Learn Legal Writing By Watching TV

Watching a legal drama can be a great way to learn more about the law and legal writing. The best shows are complex and full of twists, which means they challenge you with unfamiliar words, structures, and concepts. If you have the chance to watch them on your own time say, while watching something else on Netflix that’s even better. 

While some shows may not be as accurate as others when it comes to portraying real-world law (sorry), they do provide great examples of how lawyers write arguments that are both persuasive and effective. Here are some tips for applying what you learn from these dramas in your writing:

Legal writing course: introduction – YouTube
1. Media as a Teaching Tool: Utilize TV shows and movies to understand legal dynamics.
2. Analyzing Character Dialogues: Extract insights on effective communication techniques.
3. Narrative Structure in Law: Learn how storytelling elements relate to legal writing.
4. Realism vs. Dramatization: Differentiate between accurate legal representation and dramatization.
5. Engaging Legal Writing: Apply lessons from TV to make your legal writing more engaging.

Don’t Use Words You Can’t Clearly Define

A good way to do this is by defining the word in one sentence. For example, if you’re a law student writing about Fourth Amendment rights, you could write: “The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires that warrants be issued with probable cause.”

You should also define the word in the same paragraph. Then define it again in your introduction, so that when someone flips through your paper they know what you mean when you use terms like “probable cause” or “seizure.”

A good rule of thumb is to define any term before using it more than once and I don’t just mean within one section of the text, but across multiple sections as well (which means that if you’re writing an entire article or book on a topic with which readers may not be familiar).

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Don’t Say Anything You Can’t Support With Evidence

You might think that if you say something, it must be true. Not so! You should never make a statement that you can’t support with evidence. For example:

Don’t tell your boss your spouse is going to take the kids next weekend and then spend the whole time at the beach if there’s no way of proving it (you forgot to sign up for a sitter).

Don’t promise your client a completed contract by tomorrow if you don’t have any clue how much work is involved in writing one (you might have been assigned this task late in the game).

Don’t Overstate

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Don’t overstate. You can always come back later and add supporting evidence if you need it, but if your argument is weak or imprecise on its own, don’t expect your reader to fill in the gaps for you.

Don’t exaggerate the importance of your point or its evidence. Your reader will be able to tell when they’re being manipulated and that won’t make them any more likely to accept what you’re saying than if they had been told nothing at all

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Don’t Use Words Your Audience Won’t Understand

The first thing to keep in mind is that you should use words your audience will understand. This is especially important if you’re writing in a field where you may be working with more specific audiences, such as law or science. 

If your intended reader doesn’t have a background in the same field as you, they may not have a clue what “contra praxis” means. But they might know what lawyer talk for “against the practice” means: “contrary to established legal precedent and procedure.”

In addition to using common words, it can also be helpful for legal writers to keep tabs on which terms are being used most often in their particular field. 

For example, if you are writing about criminal justice issues and would like more information on how states define crimes related to gang violence (or some other topic).

Then you’d do well by looking into recent reports issued by organizations like the National Gang Center or other academic journals dealing with gang activities and criminal justice policies across America’s 50 states.

Avoid Jargon, Especially In Your Fact Section

Jargon is a specialized language of a profession or group. If you’re writing about the law, it’s likely that you are using jargon you just may not realize it. 

If a non-expert reads your writing, they might get lost in words like “tort” or “demurrer.” Using jargon can also be confusing for other lawyers, who already know what these terms mean. In some cases, jargon might exclude people from understanding something important about your case.

In other words: don’t use jargon when talking to anyone but other experts because they will probably not understand what you’re saying (or won’t think it’s worth their time).

If there’s one thing we learned from watching TV courtroom dramas as kids (yes we did), it was that judges don’t like lawyers who speak down at them with fancy words that make no sense!

Effective legal writing often relies on sound reasoning and logical analysis. Discover the significance of common sense as a reasoning tool in crafting compelling legal documents that stand out.

Avoid Unexplained Acronyms

Avoiding unexplained acronyms is a great way to make your writing more understandable. You should always have an explanation of what an acronym means unless it’s common knowledge.

For example: “The company developed the process in-house, and it was adopted by many other firms.” The acronym “in-house” can be understood by most readers without explanation, but say that you’re talking about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

You’ll want to explain what the IRS is right away so readers aren’t confused when they see references to it later on in your document.

Avoid Fluff

The best legal writers are concise. They use their words wisely and avoid fluff. Fluff is an unnecessary and distracting language that doesn’t add anything to your argument or message. 

It might be tempting to write more than you need because it’s difficult to let go of good sentences and paragraphs, but don’t fall into this trap! You’ll only end up feeling rushed when it comes time to edit down your paper, or worse yet have your readers wondering why so much time was spent on something relatively unimportant.

