach its intended state.
Think Like a Writer by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell is a great book on this topic. The book basically provides advice on how to write and edit effectively for practicing lawyers. Reading this book will be invaluable to you as you learn.
6. Always Proofread Several Times
You may not know what you will find unless you proofread your work several times. Read it again a day or two after writing it so you can catch any errors. In that way, you can refresh your memory.
“The experts at Supreme Dissertations believe that proofreading your work is very important as it shows that you are a professional. It is not something to be ashamed of, but rather pride yourself on it,” says a representative of the online writing service.
7. Ask Someone To Review Your Work
Having someone else read over your writing can also help you find those mistakes you missed yourself. Speak to someone you trust. It might be even better to hire a professional editor for this. Anyhow, the goal is to get a good review of your work.
8. Have A Good Topic Sentence
The foundation of your document is a good topic sentence. You will be relying on it for everything you write, so it absolutely must be a good one. Keeping your writing concise will be easier if you base everything on that thought. A longer document will need an outline, but a shorter one can do with a solid topic sentence.
9. Use The Active Voice
The passive voice is a problem that affects many writers across various fields. In spite of the existence of passive voice, it is not recommended that you use it every time you type.
It is far more engaging to write with an active voice. The action is less important than the subject. As an example, instead of writing, "The contractor incorrectly installed the water pump," you should write, "The contractor incorrectly installed the water pump."
10. Practice A Lot
Practice makes perfect, last but not least. You may know all the grammar rules and have read all the legal writing books, but practice is the only way to improve your legal writing skills.
Progress can only be seen with regular practice. Try practicing several times each day to speed up the learning process. To improve on aspects that need improvement, do not forget to receive feedback on your writing regularly.
11. Reference Legal Writing Examples
An easy way to learn more about writing certain legal documents is to look at relevant examples. It is crucial to spend a lot of time studying what has been done before that has been tested, it is been tried, and it works when you are writing a loan agreement or employment contract.
Students are advised, particularly in the first year, to verify the course instructor's preferences on using materials outside of the course before they use outside sources for assignments. They may use relevant legal precedents or refer to law review articles.
You can find a wide range of resources online that can help you improve your legal writing skills. You can also refer to this list of helpful legal writing books in addition to the resources below:
- Legal Writing Books and Articles
- Legal Writing Online Tools and References
- Legal Writing Research Resources
- Legal Writing Organizations and Blogs
12. Know Your Audience
According to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, knowing your audience (and connecting with them) is the key to becoming a legal writing pro: “There is, however, a certain quality possessed by the really great writer—legal or otherwise—that has nothing to do with brainpower…the ability to place oneself in the shoe’s of one’s audience; to assume only what they assume; to anticipate what they anticipate; to explain what they need explaining; to think what they must be thinking; to feel what they must be feeling.”
Career Options in Legal Writing and Editing
A wide variety of written materials is produced by legal writers and editors. From legal newsletters, brochures, and marketing copy to feature articles, web content, legal blogs ("blawgs"), news reports, and attorney profiles, legal writing can take many forms. The following are some of the most common types of legal writing:
- Feature Writers: Write articles on legal topics for print and online publications.
- Web Writers and Bloggers: Research, write, and edit web content or blog post for online publications, law firm websites, and law-related websites.
- News Analysts: Reporters and correspondents report on the latest developments in the legal industry.
- Corporate Writers: Develop, write, edit and design a broad range of business materials for the legal industry, including press releases, brochures, leaflets, web copy, newsletters, profiles, marketing copy, business letters, presentations, reports, white papers, and academic materials.
- Legal Analysts: Summarize case law, prepare news summaries, and analyze industry events for online legal information vendors.
- Brief Writers: Perform research and draft briefs, motions, memorandums, and other legal documents for law firm clients on a contract basis.
- Legal Editors: Perform copyediting, content editing, and proofreading for a variety of legal publications.
To obtain work in the field of legal writing and publishing, a high school diploma or GED is required, although a bachelor's degree in English, writing, journalism, communications or a related field is often preferred. Some writing legal markets have an advantage for writers with law degrees, though they are not always necessary.
Legal Writing Skills
An excellent understanding of plain English grammar and usage is essential for legal writers. Their ideas must be clear, concise, and logical, and they must meet deadlines in a timely manner. They often require legal experience or extensive knowledge in the legal industry.
Moreover, synthesis, drafting, and editing complex information are invaluable abilities. It may be necessary for legal writers to identify and interview expert sources and to develop new approaches to evergreen topics.
Writers and bloggers must understand HTML, SEO, meta-strategy development, keyword research, and online content management systems. An excellent legal editor must be knowledgeable about grammar, usage, punctuation, oxford comma, and style, as well as pay attention to detail and meet tight deadlines. They must also be knowledgeable about legal terminology.
Editors and writers in the legal fieldwork for publishing houses, magazines, marketing agencies, law firms, and corporations. Many of them work as freelancers selling their work to publishers, law firms, and other entities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of technical writers and editors will grow by 8% between 2018 and 2028. The median salary in 2018 was $71,850 per year or $34 per hour.
New and diverse publications have been launched to cater to the growing legal audience of nearly one million lawyers in the United States and thousands of paralegals, secretaries, and other legal professionals.
Accordingly, the demand for writers with web experience and experience writing for interactive media will increase as web-based publications grow.
All in all, improving your legal writing skills is really not that hard. All you need to do is follow the advice in this article and practice, practice, and, once again, practice. It takes time and dedication, but ultimately, it is worth it.
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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.