Legal writing is a very formal and specific type of communication. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting words on paper, but the good news is that there are many rules and guidelines that can help you to create clear and efficient legal documents. In this post.
I will discuss some common mistakes made by legal writers and offer some tips for avoiding them so that both you and your clients have better experiences with these important documents.
|1. Clear Language: Avoid using jargon or complex terms that could confuse readers.
|2. Proper Citations: Ensure accurate and consistent citations for legal references.
|3. Structured Documents: Organize content with headings, subheadings, and a logical flow.
|4. Audience Consideration: Tailor documents to the intended audience’s understanding and needs.
|5. Proofreading: Thoroughly review documents to catch grammar, spelling, and formatting errors.
|6. Ambiguity Check: Eliminate ambiguity by using precise language and defining terms.
|7. Formatting Consistency: Maintain uniform formatting for headings, font styles, and alignment.
|8. Legal Compliance: Ensure documents adhere to relevant legal standards and regulations.
|9. Clarity in Structure: Clearly state the purpose, issue, arguments, and conclusions.
|10. Revision and Feedback: Seek feedback and revise documents iteratively for improvement.
Not Doing Your Research
You can’t write a legal document without doing research. The research process can help you quickly identify the relevant issues in a case, and also identify relevant authorities.
Research helps you understand the facts of a case, which is important because your readers will want to know what happened. While it’s tempting to just jump into writing once you have your outline finalized, don’t forget about the importance of research!
Avoiding common mistakes in legal writing is essential for creating effective documents. Learn about the Top 15 Most Common Legal Writing Mistakes and discover how to steer clear of them to enhance the quality of your legal content.
Not Having Your Facts In Order Before You Begin Writing
So, you’ve decided to write a legal document. Good for you! But before you start pounding out paragraphs of legalese, do yourself a favor: make sure you have all the facts straight.
If this sounds like it’s not important after all, aren’t lawyers able to figure out the details later on? think again. If your facts are wrong (or at least incomplete), then there’s no point in writing anything else in that document because it will be legally worthless.
So if you don’t know your client worked at Wal-Mart for 10 years or that he was fired after being accused of sexual harassment by several employees there…well…don’t bother writing anything at all until those things are clear in your mind and confirmed with him/her otherwise.
Any documents based on those incorrect assumptions won’t be admissible in court when they’re needed most!
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Being Vague And Ambiguous
You may have noticed that this section is entitled “being vague and ambiguous,” but you’ve also noticed that it’s only one sentence long. This is because the most common mistake made by writers of legal documents is being too vague and ambiguous.
There are many ways to be vague or ambiguous in your writing: not providing enough information, not providing enough examples, not providing enough detail, etc.
But the main thing to remember when it comes to avoiding vagueness is: if you’re writing something that could be interpreted in more than one way (or if you simply don’t know what you’re talking about), then say so explicitly!
Here’s an example of how this might play out:
Original text: “My client will pay $1 million for all damages incurred by your client.” Vague? You betcha! What kind of damages? How much? To whom? Why do they have to be paid by me specifically?
Revised version 1: “My client will pay $1 million for any damages incurred by your client as a result of our negligence.” Better! The revised version explains more clearly which party is responsible for paying what amount due to their actions—but there’s still room for improvement.
Being Too Technical
Avoid using technical terms unless they are necessary. If you’re writing a legal document, it’s best to avoid using technical terms unless they are relevant to the discussion.
Let’s say you’re writing a contract and need to define what “warranty of title” means. You could just write out in plain English what the warranty of title is: “This means that the seller guarantees that he owns the property without any liens or encumbrances against it.” Or, if your readers would understand this term better if you used more specific language.
Then go ahead and use it! But don’t use words like “warranty” or “encumbrance” unless those words mean something important in your particular context – because, for most people outside of real estate law (where these things come up quite often), these words are meaningless jargon.
Using Too Much Jargon
Every word you use in a legal document should be chosen carefully, and jargon is no exception. If a word or phrase doesn’t add to your meaning or make it easier for the reader to understand, then you shouldn’t use it. Using too much jargon can make your writing incomprehensible and even be a barrier to communication.
“For example,” says Anna M., “a lot of attorneys will say things like ‘the plaintiff appeals in this case,’ when they mean ‘we appeal.’ By using more colloquial terms and avoiding difficult words, we’re able to avoid confusion and make our writing clearer.”
Writing a convincing legal analysis memorandum requires a systematic approach. Explore our guide on How to Write a Legal Analysis Memorandum to grasp the key elements and techniques for presenting thorough legal analyses.
Forgetting Who Your Audience Is
It’s important to know who your audience is. The person reading your document may be a layperson or an expert, and you need to write in a style that is appropriate for them.
For example, if the person reading your legal document is not familiar with the law, do not use complicated terminology. It’s also crucial to consider where they will read it: on their phone? Or on paper? Many different rules are depending on how you plan to distribute your documents.
If you’re writing a contract (like an employment contract), make sure that it includes all of the necessary elements such as terms, conditions, and signatures. If you fail to do this correctly then any disputes could result in invalidity of the contract altogether!
