If you’ve ever been called on to write a legal document, you know how stressful it can be. You’re not just writing for your client or boss; you’re writing in the context of a whole industry full of people who have been trained to use words effectively.
It’s easy to feel like an imposter when faced with such a challenge! But there is hope: in this article, we’ll show you how to develop a successful legal writing style by examining some common errors and pitfalls that occur during the drafting process.
|1. Focus on clarity and precision in your legal writing.|
|2. Develop a consistent writing style to enhance readability.|
|3. Use headings and subheadings to organize your content effectively.|
|4. Avoid legal jargon and complex language to ensure accessibility.|
|5. Proofread your work meticulously to eliminate errors and typos.|
|6. Craft well-structured arguments to present your case persuasively.|
|7. Consider the audience and purpose of your writing for tailored content.|
|8. Incorporate real-world examples to illustrate legal concepts.|
|9. Use formatting tools like bullet points and lists for clarity.|
|10. Continuously refine your legal writing skills through practice.|
Do Not Use Contractions
The first rule to remember when writing in a legal style is that contractions are not permitted. Contractions are informal and should not be used in legal documents or any other formal writing.
Contractions are words formed by shortening two words into one, such as “don’t” for “do not.” They can also be made by replacing the letters of a word with an apostrophe plus the omitted letters, such as “can’t” for cannot. In these examples, the words don’t and can’t have been replaced with apostrophes because they’re shorter than their full forms (do not/cannot).
In this case study about Jeff Bezos’ divorce from MacKenzie Bezos (March 2019), you’ll notice how she uses contractions throughout her statement: “I have shared my heart with Jeff” vs. “I have shared my heart with him.”
She even writes sentences without any commas at all! That’s because she’s trying to keep things simple so she doesn’t confuse people who may not understand the legal language well enough yet on their own
Enhancing your legal writing skills is crucial for conveying information effectively. Learn how to write better contracts with our comprehensive guide, designed specifically for lawyers looking to improve their contract drafting abilities.
Do Not Use “I” To Start A Sentence
We all have our writing styles, but some common mistakes can make your legal writing appear amateurish and even unprofessional.
The word “I” is not appropriate in any legal document. When you write a letter to a judge, use the word “we” instead of “I.” When you write letters on behalf of your company or organization, use the word “you” instead of “I.”
This makes it clear that you are not representing yourself personally but rather your client or group. Write sentences with the words he or she instead of just he or she; this shows the reader that you understand grammar rules and how to properly refer to people who may not be male or female (for example a person who identifies as neither).
In addition, don’t forget about referring to groups by using they/them pronouns rather than using singular pronouns like him/her/his and her/hers.
Do Not Start Sentences With “And”
In legal writing, you should use “and” to connect ideas and thoughts. You can also use it in sentences that describe multiple actions or events. If a sentence begins with “and,” the second clause should be a complete sentence by itself; otherwise, it is not correct to start a sentence with “and.”
In contrast, you can use “but” to show disagreement or contrast between two things; it is also used when introducing an exception. For example:
The defendant was arrested for driving under the influence, but he claimed that he had never been convicted of that offense before this incident.
The defendant was arrested for driving under the influence and had been previously convicted of driving without a license on two separate occasions within five years before this incident.
So: But (not): And (not): Or (not): So
Crafting a logical and persuasive legal argument requires attention to detail and careful structuring. Dive into our tips for creating an effective legal argument that can help you present your case with clarity and impact.
Use “A” And “The” When You Mean “An”
Use “a” when you are referring to a specific instance of a noun. For example, if you are discussing the difference between two or more things, use “a.”
Use “The” When You Are Referring To A Specific Noun That Is Not A Person, Place, Or Thing
A dog ran into the room and sat at my feet. The dog sat at my feet. A broom swept over my head as I entered our home for the first time in months; it was dark and quiet inside, but I could see light coming from underneath the closed door where my roommates were sleeping soundly after their long day at work.
Use semicolons correctly
Semicolons are a lot like colons, but they have three main uses:
To separate items in a list when one or more of those items contain internal punctuation. For example: “He ate the following foods on his birthday: cake, ice cream, and chocolate-covered pretzels.”
After introductory words and phrases that do not require commas (such as however, therefore, for example). For example: “She was exhausted; however she did not want to go home yet.”
Between independent clauses linked by transitional words such as however or therefore that don’t require semicolons themselves (but do get hyphens if needed). For example: “I love my job; however I would like some days off now and then.”
Add Details That Make Your Writing Better
Now that you have a better idea of what makes a good legal writer, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Here are some tips for adding details to your writing.
Be more interesting. It is difficult to be an engaging writer without being interesting, so make sure that every sentence in your document has something new or unusual about it.
Include details that make your writing memorable. If readers see parts of their documents again, later on, they will be more likely to remember them if they are unique and interesting enough to stick in their minds.
Add credibility and persuasion by including facts and statistics from reliable sources whenever possible (and relevant), whether those sources are books, websites or studies conducted by experts in the field at hand, or even just common sense about how humans operate (e.g., “people like nice things,” “people don’t like bad things”).
Mastering the art of expert legal writing involves more than just words—it’s about creating a professional image through your content. Explore the essential elements of the look and sound of expert legal writing and how it can enhance your legal documents.
Never, Ever Use Nine-Point Font Size
The goal is to have your document look as professional as possible. Nine-point font size makes a document look like it was written by a child, and when you’re trying to command the respect of your readership, that’s not going to get you very far.
