Writing is hard. The language of the law isn’t always easy to master, and there are a lot of rules that you have to follow. If you’ve ever written a legal document, then you know this all too well. That’s why I’m sharing with you my top 11 free legal writing guides! Check them out below:
|1. Access to Valuable Resources: The blog highlights 11 free legal writing guides that offer valuable insights, tips, and techniques to enhance your legal writing skills.|
|2. Comprehensive Guidance: These guides cover various aspects of legal writing, including copyediting, persuasion, research, and effective legal guidance, providing a comprehensive resource for legal professionals.|
|3. Diverse Topics: From structuring arguments to writing persuasively, these guides address diverse topics that are essential for lawyers and law students aiming to excel in written communication.|
|4. Skill Enhancement: By utilizing these free resources, you can develop your legal writing skills, refine your writing style, and create impactful legal documents that effectively convey your arguments.|
|5. Practical Application: The guides offer practical tips and real-world examples, enabling you to apply the techniques learned to your legal writing projects and improve your overall communication in the legal field.|
1. Passive Voice
The passive voice is a grammatical construction where the subject of the sentence receives the action performed by the verb. In other words, it’s when you describe something happening to someone or something else instead of someone doing it. For example:
- “The cake was eaten by me.”
- “I ate the cake.”
In this case, I am acting as an indirect object it gets availed to eat the cake, but I’m still performing that action.
This shift in focus is used for several reasons: to emphasize what happened rather than who did it (like in our example), to avoid putting people into sentences altogether (like if you were talking about some kind of machine), or for politeness reasons (“Her parents were angry with her”).
The problem with passive voice comes from when not using active voice becomes too common; then your writing can get stiff and convoluted as well as hard to read and even confusing.
Building a strong foundation in legal writing is essential for lawyers. Enhance your skills with our comprehensive guide to Legal Writing: A Guide to Copyediting for Lawyers and master the art of precise communication in the legal world.
Wordiness is a common problem in legal writing. It can make your writing unclear, boring, and tiring to read. Wordy sentences often sound pompous and overly formal:
“As stated hereinabove, the court concluded that there was no room for further discussion about the matter of whether or not a dog named “Fred” should be allowed to live.”
A wordier alternative would be:
“The court has previously determined that dogs are generally more effective than cats when it comes to catching mice.”
Wordy sentences may also sound disorganized: “The most important thing is to keep your hands off my cookies if they’re so good you want them all for yourself.” A clearer version would be something like this: “Do not touch my cookies unless I give you permission first.”
Persuasive writing is a crucial skill for lawyers seeking to win cases. Learn the strategies and techniques in our guide on Writing to Persuade: The Guide for Lawyers to effectively present your arguments and influence legal decisions.
3. Writing For Your Audience
It’s important to know who you’re writing for. You need to know what they know, how they think, and how they’re likely to react and then you need to write something that speaks directly to them.
This might be obvious advice in some circles, but it’s amazing how often people forget this fundamental tenet of effective writing. As a result, we get stuff like this:
If you’re reading this blog post out loud in public and someone asks why the heck you just said “jalopy” three times in a row, then just stop talking and walk away as quickly as possible. No one should ever have any reason at all to say “jalopy.” Ever!
4. Ditching Legal Jargon And Using Plain Language
While legal jargon is a necessary part of the law, it’s important to remember that your audience is not a group of lawyers. Staying away from legal jargon will make your writing clearer and more accessible for readers who are not familiar with the terminology.
The following tips will help you write in plain language:
Avoid using words that are not commonly used. For example, instead of using “the facts,” try using “the information.” Instead of saying “an issue,” say “a question.” In general, if you can replace a word or phrase with something shorter and simpler without losing meaning or clarity, then do so!
Use simple, clear language. Make sure all sentences are easy to understand on there no one should have to read several sentences together (or even paragraphs) just to figure out what you mean by one sentence in particular!
