The Ultimate Guide To Legal Writing

Legal writing is not a skill that comes naturally to many lawyers. It requires an understanding of the audience, a clear structure, and good use of plain English.

I have been practicing law since 2000, so my experience has given me some insight into what makes good legal writing effective. I hope this guide will help you improve your skills as well!

The Secret to Better Legal Writing – YouTube
1. Effective legal writing requires clarity and precision, simplifying complex legal concepts for better understanding.
2. Proper organization and logical structure enhance the readability of legal documents.
3. Using plain language and avoiding unnecessary jargon can make legal content more accessible.
4. Persuasive legal writing involves constructing strong arguments, anticipating counterarguments, and utilizing rhetorical techniques.
5. Consistent practice and seeking feedback are essential for continual improvement in legal writing skills.
6. Adequate citation is crucial to lend credibility to your work and provide verifiable sources for your claims.
7. Different jurisdictions may have distinct formatting preferences, citation styles, and legal terminology. Adapt your writing accordingly.
8. Balancing conciseness with comprehensive explanations ensures legal writing remains informative without overwhelming the reader.

Get A Clear Picture Of The Audience

Once you’ve identified your audience, consider the purpose of the document. Is it meant to educate? Instruct? Persuade? If you’re writing a contract, for example, then it’s likely that your audience will expect a certain level of formality and detail they may need a lot of guidance about how to fill out certain parts of the contract. 

On the other hand, if you’re writing an emailing recommendation letter for someone who is applying for an internship at a company where they are not yet familiar with their supervisor or coworkers’ preferred communication style (or even if they are), then it makes sense to be more casual in tone and length.

Take into account what context this communication will take place in: Are people going to be reading papers on their phones and laptops? Will they have time or desire to read long documents on their lunch breaks? 

How much time does each person have available between meetings during which he or she can read through materials? Consider whether any relevant information needs summarizing before presenting it all at once; sometimes people are accustomed only to short summaries when dealing with so many other things at once!

Building a strong foundation in legal writing is essential for success in the legal field. Learn the basics and get started with our comprehensive guide on Legal Writing 101, designed to help you understand the core principles and techniques.

Plan Your Research And Reading

There are many ways to plan your research and reading. The most basic is to create a checklist of the things you want to find out about the law, including any relevant facts and case law. This can be as simple as making a list.

Once you have identified what information you require, it’s time to start searching for it! Several tools can help with this:

A legal encyclopedia – An encyclopedia gives an overview of a topic in layman’s terms and identifies useful links where more detailed information is provided on specific topics. 

You may also find useful summaries of cases or statutes here too; these often include a summary of the facts, decision, and reasoning behind the court’s decision which makes them easier for non-lawyers who don’t know how cases should be written (and why).

Online databases – Most online databases allow users access to previous decisions made by courts around Australia; however, some only allow users from within their home state/territory (i.e., NSW only). Some examples include AustLII (which includes over 15000 cases), 

Findlaw Australia (which includes over 7500 cases) and Australian Legal Information Institute (which includes both legislation texts). If you’re looking for something less academic then LexisNexis might suit your needs better because it provides recent news stories about various legal issues such as employment disputes or defamation actions against celebrities etcetera.”

Develop Your Style

Use your own words.

Don’t use passive voice.

Don’t use jargon. Jargon is a word or phrase that has a special meaning in a particular field and that is only understood by people who are familiar with the field. For example, “pro se” is legal jargon for representing yourself without an attorney. 

If possible, avoid using jargon altogether because it can make your writing sound inaccessible even to other lawyers and judges who have been working in their field for years. If you must use legal jargon, explain what it means as soon as possible after its first appearance in the document (for example: “Pro se litigants must file their complaint within thirty days of filing.”).

Also, avoid clichés such as “I am pleased to report,” or “It should be noted” (unless one actually should note something). And don’t overuse filler words like “like” and “you know.

Those little words can add up to make us look lazy or unprofessional when we write them too often! Also, try not to use contractions like “I’m” instead of “I am” for formal documents; there’s no need for short-cuts here!

Crafting a compelling legal memorandum requires attention to detail and a structured approach. Dive into our guide on How to Write a Legal Memorandum to master the art of organizing legal arguments and presenting them effectively.

Analyze The Facts In Depth

In every legal writing assignment, it’s important to analyze the facts in depth. Don’t just rely on one source use a variety of sources and make sure you get them from reliable sources. You should also think about how the different aspects of the case relate to each other. 

