12 Elements of Good Legal Writing

If you’re a student in law school or a practicing attorney, writing is an important part of your job. So it’s not surprising that legal writing can be a bit confusing at first. You have to deal with terms like “pleadings,” “counterclaims” and “motions for summary judgment.

But there are some tricks for making your legal writing as clear as possible and better yet, as concise as possible. In this post, we’ll go over what makes good legal writing so effective and how you can use those elements in your work.

The Critical Parts of Effective Legal Writing – YouTube
1. Clarity and Precision: Use clear and precise language.
2. Structure Matters: Organize content logically and coherently.
3. Avoid Jargon: Communicate complex ideas without legal jargon.
4. Conciseness: Strive for brevity while conveying necessary info.
5. Legal Analysis: Incorporate thorough and accurate analysis.
6. Citing Authorities: Properly cite legal authorities and sources.
7. Grammar and Punctuation: Maintain impeccable grammar and punctuation.
8. Active Voice: Prefer active voice for clarity and engagement.
9. Formatting: Adhere to consistent formatting for a professional look.
10. Reader-Centric: Focus on readers’ needs and comprehension.
11. Proofreading: Thoroughly proofread to eliminate errors.
12. Persuasive Writing: Craft arguments that are compelling and persuasive.


The ability to read and understand the document is a key factor in determining whether or not it’s well-written. The documents should be written in a way that is easy to understand, and they should also be written in a way that’s easy to read. Your writing should use language that anyone could understand no jargon or industry terminology.

There are many factors contributing to readability, including:

Length Keep your sentences short, simple, and direct; avoid run-on sentences; don’t use passive voice unless necessary.

Structure Use parallel structure (the same grammatical pattern) when presenting information about two or more items of similar importance; when listing items within paragraphs or sections of text, make sure each paragraph follows the same pattern as the previous paragraph(s).

Formatting If you’re referencing another document within your work (i.e., citing source material).

Make sure that both documents share the same formatting style so their reference numbers match up correctly when cited together later on down the line somewhere else in either document’s body text section where there may be further discussion about these topics covered previously (this helps readers keep track of all references used).

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Use Of Headings And Formatting

Headings should be used to provide a visual map of the document. They should also be used to break up the text so that the reader can identify key concepts and topics.

Use bold or italics to highlight important points. These are things like conclusions, summaries, or main ideas.

Use subheadings to provide a visual map of the document and break up long blocks of text by providing readers with “chunks” of information that give them something concrete and specific to focus on at each point in time during reading (e.g., if you’re writing an article about how courts have interpreted certain laws in different ways over time).

Use Of Active Voice

Active voice is a key element of good legal writing. You want your readers to understand what you’re saying, and using an active voice makes that easier for them. 

Passive voice the use of the word “by” followed by a noun phrase that names the doer of an action (e.g., “The contract was signed by John Smith”) is more formal than active voice and can appear ambiguous when used to describe events or actions taken by humans (e.g., “He was punched in the face”).

However, the passive voice might be appropriate if you’re emphasizing someone other than the doer (or agent) of an action:

If it’s important for your reader to know who received something rather than who gave it, use passive voice; e.g., “John Smith received 50 million dollars from his father upon his death.”

If connecting two events with “by” helps show causation between those events without explicitly stating that one caused another, use passive voice; e.g., “Those responsible were sued.”

Mistakes can mar even the best-written legal documents. Discover the Top 15 Most Common Legal Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them to ensure your work remains error-free and your message clear and compelling.

Short Sentences, Short Paragraphs, Short Words

Short sentences, short paragraphs, and short words. They’re easier to read. And they’re easier to understand. The more you can break up what you write into small pieces, the better your writing will be for it.

The shorter your sentences are, the easier it is for readers to follow what you’re saying and keep track of where they are in the document (or on a website). The shorter your paragraphs are, the less likely readers will get lost in a maze of text and lose sight of what their overall purpose is here: reading something that was meant as an easy-to-read guide!

The higher you can make your word count per sentence/per paragraph/per page without sacrificing clarity or information the better off everyone will be!

Eliminate The Unnecessary

The law is a complex subject, and it can be difficult to make it as simple as possible in writing. You want to avoid using words that are unnecessarily technical or long. If you write with an eye toward clarity, you will help your reader understand what you’re saying without too much confusion along the way.

The law is also a living thing: Many changes are occurring all the time! Make sure any information about laws or procedures that you have isn’t outdated by checking for updates on the relevant governmental website (such as Congress’s website).

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Use Of Lists And Tables

Use lists and tables to break up long sections of text and explain complex concepts. When you’re writing a legal memo or another document that involves presenting data and concepts, it’s often helpful to break up the text with lists or tables. 