And avoid using passive voice when possible; active voice makes for much stronger writing because it tells us who did what right away rather than waiting until later in the sentence.*
Conducting thorough legal research is the backbone of successful legal writing. Explore our Legal Research Guides for Student Attorneys to uncover valuable resources and methods for building strong legal arguments.
5. Grammar And Style Guide
A style guide is a set of rules that tell you how to write in a certain way. The goal of these rules is to help you write consistently and effectively so that your readers can understand what you’re trying to say. A style guide tells you how long each word should be, which words are capitalized, where punctuation goes (and why), and all sorts of other things like that.
A good style guide can be immensely helpful when writing legal documents especially when it comes down to grammar issues, which tend to cause the most headaches for people who aren’t native English speakers.
For example: if someone asks me what “the law” means in legal writing (or anything else), I don’t know! But if they asked me whether the word “the” should be capitalized or not…I probably could answer them!
But it’s not just about grammar: using proper grammar helps with organization, readability, and clarity too! It’s also important because different fields require different conventions if you’re writing strictly business documents then one set may apply, but if your audience is likely consumers then another set might work better for them (for example).
To learn more about why this matters so much click here or here. You’ll see some examples below!
6. Good Email Habits
The subject line of your email is an opportunity to give the reader a quick summary of what you’re about to say. It’s also helpful when it comes to knowing which emails are important and which can be deleted without reading. So use the subject line wisely!
Your email should be short, simple, and direct (no 10-page long rants here). Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms unless you know for sure that everyone will understand them.
Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in all written communications since these things convey professionalism in tone and content. Your email signature should include your name (or business name), title/position held at said company/organization (if any) along with contact information such as phone number(s), mailing address(es), and email address(es).
7. How To Start A Sentence
If the first thing that comes into your mind is a suggested topic sentence, take note. Your brain already understands what you need to put down on paper it just needs to be coaxed out of its shell and onto the page.
Start with a question: Should I file an appeal?
Start with a quote: “Justice delayed is justice denied” (Justice Denied).
Start with a quote from a source (i.e., someone other than yourself): “The law is clear in this case” (Judge Smith).
Start with a quote from your client: “I didn’t do anything wrong! Why can’t I get this over with? You’re supposed to help me!” (Client)
Crafting clear and concise legal memoranda is a skill that every lawyer should master. Dive into our guide on How to Write a Legal Memorandum to refine your memo-writing techniques and deliver impactful documents.
8. How To End A Sentence
You should also know that there are certain types of sentences where the writer can choose to end with a question mark, period, or nothing at all. For example, if you’re writing an interrogative sentence (that is, one that begins with a question), you can choose to end it with either a question mark or a period. These are called “informal” and “formal” endings respectively.
Now we’ll take a look at the various ways that writers may choose to punctuate less common types of sentences:
Informal Question Ending: If a sentence ends in an interrogative word (such as who, what, when, where, why, or how ), but isn’t written as an actual question for example: “I saw him yesterday.” then no punctuation should be used at all!
This type of informal ending is usually considered acceptable; however, some writers prefer either putting in the comma before the closing quotation mark (if they’re using parentheses) or leaving out everything except for their closing quotation marks (if they’re not using parentheses).
Formal Question Ending: When writing formal prose that uses indirect questions like “I wonder” and/or direct questions like “Was it?” instead of italics for emphasis
9. Active vs Passive Voice
If you’re writing a legal document, keep in mind that active voice is preferred over passive voice. In other words, the subject of a sentence should be the one doing, rather than being done to (which is what “passive” means). This means that you might need to rewrite some sentences that you’ve written in passive voice.
Passive sentences are longer than their active counterparts; they also tend to include more words and phrases like “by,” “to,” “from,” etc., which add complexity without adding meaning.
The good news is that it’s easy enough for most people to recognize when their sentences are wordy because they’re reading them out loud! Speaking your prose aloud helps you check for awkward-sounding phrases like “is being done by me.” Try reading aloud before submitting a draft!