For example, if you’re writing about a car accident, ask yourself: what led up to the accident? What were both drivers doing at the time? How did they cause or contribute to their injuries? In addition, look for evidence that might disprove your client’s claim or prove that his injuries aren’t as severe as he says they are.

The best way to do this is through research and careful consideration of all available information but don’t forget that none of these facts are set in stone! You may have missed something important when reading through your research materials; always be open-minded when analyzing your facts.

Here are some tips on analyzing your facts:

  • Keep track of all relevant information with index cards.

Draft wisely

If you think about it, drafting is the most important part of the writing process. If your rough draft is bad, then your final product will be bad. And if you don’t do a good job at drafting, then the other steps won’t even matter because no one will read them!

So how do you draft wisely? First, we need to look at what makes a good rough draft. A good rough draft should have three things: clarity, organization, and completeness. Clarity means that it’s easy for someone else (your reader) to understand what you’re trying to say. 

Organization means that there are logical relationships between ideas in your rough draft so that when someone reads it they can follow along easily without getting lost or confused by what they’re reading. 

And finally, completeness refers to whether everything necessary has been included for someone else (your reader) who hasn’t worked with this topic before to understand all aspects of it enough so that they could repeat them back accurately if asked later on down the road from now.

Sometimes maybe possibly not too far in the future after all these years going forward forever always hopefully forevermore.

Effective persuasion is a cornerstone of legal writing. Explore our comprehensive resource, Writing to Persuade: The Guide for Lawyers, to learn valuable techniques that will enhance your ability to convey convincing arguments in your legal documents.

Use Plain English

Use simple, direct language. This is good advice for any type of writing, but especially important in legal writing. It’s important to understand the purpose of your document and who it will be read by: legal documents are often difficult to understand because they use complex terms and concepts that are unfamiliar to lay people. 

When you’re writing a contract or a brief for a judge, there’s no need to waste time explaining things that aren’t necessary you’ll just make the reader more confused. Simplify! One easy way to simplify your language is by eliminating passive voice from your sentences (more on this below).

Keep sentences short. As we mentioned above, most legal documents are written in a formal style; therefore they tend toward longer sentences with fewer commas than typical academic papers or other kinds of non-legal writing might contain. 

This makes sense: if you want someone like a judge to take the time and effort needed to read through something dense and complex (such as an appellate brief), then you need him or her to do so without getting bored halfway through paragraph one! 

Shorter sentences help keep readers focused while also making them easier for readers’ eyesight so keep those periods within a reasonable distance from each other!

Avoid Unexplained Abbreviations And Jargon

In legal writing, abbreviations and jargon are the scourge of comprehension. For example, “under” is a common word that is often abbreviated as “purs.” And while it might seem like jargon just doesn’t belong in plain English writing, it’s quite common to see terms like “respondent” used instead of defendant or plaintiff.

All this said, there are some instances where you may want to use an abbreviation or term that’s not obvious from context because it’s clear what you mean for example, if you’re talking about “children born out-of-wedlock,

Then using “OOW” is fine because nobody would reasonably think that meant anything else (though if there were any doubt at all then leaving it out would be better). But if there’s any chance your reader won’t understand what something means when they read it, don’t use the abbreviation!

Elevating your legal writing skills is a continuous journey. Discover the Top 11 Things that can transform you into a more proficient and confident legal writer, equipping you with strategies to produce impactful and concise legal content.

Cut Unnecessary Words And Précis Long Passages

In the context of legal writing, the word précis means to summarize. When you are précising a passage, you are summarising it in your own words.

The best way to précise long passages is by cutting unnecessary words and phrases from the source material. After all, if we don’t need something, why should it be there? Well-written pieces of text will contain only those words that are necessary for conveying their meaning clearly and accurately.

To achieve this goal of clarity and concision in your work as a law student or lawyer, avoid unnecessary descriptions (such as “the defendant”), unexplained abbreviations and jargon (“i) individuals who are subject to discrimination”, “a violation of civil rights”). Instead use plain English: “people who experience discrimination”, “civil rights violations”.

Also, ensure that whatever structure you use for your work is coherent: use paragraphs; keep paragraphs short; don’t ramble on too long at any point in any single paragraph; keep sentences short and clear; avoid long sentences with lots of clauses joined by conjunctions (“and”, “but”); avoid extra commas unless they’re needed for clarity (e.g., when listing items)

Structure Your Work Effectively

The structure of your work is important because it allows the reader to easily follow your line of reasoning. In other words, if you use a clear structure, your reader will know where to look for what they need and how to get there without being confused or frustrated. 