It’s better to err on the side of being too large than too small with your fonts; most professionals prefer 12 or 11 points, depending on their preference and what looks best on their screen settings.
You might even want to try out different sizes until one feels right for whatever piece of writing you’re doing some people can read more comfortably in larger fonts while others prefer smaller ones.
Regardless of which size works best for you personally, all documents must have consistent typesetting so that they all look professional rather than like they were thrown together haphazardly by someone who didn’t care enough about quality control (which would not be good).
Make Your Headers
As you write a legal document, your headers are the first thing readers see. They should be as descriptive and helpful as possible not just numbered.
They should also give writers an idea of what to expect in terms of content and tone in that section. If you have a section titled “Legal Disputes,” readers may expect information about how to resolve disputes; if you have a header with that title, they’ll get it right away!
Make sure all your headings are consistent with the style used throughout your document: don’t use technical language or slang in one place and then formal language elsewhere; don’t switch between active voice (e.g., “I did X”) and passive voice (“X was done by me”).
Do Not Call Attention To Your Sources
If you’re writing and citing sources, it’s important not to call attention to the fact that you’re doing so. This is easier said than done, especially for those who are just starting with legal writing.
For example: “In his article ‘The Myth of the Paperless Office (The Harvard Law Review 1986), Professor James Bittman argues that there will never be a completely paperless office because some people need hard copies of documents, as well as e-copies of them.” (This is an example taken from one of my students.)
Here we have: 1) A citation; 2) A footnote; 3) An in-text citation; 4) Footnotes at either end of the sentence; 5) Parentheses around both citations and footnotes 6) Underlining between citations 7) Italics around both citations 8) Bolding around both citations 9).
Underlining between both footnotes 10). Bolding between both footvals 11). Italicizing between both football 12). Underlining above each footnote 13). Bolding above each footnote 14). Underlining below each footnote 15). Bolding below each footnote 16).
Seeking a comprehensive resource to enhance your legal writing skills? Look no further than our guide on the ultimate legal writing handbook. It’s packed with valuable insights and practical advice to help you excel in the realm of legal writing.
Put Active Information First In The Text (And After The Conclusion)
There are two ways to put active information into your writing: First, you can put the most important information first in the text. Second, you can put it after the conclusion.
First, put active information in the text (and after the conclusion). This is not a new concept by any means; it’s taught in every English class from elementary school to college so don’t feel like an idiot if this seems obvious or intuitive!
But here’s what happens when you forget about this simple rule: your reader quickly becomes confused and frustrated because they can’t understand why some sentences are at the beginning of a paragraph and others are at the end;
They also become annoyed because they feel like their time is being wasted reading through material that doesn’t seem related to them at all.
Second, don’t be afraid of repetition!
Yes, I know. repetition has been called out as one of those “unnecessary” things that make people want to scream or throw things across rooms…but there’s nothing wrong with repeating yourself if it gets your point across better than anything else could ever do so on its own merits alone (not just because we’ve been told that repetition isn’t good enough).
Use No More Than Two Levels Of Headers In An Article Or Essay
For example, if you are writing an article about the history of legal writing, you might use one level of headers to introduce the subject and then make a point or summarize. If you were writing an article about how to write a successful legal paper, you might use two levels of headers: (1) Introduction (2) How to Write a Successful Legal Paper
If you are writing an essay on what makes a good legal writing style, your first level could be Introduction; the second level could be What Makes Good Legal Writing Style?; the third level could be Examples of Poor Legal Writing Style; the fourth level could be Examples of Good Legal Writing Style
Are you a student striving for success in legal writing? Discover the top strategies with our collection of legal writing tips for students. These tips are tailored to empower you with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in your legal studies.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when developing a legal writing style. Writing in a formal tone can be difficult and time-consuming, but it will make your work more effective. By following the tips outlined above, you can develop an effective legal writing style for yourself or the team at your law firm.
Here are some additional resources that can help you further enhance your legal writing skills:
Improving Legal Writing Skills: Explore practical tips and techniques to improve your legal writing abilities, allowing you to communicate more effectively within the legal field.
10 Tips from Legal Writing Experts: Learn from legal writing experts about 10 valuable tips to refine your legal writing style and create more compelling and persuasive documents.
Legal Writing Tips for Lawyers: Discover a collection of practical advice tailored specifically for lawyers, helping you streamline your legal writing process and produce documents with greater impact.
How can I improve my legal writing skills?
Improving your legal writing skills involves practicing clarity, conciseness, and effective communication. Consider studying resources like guides, articles, and expert tips to refine your techniques.
What are some essential tips from legal writing experts?
Legal writing experts recommend focusing on organization, using clear language, avoiding jargon, and proofreading diligently to ensure the quality and professionalism of your written work.
How can I make my legal documents more compelling?
To make your legal documents more compelling, incorporate persuasive techniques such as crafting a well-structured argument, using strong evidence, and employing precise language to convey your points effectively.
Are there specific tips for lawyers to enhance their legal writing?
Absolutely. Lawyers can enhance their legal writing by using headings and subheadings, avoiding overly complex language, and ensuring their documents are well-organized, coherent, and easy to follow.
Where can I find additional advice on legal writing for professionals?
You can find more advice on legal writing for professionals by exploring resources from reputable sources like bar associations, legal blogs, and career development websites, which often offer insights tailored to legal professionals’ needs.
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.