13 Writing Rumors You Should Stop Believing About Legal Writing

Legal writing is a funny old business. You might think that the rules of legal writing are set in stone–and they are, at least to some extent. 

But if you’re lucky enough to work in big firms or corporate law departments (or if you have a lot of friends who do), you’ll know that there’s more than one way to be a good legal writer (and more than one way to fail). Most of these myths come from people who were taught how to write according to an outdated vision of what good legal writing looks like. 

The good news is that many lawyers today recognize just how much has changed since we started teaching them how to put together briefs and memos back when they were in law school or college programs

Write Like a Lawyer | 7 Common Legal Writing Mistakes!
1. Clear communication is crucial, dispelling complex language myths.
2. Active voice can enhance clarity in legal writing.
3. Using headings and subheadings improves document organization.
4. Lengthy sentences don’t necessarily imply sophistication.
5. Avoiding jargon enhances accessibility and understanding.
6. Proofreading remains an essential step in error prevention.
7. The importance of proper citations cannot be overstated.
8. Concise writing doesn’t compromise on legal accuracy.
9. Punctuation and grammar accuracy maintain professionalism.
10. Legalese can impede effective communication.
11. Clear structure enhances the logical flow of legal documents.
12. Active engagement with the reader fosters better understanding.
13. Tailoring writing to the audience improves impact.

Using Academic Language Makes You Look Smarter

While it is true that legal writing is often more formal than everyday language, this does not mean that every piece of legal writing should be written using academic or technical language. 

Academic, technical, and business terms don’t necessarily make your writing seem more intelligent to a reader. Excessive use of these terms can hinder your ability to communicate effectively by making your documents difficult to read and understand. 

Legal documents are filled with complex concepts and theories that require specialized terminology to explain them properly. If you use these terms incorrectly or in excess, however, readers will have trouble understanding what you’re trying to say and may lose confidence in your abilities as an attorney or writer.

When choosing between an academic word like “retroactive” versus a simpler one like “backward,” consider which term will best help you convey the meaning of what you’re trying to say without distracting from its substance or complexity by introducing unnecessary elements like unfamiliarity or unfamiliarity-based confusion into the equation.

When embarking on your legal writing journey, it’s essential to understand the basics. Explore our comprehensive guide on getting started with legal writing to lay a strong foundation for effective communication in the legal field.

Legal writing must be formal

One of the most common myths about legal writing is that it must be formal.

Most legal documents including briefs, contracts, and other documents filed with courts are written in a conversational tone. This isn’t to say that your writing should be sloppy or lazy. On the contrary: good legal writing is precise and structured, with ample use of citations and footnotes to support its claims (more on this later). But it’s important to remember that there are times when formality is not necessary for effective communication. For example:

A memo from an associate to a partner telling him how she plans to spend her weekend might require less formality than a brief argument before an appellate court about whether video footage captured by police officers constitutes evidence against someone accused of murder. 

An email from one lawyer in your firm asking another for their opinion on whether it would be worth filing suit against Company X over some matter should probably be less formal than a letter advising Company X of grounds for a suit against them.* And so on…

The Passive Voice Is Always Wrong

The passive voice is not always wrong. It’s true that in some cases, using the passive voice can make your writing unclear or confusing. But there are other times when it’s perfectly acceptable to use the passive voice:

  • When you’re avoiding agency (who did what)
  • When you’re avoiding blame (who is responsible)
  • When you’re avoiding responsibility (and who has it)
  • When you don’t want to imply action or movement

For example, let’s say I’m writing about a dog who stole my laptop while I was away at work. He didn’t “steal” it that would imply some sort of agency on his part; instead, he merely “found” my laptop and took possession of it as if by accident (or perhaps by force). 

This may sound silly when talking about dogs, but understand that this kind of language makes sense when we’re talking about legal writing too!

Crafting legal guidance that resonates requires a thoughtful approach. Learn 17 valuable hints for writing effective legal guidance that ensures clarity and precision in your legal documents.

Weasel Words And Hedging Terms Are Always Wrong

The rule that weasel words and hedging terms are always wrong is a myth. First, let’s talk about the definition of weasel words. A “weasel word” is a vague or ambiguous word that doesn’t say anything concrete. 

So if you say something like “many,” what exactly does that mean? Does it mean “three”? Or does it mean “nine”? Or maybe even more than nine but less than fourteen?

Hedging terms are similar to weasel words in that they don’t tell the reader specifically what you’re saying, but instead give a general idea of your opinion about the subject matter at hand (e.g., “I believe…”).

Now let’s talk about why this myth has become so pervasive: because there are indeed times when weasel words and hedging terms should be avoided at all costs! For example, avoid using vagueness when describing your legal writing skills on an application or resume if someone wants to know if you have experience writing contracts, then use explicit details.

I drafted three contracts for clients.” This way there can be no confusion as to whether or not we’re talking about actual contracts when discussing our experience with them later down the line!

Good Legal Writing Is Plain, But It’s Not Simple

“Good legal writing is plain and simple,” you’ll hear some say. This is not true! Good legal writing has no relation to the plainness or simplicity of its language. If a writer strives for clarity, concision, straightforwardness, and organization in his work all traits that are common in good legal writing he will achieve these goals without succumbing to any particular style.

Furthermore, if you’re trying to write like a lawyer by using big words and convoluted sentences just because it’s what lawyers do (or because Grammar Girl told you so), then your readers are likely going to end up more confused than informed.

Navigating the intricacies of legal terminology is vital to prevent misunderstandings. Explore our insights into the most misunderstood words in legal writing to enhance your communication and accuracy.