A well-structured paper can make all the difference between a paper that passes muster and one that earns an excellent grade.

The best way to organize your work is by using an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, in other words, IDA (introduction-definition-application). 

This stands out from other types of organizational structures because it helps guide readers through points in an organized way while keeping them focused on what needs to be done next: define terms; apply those definitions; apply these definitions again with examples from law school or real-life practice problems you get the picture! 

As long as you’re sticking with this formulaic approach, you’ll always be able to tell at any moment whether or not you’re doing what’s expected of you in any given paragraph.

Check Spelling, Punctuation, And Grammar Rigorously

There are several ways to check your writing for spelling, punctuation, and grammar:

  • Use a spell checker on your computer.
  • Use a dictionary or thesaurus to look up unfamiliar words.
  • Get someone else to read over what you have written and make corrections if necessary (this is particularly important when it comes to legal documents).

Check with the client or employer about their preferred style guide (a set of rules for how documents should be written), which can help ensure that you follow the conventions expected by that particular audience.

Read through what you have written out loud for yourself or someone else who knows nothing about your subject matter to pick up any errors that may not be immediately obvious due to scanning through the text quickly instead of reading word by word as humans typically do when reading prose rather than skimming headlines online!

Providing effective legal guidance requires a nuanced approach that considers various factors. Unlock the secrets to successful legal guidance with our article on How to Write Effective Legal Guidance: 17 Hints, designed to help you navigate the complexities of conveying precise and useful legal advice.

Check Your Work For Sense And Legal Accuracy

Check your facts. It’s easy to forget to check the details in an article, so be sure to double-check that everything you write is accurate and factual.

Check the law. There are many ways to make legal mistakes, even if you’re a lawyer! Make sure you know how the law works before writing about it.

Check the reasoning behind what you’ve written. Is it logical? Does it flow well? Do people understand why they should care about what they’re reading?

Check your conclusion(s). A conclusion shouldn’t just restate what came before; it should also add new information or insights based on what has come before and ideally give readers a reason for reading more about this particular topic in future articles! You could even use an example from history or current events/traditions (e.,g., holidays) that illustrate this point nicely.

With The Right Style, You Will Be Able To Communicate Effectively With Clients, Colleagues, And Other Audiences

With the right style, you will be able to communicate effectively with clients, colleagues, and other audiences. This is important because it can help you build a better rapport with your clients, as well as make sure that your written work is clear, concise, and easy for others to understand.

It’s also important for legal writers to know how to communicate in different ways. For example, some documents have more space for written information than others; some documents require more complex language than others; some documents need more technical terms than others; etc.

The ability to communicate effectively will help attorneys draft their work faster and easier. This means they won’t waste time trying to find new ways of saying something because they already know what method works best!


Legal writing is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. However, with the right approach and some practice you can become an expert in no time!

Further Reading

Expand your understanding of legal writing with these additional resources:

The Ultimate Guide to Good Legal Writing: Explore practical tips and insights for enhancing your legal writing skills, covering everything from clarity to effective communication.

Legal Writing: A Complete Guide: Delve into a comprehensive guide that offers a detailed breakdown of legal writing techniques, helping you craft documents that are clear, concise, and persuasive.

Canadian Guide to Legal Style: Discover a resource tailored to Canadian legal writers, providing guidance on formatting, citation, and language usage in the context of Canadian legal writing.


What are the key principles of good legal writing?

Effective legal writing involves clarity, precision, and concise communication. It should present complex legal concepts in a comprehensible manner while maintaining proper structure and organization.

How can I improve my legal writing style?

To enhance your legal writing style, focus on using plain language, avoiding excessive jargon, and structuring your content logically. Additionally, seek feedback and practice consistently.

What role does citation play in legal writing?

Citation serves to support your arguments and provide a foundation for your claims. Proper citation enhances the credibility of your work and allows readers to verify your sources.

How can I make my legal documents more persuasive?

Crafting persuasive legal documents involves constructing compelling arguments, anticipating counterarguments, and using rhetorical devices effectively. Presenting your ideas with clarity and logic can also contribute to persuasiveness.

Is legal writing different in specific jurisdictions?

Yes, legal writing conventions can vary between jurisdictions. Different regions may have unique formatting preferences, citation styles, and terminology. It’s important to adapt your writing to the specific requirements of the jurisdiction you’re working in.