You may also find it helpful to use the Readability Score tool available via Grammarly’s free Chrome extension: just highlight any text on your screen and click on the extension icon at the bottom right corner of your browser window (or press Alt+Shift+G if using Firefox), then select “Readability” from the drop-down menu.
If there are any red flags indicating overly complex language usage where simpler phrasing might work better you know what needs fixing!
10. Long Sentences Suck And Other Universal Truths Of Legal Writing
Here’s the thing about longer sentences: they are hard to read. They are hard to understand. They are hard to remember and even harder still to revise or edit.
Longer sentences have this unfortunate tendency of being more complicated than they need to be because the writer has tried too hard in their effort to make it sound fancy or smart (or at least like a legal scholar).
These writers will go on for three or four sentences without using any conjunctions at all, which makes it difficult for readers who may have trouble following along with what’s going on in the sentence structure and meaning so why not break up those long run-on sentences with some commas?
And if we’re speaking frankly here: unless there is an imperative reason not to do so (such as maintaining topic shifts), then I am firmly pro-conjunctions over non-conjunctive adverbial phrases such as “in fact” and “actually.”
11. Top 10 Grammar Mistakes Lawyers Make In Court Filings (With Examples!)
Your Honor, I submit to you that this man is a liar. He is lying about his age, he’s lying about where he lives, and apparently, he even lies about his name!
I want to thank Mr. J for being here today. He’s an amazing lawyer who has helped me with many cases in the past, and we’ve always been on good terms with one another. Even though I’m still mad at him for what happened last week (which I’ll get into later), it was nice of him to offer up some free advice while he was here.*
Providing effective legal guidance requires a nuanced approach. Discover the 17 Hints for Writing Effective Legal Guidance in our guide to enhance your advisory skills and ensure your clients receive accurate and valuable counsel.
I hope that you have found these free legal writing guides helpful and informative. Writing is a skill that can be improved with practice, but there’s no need to wait until you have all the time in the world to do it.
Even if your current job doesn’t require much writing, it never hurts to brush up on your skills! And who knows? Maybe someday they will come in handy when applying for jobs or trying to impress someone special…
Here are some additional resources that you might find useful for improving your legal writing and writing skills in general:
The Ultimate Guide to Good Legal Writing: Explore in-depth insights and tips for enhancing your legal writing skills to communicate effectively within the legal profession.
How to Write a Book: A Comprehensive Guide: If you’re interested in expanding your writing skills beyond legal documents, this guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to write and publish your own book.
Tips to Improve Your Writing Skills: Enhance your overall writing abilities with practical tips and techniques to convey your ideas more clearly and persuasively.
What are some key elements of good legal writing?
Good legal writing involves clear organization, concise language, accurate legal analysis, and proper citation of sources. It aims to convey complex legal concepts in a straightforward manner.
How can I improve my legal writing style?
To improve your legal writing style, focus on using plain language, avoiding jargon, and adopting a structured approach to presenting your arguments. Practice and feedback are also essential for refinement.
What strategies can I use to overcome writer’s block?
To overcome writer’s block, consider taking short breaks, outlining your ideas before writing, and changing your writing environment. Freewriting and setting specific goals can also help overcome mental barriers.
Are there any recommended books on legal writing?
Yes, there are several recommended books on legal writing, such as “Plain English for Lawyers” by Richard C. Wydick and “Legal Writing in Plain English” by Bryan A. Garner. These books provide practical guidance on improving legal writing skills.
How can I balance creativity with professionalism in legal writing?
Balancing creativity with professionalism in legal writing involves using creative language sparingly, focusing on clarity and accuracy, and adapting your tone to match the context of your writing. It’s important to maintain the appropriate level of formality while still engaging your audience.
Costantine Edward is a digital marketing expert, freelance writer, and entrepreneur who helps people attain financial freedom. I’ve been working in marketing since I was 18 years old and have managed to build a successful career doing what I love.