Good Legal Writers Read Their Work Out Loud

Yes, good legal writers indeed read their work out loud before publishing it. They do this because reading your writing aloud can help you spot errors and make sure your sentences sound good. 

You can hear mistakes better when you read them out loud, which is especially helpful for people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities that make it hard for them to find their own mistakes.

Reading aloud also helps you hear the rhythm of your sentences. This will help keep your writing from sounding too stilted or repetitive things that might happen if a person reads silently and doesn’t stop to think about how they sound as they write! 

Finally, reading aloud will help ensure that everything is spelled correctly by highlighting any words that look unfamiliar when spoken in context with other words around them (it happens more often than we think).

Good Legal Writers Always Edit Their Work

This is a tricky one because the “editing” part of writing is such an important skill. Indeed, you shouldn’t go through life only making typos, but that doesn’t mean you need to be your editor at every step of the process. As with any skill, editing takes time and practice to master. But if your friend is struggling with editing skills, why not suggest they enroll in a class or workshop? If they’re too intimidated by the thought of taking on this task alone (or they just don’t want to) think about helping them out by proofreading their work before it’s sent off for publication.

Good Legal Writers Never Copyedit Or Proofread Their Work

  • Copyediting and proofreading are not the same things.
  • Copyediting is more important than proofreading.
  • You don’t have to do both, though you should do one or the other before submitting your work to a client or editor (or any other person with authority over its content).
  • If you’re pressed for time, doing neither is better than doing something poorly—but only if it’s what your client has asked for!

Becoming a proficient legal writer requires continuous improvement. Discover the top 11 practices that contribute to becoming a better legal writer and effectively conveying legal concepts.

Good Legal Writers Don’t Use Unfamiliar Words

Indeed, good legal writers are not supposed to use unfamiliar words in their writing. However, this does not mean that you should avoid using uncommon or specialized terms altogether. 

This rumor is similar to the one about not using a thesaurus, which I discussed in my previous article on writing rumor busters. If a word is unfamiliar to your reader, but it conveys your meaning and adds value to the quality of your work, then go ahead and use it!

Your goal as a writer is not merely clarity: You want your readers to understand what you’re saying so they can decide whether they agree with it or not. 

To accomplish this goal efficiently and effectively, every word you choose must have meaning for both parties writer and reader alike in addition to getting its point across quickly without confusion or miscommunication along the way (which could result from using an unfamiliar term).

First Drafts Are Full Of Great Ideas And Masterful Prose

There’s no denying that first drafts are fun. It’s exciting to be writing without editing, and it can feel like you’re the next great American author on your way to publishing a bestseller. But just because you’re not waiting for feedback or editing doesn’t mean that your first draft is going to be good, let alone masterful prose. 

Most of us would agree that our first drafts aren’t perfect (not even close). The next time someone says they want to write something perfect in their very first draft and asks how they should do it ask them if they’ve ever tried eating an entire cake before baking one.

Grammar Is Unimportant, It’s All About Knowing The Law

While grammar is important and useful, it’s not the end all be all of the legal writing. Grammar is a tool for communicating effectively. It’s a way to express yourself, show respect for others, and show respect for yourself.

It’s not that grammar doesn’t matter it does! But if you are trying to master the law as opposed to mastering your language skills as an attorney (or any other kind of writer), you should spend more time reading cases than Strunk & White.

For a comprehensive resource on refining your legal writing skills, delve into The Ultimate Guide to Legal Writing. This guide offers insights, strategies, and techniques to excel in the art of legal communication.

There Are Many Myths About Legal Writing And None Of These Are True

Legal writing is a skill that can be learned.

There is no such thing as “legal” or “legalese” grammar. Legal writing is not about being formal, but about being clear.

There are no rules for legal writing, so you can use whatever words you want to say what you mean and they will all be acceptable in the eyes of your reader.

There’s no such thing as too many or too few commas in legal documents!


Legal writing is a misunderstood field, which is why it’s important to dispel some of these myths. If you’ve heard any of these rumors before, don’t let them stop you from doing great work! Remember that the best way to improve your writing skills is by practicing on your own so get started today!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to further enhance your understanding of legal writing and effective communication:

Legal Writing: A Guide to Citations Short Description: Explore a comprehensive guide that focuses on the intricacies of citations in legal writing, offering valuable insights into proper referencing and citation practices.

Annotated Legal Essay Sample Short Description: Analyze a sample legal essay with annotations to gain practical insights into the structure, style, and effective communication techniques in legal writing.

The Case for Plain Language Contracts Short Description: Discover the benefits of using plain language in legal contracts, as discussed in this Harvard Business Review article. Learn how clear communication can prevent misunderstandings and disputes.


What are some common misconceptions about legal writing?

Misconceptions about legal writing can often hinder effective communication. Learn about and dispel these myths to enhance your legal writing skills.

How can I improve the clarity of my legal documents?

Improving clarity in legal documents is crucial for accurate interpretation. Explore techniques and practices to enhance the clarity of your legal writing.

Are there resources to help me understand legal citations?

Understanding legal citations is vital for accurate referencing. Explore comprehensive guides and resources to master the art of citing legal sources effectively.

What role does plain language play in legal contracts?

Plain language can make legal contracts more understandable and prevent ambiguity. Discover how using plain language in contracts can benefit both parties involved.

How can I structure a persuasive legal argument?

Crafting a persuasive legal argument requires a strategic approach. Learn about the essential elements and techniques to construct compelling arguments in legal writing.