Lists are good for breaking up heavy paragraphs, explaining what a series of items have in common (e.g., this list contains many examples), and showing how individual items relate to each other (e.g., these two items are related). 

Tables can be used similarly to show the relationship between different groups of data that otherwise might be difficult to understand by simply comparing numbers on their own; they also help maintain reader interest by giving them something visual to look at while reading through dense blocks of text.

Keep One Idea Per Sentence

Keep one idea per sentence.

Sentences should be short, so they’re easy to understand and read quickly. That way, the reader will be able to see what you’re trying to say without having to re-read your sentences too many times or even at all! 

If you find yourself writing a sentence that has more than one idea in it (or if you have more than three or four words), break it down into two or shorter sentences. As an example:

The lawyer should not use contractions like “I am” and “he is.” Instead, he should write out the full forms of these words in this case “I am” becomes “I am not”; “he is” becomes “he is not.”

Constructing a convincing legal argument is a cornerstone of effective legal writing. For a deeper understanding of creating compelling arguments, explore Essential Tips for Writing a Logical, Effective Legal Argument and enhance your ability to persuade and influence.

Use Correct Grammar And Punctuation

You may think you know grammar and punctuation, but chances are you’ve missed some subtle points here and there. A good lawyer knows the difference between “its” versus “it’s,” as well as other common mistakes like using too many commas in a row or failing to capitalize proper nouns.

While it might seem tedious to spend time reviewing basic rules, doing so will help you avoid such errors in your legal writing.

Use Positive Language

A good rule of thumb is to avoid negative language. This means avoiding words like “not,” “never,” and “no one.

Instead of saying that something did not happen or that no one did anything, say what happened instead of trying to make it sound like it didn’t happen (e.g., the fact that you received your refund check does not mean that nobody took your money).

Use active voice verbs as often as possible to make sentences more concise and easier to read. For example:

Instead: The defendant was found guilty after he did not show up for his court hearing on time and failed to provide a valid excuse for being late.

Say: The defendant was found guilty after he failed to appear at his scheduled hearing on time without providing an excuse for being late.

Avoid Word Repetition

Avoid repetition. It’s boring, confusing, and a sign of poor writing. Repetition can also be a sign that your work hasn’t been edited well or translated properly.

You may think you’re saving time by using the same word in two different places in your writing, but it doesn’t save much time and it causes confusion for readers who have to figure out whether you mean “innovative” or “original” when they see the word used twice in one paragraph (or even line).

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Use Of Everyday Language And Commonly Understood Terms

Use commonly understood terms, as long as they are accurate. If a technical term is necessary, define it in the first use of that term in your document and then use the defined term thereafter. For example, if you want to include “venue” in a contract for real estate sales, be sure to define where the venue is located at least once before using it again.

The parties agree that this contract shall be governed by and interpreted under the laws of the State of Colorado and all claims against each other arising out of or relating to this Agreement will be litigated exclusively within Denver County Court or Adams County District Court as agreed by the Parties.

You can also choose whether or not to use “elderly” versus “aged.” The first one has a less negative connotation than does “aged,” which implies old age without necessarily taking into account mental capacity; however, both words mean essentially the same thing and are interchangeable depending on context (see here).

Eliminate unnecessary words such as those used merely for emphasis or rhythm—they add nothing meaningful to your writing but take up space that could be better used elsewhere (See [here] for more information). For example: “They were extremely happy with their purchase!” instead of “They were extremely happy with their purchase!” 

Or try swapping out “a lot” with something stronger such as “very.” It’s useful because it lets readers know what kind of quantity they should expect without actually having them count all those items themselves (for example: Instead of saying there were hundreds/thousands/millions etc., say there were lots).

Define Technical Terms, Jargon, And Acronyms When They Are First Used In A Document, Then Use The Defined Term Thereafter

If you use a technical term, jargon, or acronym that is likely to be unfamiliar to your audience, define the term when it is first used in the document. For example, if you are using “USCBP” and do not define it within the text, your reader may wonder what USCBP means and spend time trying to figure out what it could be.


In conclusion, legal writing is a professional and important part of the law. It can be confusing for some people, but with these 12 elements in mind, you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a legal writer!

Further Reading

Explore these additional resources to enhance your understanding and skills in legal writing:

Tips for Effective Legal Writing Short Description: Discover practical tips and insights to enhance your legal writing prowess and effectively communicate complex legal concepts.

The Elements of Legal Style Short Description: Delve into this comprehensive guide to legal style, offering in-depth techniques and strategies to refine your legal writing for maximum impact.

Legal Writing and Analysis Short Description: Access an academic paper that delves into the nuances of legal writing and analysis, providing valuable insights for both beginners and experienced writers.


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