Avoiding fluff can be hard for anyone who’s ever taken an English class in school we’ve all been taught that writing should be expressive, even if it means being flowery once in a while. But really: what’s more important? Have a beautifully written piece filled with metaphors and imagery? Or having a well-crafted document that gets straight to the point?

Use The Active Voice

Avoid the passive voice. The active voice is more direct and concise than the passive voice:

In the example above, “the woman” is an indefinite pronoun (it doesn’t specify who she is; we don’t know whether she’s a wife or mother or sister or daughter), and “are not happy with her job” makes it unclear who is unhappy with what job. 

It does nothing to clarify who did what and that ambiguity can lead to confusion for your readers. In contrast, this sentence uses the active voice:

The woman’s husband was not happy with his wife’s work at a nonprofit organization because she frequently had to miss dinner dates with him due to her late hours at work.

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Use Ample Headings And Subheadings

As a legal writer, you’re expected to show your reader how your argument is organized. You do this by using ample headings and subheadings.

Headings help the reader follow your argument. They also make it easier for others who need to find their way around a document or file later on lawyers, judges, clerks, and paralegals (I’m sure they love having to sift through unorganized documents).

Use consistent formatting for headings and subheadings so that readers immediately know what type of information each heading contains. 

For example: use all capital letters for titles and bold text for major points; use italics or underlined text for minor points; add numbers after minor points if there are several (1) or bullets/asterisks (*) after major points if there are more than two (**). Or whatever works best for you!

Vary Sentence Structure To Avoid Monotony

You want to use a variety of sentence structures, but don’t go overboard. If you try to use too many different types, you’ll end up with something that looks like this:

For example, if you have a single subject and verb (an independent clause), then it’s a simple sentence.

On the other hand, if you have two independent clauses connected with a coordinating conjunction (and or but), then it’s a compound sentence!

However, if one of the independent clauses involves an adverbial phrase or participial phrase (“because I wanted to learn legal writing,” “after my law school classes”), then that part of your sentence is not connected directly with its partner in crime – so what do we call this? A complex sentence!

Oh yeah – there’s one more type of combination here: when two independent clauses are joined by multiple coordinating conjunctions (“while our professor was lecturing us about torts,” “now that we’ve learned about negligence”).

By using semicolons instead of commas (“he decided not to drive over 50 mph after consuming alcohol because he knew he might be stopped by police officers who were looking for drunk drivers”). This construction is called a compound-complex sentence.

Try a negative formulation (“X is not Y because)

When you’re trying to distill an idea, it can be helpful to avoid using wording that could be interpreted in multiple ways. For example, “X is not Y because is more precise than “X isn’t Y.” The former implies a legal reason for why something isn’t true; the latter implies only that X is not Y, but does not necessarily explain why it isn’t true (or both).

In general: try to use negative formulations when possible. This will help clarify arguments and prevent confusion about what exactly it is you are trying to prove or disprove in your paper.

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Use Transition Phrases To Clarify How Your Points Fit Together

Transition phrases are your best friend. They help the reader understand how your points fit together and guide them through your document. That’s why it’s important to use transition phrases when introducing new information, making a shift in topic or direction, connecting ideas within paragraphs, and connecting paragraphs and sections of a paper.


If you want to improve your legal writing, watching television is a great place to start. Not only does it provide examples of good writing in action, but it can also help you develop a sense of what makes for effective legal documents and arguments. 

As we’ve seen throughout this blog post, there are plenty of ways that TV shows can teach us how not just to write well but also how not to write poorly!

Further Reading

Explore more resources related to legal writing and related topics:

Standard of Review: What I’ve Learned by Writing About Lawyers and Law Students in TV, Movies, and Books: Gain insights into the portrayal of legal professionals in popular media and its implications on real-life perceptions.

Learn to Write Like the Best Legal Writers for Free: Access free resources to enhance your legal writing skills and learn from seasoned professionals.

Legal Writing and Cognitive Science: An Interdisciplinary Journal: Dive into an interdisciplinary exploration of the cognitive science behind effective legal writing and communication.


How can I improve my legal writing techniques?

Enhance your legal writing skills by practicing regularly, studying established legal writing guides, and seeking feedback from peers or mentors.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in legal writing?

Common mistakes in legal writing include using overly complex language, lacking clarity, failing to structure arguments coherently, and neglecting proper citation.

How can I make my legal briefs more persuasive?

To craft persuasive legal briefs, focus on presenting a clear and compelling argument, organizing your points logically, and using persuasive language backed by evidence and legal precedent.

What role does reasoning play in effective legal writing?

Reasoning forms the backbone of effective legal writing. Clear and logical reasoning helps you construct strong arguments, anticipate counterarguments, and guide readers through complex legal analysis.

Are there resources to learn about the portrayal of legal professionals in media?

Yes, you can explore articles like “Standard of Review: What I’ve Learned by Writing About Lawyers and Law Students in TV, Movies, and Books” to gain insights into how legal professionals are depicted in various forms of media and its impact on public perception.