What is legal writing? It’s a tool that lawyers use to clarify the law and make their arguments in court. At its most basic, it’s the ability to write clearly and concisely so your readers understand what you’re trying to say about a case.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything from dealing with contracts to making persuasive arguments. For every section, there will be an example of a good and bad contract so you can see how they differ from each other. We hope this guide helps you understand legal writing better!
|1. Simplify complex legal concepts for clarity.
|2. Use precise language to convey ideas.
|3. Structure documents logically and coherently.
|4. Emphasize key points through formatting.
|5. Balance technicality with reader-friendliness.
# 1 – Be Simple
This might seem obvious, but legal writing is often unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. Remember: your reader is not going to be impressed by the size of your vocabulary or how many times you can use the word “utilize” in one sentence.
The goal of good legal writing is to be clear, simple, and easy to understand. So don’t use big words when small ones will do; don’t use jargon unless it’s necessary; don’t make your sentences so long that they become hard to understand; avoid passive voice where possible and so on.
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# 2 – Be Clear
As the title of this section suggests, the second rule of legal writing is to make sure that your meaning is clear. This means avoiding ambiguity, jargon, and legal terms that may be unfamiliar to your reader. It also means using simple language and short sentences to make your document as easy for your reader to understand as possible.
I am going to assume that you already know how important it is for you as an author or authoring group member (e.g., a firm) that all members have a shared understanding of what they are doing when they put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboard). However, just because everyone knows what they need
to do doesn’t mean everyone will do it (or even try). So here’s my advice: follow the rules outlined above!
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# 3 – Be Complete And Succinct
- Be clear and concise.
- Use short, simple sentences.
- Use short paragraphs.
- Use short words.
Use the active voice (by which I mean “the person who acted”). For example: “She ate her sandwich” instead of “Her sandwich was eaten by her”; or “I have been eating lunch outside for two years” instead of “Eating lunch outside for two years has been such a joy for me.”
Present tense: She eats her sandwiches every day with gusto; he works from home every Monday through Friday; they drink coffee and chat after dinner every night before bedtime at 10 pm sharp!
Past tense: At 8 am sharp on Mondays through Fridays people arrive at work in their cars as they do most mornings; after everyone left work on Saturdays there was no one left in the building except for my coworker Julia who stayed late working on a report that required some extra attention so she could finish it up before 9 pm.
When she had to go home because tomorrow is Sunday so there are no company meetings scheduled at all this week starting Monday morning when we all come back from our weekend off from work here in New York City where it rains most days during the winter months unless you live somewhere else where snow falls more frequently than rain does during peak season.
And don’t forget about hurricanes either! Future tense: We will need items prepared by ourselves before leaving home early Monday morning so we can get ready for work without being late again tomorrow morning before 8 am sharp again like last week Thursday afternoon when everyone arrived late again due to heavy traffic congestion caused by construction.
Workers’ efforts repairing the damage done during Hurricane Sandy back in 2012.
# 4 – Use The Active Voice
The active voice is where the subject performs the verb. It’s simple, direct, and powerful. The passive voice is where the subject receives the action of a verb. Passive sentences are longer and less direct than their active counterparts, so they’re often avoided in legal writing. Consider these examples:
- John writes quickly. (Active)
- Quickly was written by John. (Passive)
Active sentences are easier to understand because they put readers in control of what information you’re presenting to them and when it happens.
Passive sentences make you wait for things to happen instead of being presented with them immediately on arrival like an exciting movie trailer or a handshake from someone excited about meeting you for lunch tomorrow morning!
# 5 – Anticipate Your Reader’s Needs
When it comes to legal writing, the key is to anticipate your reader’s needs. As a writer, you have to ask yourself: what information do I need to understand this? Does my reader need an example? Do they need a diagram? Or would they just prefer a list of bullet points? Whatever works best for them, make sure you provide it.
You should also keep in mind that your audience might not be as familiar with the formal language as you are (i.e., “plaintiff” instead of “me”). That means it might be helpful to write in more accessible terms like using active voice instead of passive voice, short sentences instead of long ones, and simple words instead complex ones.
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# 6 – Have A Strong Beginning And A Clear Ending
The beginning and end of your document are just as important as the body. Many readers will only read the first paragraph of your paper before deciding whether or not to continue reading.
This doesn’t mean you should cut out the middle parts altogether it does mean that you need to be sure that your introduction is engaging and that your conclusion leaves them with a positive impression. To do so:
Start by explaining what the reader needs to know about this topic for it to make sense (i.e., what questions do they have).
Then explain what new information you’re going to add about those questions (i.e., how will this piece of writing help solve those questions).
Finally, end with one sentence summarizing why they should care and why it’s important enough that they read further into the document (i.e., what will happen if each question remains unanswered).
# 7 – Begin With The Answer Or Conclusion
As a general rule, your opening sentence should answer or conclude the question you posed in your opening paragraph. This is not just an effective way to engage your reader; it also helps them understand the purpose of your letter or memorandum. If they can easily identify what they can expect from it, they will be more likely to read through to the end and respond accordingly.
# 8 – Use Headings, Subheadings, And Paragraphs
The use of headings such as section headings, subheadings, and paragraphs is essential in legal writing. The use of appropriate headings helps to break up a text into manageable chunks and makes it easier for the reader to follow your argument or narrative.
Section headings are typically one sentence long and appear at the top of each new section in an essay or article.