Here are some other common mistakes when using legal language:
Failing To Use Contractions In Your Writing – This can seem like common sense but many people forget about this one when writing contracts! Contracts aren’t meant for formal business interactions so please avoid using too much legalese or lawyer speak within them at all costs!
Legal Writing Should Be Formal, But Not Stuffy
Legal writing is a special type of communication. It’s formal, but not stuffy. Legal documents are written to help people understand the law, so they must be clear and precise.
However, legal documents also have their own set of rules and standards related to syntax, grammar, and style that distinguish them from other types of communication such as business writing or academic writing. For example:
In legal documents, contractions like “can’t” are frowned upon because they’re seen as informal; instead, you should write “cannot.”
In legal documents, passive voice is often used instead of active voice because it makes sentences more concise and clear (e.g., “The court ordered Smith to pay Jones $100”).
Lawyers are trained in the use of technical terms (elements) so that even complicated concepts can be explained simply; for example: “The elements required for establishing an estoppel claim against Smith include…”
Leaving Out The Details
When creating a legal document, it’s important to make sure you include all the details. This means you should include all the facts, links, information, and details related to your topic. If there is anything that might be helpful for someone reading your document or using it as reference material in some way, just throw it in there!
It will keep things organized and easier for people who need access to these documents later on down the road when they may not have time on their hands.
Constructing a logical and persuasive legal argument is an art that every legal writer should master. Our article on Essential Tips for Writing a Logical Effective Legal Argument delves into strategies for developing compelling arguments that resonate with your audience.
Not Proofreading Your Work Before Submission (Or Publication)
Proofreading your work is one of the most important steps in writing a legal document. If you don’t, you could end up making serious errors that detract from your credibility and reputation, or even render a contract or form useless.
It’s also a skill that can be learned and it’s essential to learn how to do it right before submitting any work for publication, whether it’s on a blog or in an article for law firm marketing purposes.
Here are some tips on ensuring that everything reads as smooth as possible:
Asking For Help When You Need It
Asking for help is a key part of the writing process. You should never be afraid to ask for help, even if you think you might be asking someone who doesn’t know as much as you do. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone whose knowledge or experience is less than yours. As long as they’re willing to help, their input could end up being just what your project needs!
If possible, try not to limit yourself by thinking that only certain people can answer your questions or have valuable opinions on your work; everyone has something important to contribute.
If you find that one particular person always seems like they have something useful to say on every subject (which should hopefully not happen), then it might make sense for them to serve as a go-to resource when others can’t provide answers quickly enough or aren’t available at all times due to their commitments elsewhere.”
Avoid These Mistakes And Promote Clarity And Efficiency In All Of Your Legal Communications!
If you want to avoid the pitfalls of legal writing, some simple steps can help. First, make sure you have your facts in order and know what you’re talking about. For example:
If a contract says “you will pay $5,000 for this car” but it’s worth $1,200, someone is going to get burned! Write clearly so that everyone understands what they’re signing up for.
Don’t use jargon or technical terms without explaining them first. This is especially important when dealing with contracts—it’s easy to assume that one party knows what they mean by “synergies” or “modifications” (because they sound like big business), but those words may mean something entirely different within your industry.
Effective legal writing hinges on understanding the fundamental principles. Explore the 12 Elements of Good Legal Writing to gain insights into the crucial aspects that contribute to clear, concise, and impactful legal documents.
We hope that this breakdown of common legal writing mistakes has been helpful for you. By avoiding these mistakes, you’ll be able to create more efficient and effective legal documents that are clear and concise.
Expand your knowledge on avoiding common mistakes in legal writing with these additional resources:
Editing Your Legal Writing: Avoiding Common Mistakes Short Description: Discover valuable insights into editing legal writing effectively and sidestepping common errors in this American Bar Association article.
7 Common Mistakes in Writing Law Essays and How to Avoid Them Short Description: The Student Lawyer presents seven common pitfalls in law essay writing along with practical guidance to overcome them.
Creating Legal Documents: Common Errors and How to Avoid Them Short Description: Infoware Group offers insights into the errors often made when drafting legal documents and provides tips for avoiding these mistakes.
Here are some frequently asked questions about avoiding mistakes in legal writing:
How can I improve my legal writing skills?
Improving legal writing skills involves practicing consistently, seeking feedback, and studying successful legal writing examples.
What are some common mistakes in legal document creation?
Common mistakes include unclear language, improper citations, lack of structure, and failing to tailor documents to the audience’s needs.
How do I avoid ambiguity in legal writing?
To avoid ambiguity, use clear and precise language, define terms, and ensure your sentences convey a single, specific meaning.
What role does proofreading play in avoiding mistakes?
Proofreading is crucial for catching grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that could undermine the credibility of your legal documents.
Where can I find templates for properly formatted legal documents?
You can find templates in legal writing guides, online legal resources, or through professional organizations like bar associations. Always ensure templates are up-to-date and reputable.
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.