Subheadings are also one sentence long but appear under the heading (also called a title) for subsections within an article or essay. Paragraphs are used to break up paragraphs into smaller sections when writing about a particular topic or idea within an article or essay.
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# 9 – Less Is More
Your goal here is to keep your sentences short and to the point. If you can say it in fewer words than are used by the average lawyer or client, you’ve probably said it better. You should also use active verbs instead of passive voice (e.g., “The document was signed by John Smith” vs “John Smith signed this document”).
The former sentence gives more information and reads better than the latter; plus, passive voice tends to make things sound unnecessarily complex and confusing for no good reason (and often because there was an attempt at legalese).
Now that we’ve covered some basics on style, let’s talk about how this affects paragraph structure. Paragraphs should be short they shouldn’t needlessly ramble on about something that could be said just as well in fewer words and they should flow into each other easily so that readers don’t get lost or bored reading them.
Also remember: simple words are easier to understand than long ones with multiple syllables; so choose those over complicated ones whenever possible!
# 10 – Master Legal Writing
You should also develop your legal writing skills. This means learning to write quickly, accurately, and concisely. Writing well can also be important, as long as you can convey your message.
You may find it helpful to think about the following when developing your legal writing skills:
Write clearly and concisely. Make sure that any documents you prepare are easily understood by the reader. Your goal should be to help people understand what you want them to do or think rather than obscure what you are trying to say with unnecessary wording or jargon.
Use appropriate language for the context of your document, such as using “we” instead of “I” for more formal documents like briefs; however, ensure that all documents are written in a personal voice so that they do not sound stiff or overly formal (Keevak).
# 11 – Start By Planning, Then Revising And Editing
Next, you will want to organize your thoughts. This will help you to write a better letter. Organize the information in an outline form and then use this outline as a guide for writing your letter.
Organizing information helps you to write a shorter letter because it forces you to think before writing.
# 12 – Use The “Why & What” Rule To Plan Your Work
This is a good time to revisit the “why” of your writing. Why are you writing? What do you want the reader to know and why does it matter? The answer to this question should be at the heart of every legal document you write.
It helps if we describe this concept in terms that everyone can understand and relate to. For example, imagine that you are about to give a speech at your friend’s wedding in front of all their family and friends.
You have been asked by your friend why he or she should get married in front of such an intimate group and how it will change their lives for better or worse, with emphasis on “for better or worse”! Your job is not only to explain how getting married will be good for them but also how they can avoid common pitfalls associated with marriage (like divorce).
#13 – Use The “5 W’s + 1 H” Rule To Write Your Work (Why, Who, What, Where, When, How)
This is a great rule to help you determine what you want to write about. The five W’s and one H are the who, what, where, when, and why of your writing. The “how” is the most important part of your writing because it will help answer questions like how do I get there? How can I make this better? What should I do next?
The best way to use this rule is by first focusing on answering the five W’s + 1 H for yourself to develop a clear picture of your subject matter before moving on to writing your work.
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#14 – Use Lawyer Lingo (Legal Phrases) In Writing Your Letter Or Memorandum
In this section, we will be discussing some of the legal terms and phrases used in writing a law essay. The first one is “lawyer jargon”.
Lawyer jargon refers to words or phrases that are used by lawyers for their purposes as well as for communicating with non-lawyers. Lawyer jargon has been around for centuries, but it has become more common since the late 20th century when there was a shift toward using more complicated language in courtrooms.
The second term is “legal language” which means using words that are related to the law while writing your letter or memorandum!
As you can see, there are many tips to follow when writing a legal memorandum or letter. While following these tips will not guarantee that your legal writing will be perfect every time, they will certainly help keep it on track and make it easier for you to understand what you’re doing!
The best way to master these principles is to practice: write as much as possible until the process becomes second nature. Happy writing!
Explore these additional resources to deepen your understanding of legal writing:
Legal Writing Tips for Lawyers
Enhance your legal writing skills with practical tips and techniques specifically tailored for lawyers. Learn how to craft compelling and effective legal documents.
Fundamental Principles of Legal Writing
Delve into the fundamental principles that underpin successful legal writing. This resource provides insights into structuring legal documents, using precise language, and conveying complex ideas clearly.
10 Tips from Legal Writing Experts
Gain valuable insights from legal writing experts with these ten tips. Improve your writing style, enhance clarity, and effectively communicate legal concepts.
Have questions about legal writing? Here are answers to some common queries:
What are the key elements of effective legal writing?
Effective legal writing combines clarity, precision, and logical structure. It conveys complex legal concepts in a comprehensible manner, using concise language and appropriate legal terminology.
How can I improve the persuasiveness of my legal writing?
To make your legal writing more persuasive, focus on crafting well-structured arguments supported by relevant evidence. Use compelling language and address potential counterarguments to strengthen your position.
What role does formatting play in legal writing?
Formatting is crucial in legal writing as it enhances readability and organization. Utilize headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbered lists to guide the reader through your document and highlight key points.
How can I avoid common mistakes in legal writing?
To avoid common mistakes, proofread your work meticulously for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Also, ensure that your arguments are well-supported, your analysis is thorough, and your conclusions are logical.
How do I strike a balance between technical language and clarity in legal writing?
While legal documents require technical terminology, it’s essential to explain complex concepts in a clear and concise manner. Aim to provide explanations for specialized terms and concepts that may be unfamiliar to 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.