The Ultimate Legal Writing Handbook

Writing well is an essential part of a lawyer’s job. Your writing communicates your ideas with clarity and persuasion, so it’s important to learn how to write well. This handbook provides tips for improving your legal writing skills: from start to finish, from sentence structure to formatting and editing.

Write Like the Best Legal Writers Part 1 of 2 – YouTube
1. Enhance legal writing skills with practical techniques and strategies.
2. Master the art of crafting clear and persuasive legal documents.
3. Learn effective ways to structure arguments for maximum impact.
4. Improve communication by avoiding unnecessary jargon and complex language.
5. Gain insights into addressing counterarguments and presenting cases convincingly.
6. Utilize recommended resources to further enhance your legal writing proficiency.
7. Understand the importance of logical coherence in legal writing.
8. Develop skills to make legal briefs and documents more reader-friendly.
9. Strive for a balance between legal precision and understandable communication.
10. Apply techniques from the handbook to enhance your legal writing in various contexts.

1 | Start With The Main Point

The first sentence is the most important part of your document.

You can have a beautiful and detailed main idea, but if it doesn’t appear in your introduction, you will lose your audience. The goal of the first sentence is to draw readers in and get them excited about reading more. 

This means that your sentence should be clear, concise, and interesting. It should also include some kind of word or phrase that lets readers know what they are going to learn from this document (e.g., “When courts interpret contracts…”).

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2 | Omit Needless Words

Now that you know what kinds of words to use, let’s talk about the ones you should omit. While some legal documents require verbiage that is precise and exacting, most don’t. Your goal when writing is to say as much with as few words as possible. 

The more concise your document is, the more likely it will be understood by others who read it and the simpler it will be for them to understand and follow its contents.

One way in which you can reduce wordiness is by eliminating needless words that are not necessary for conveying your idea or thought. Consider this sentence: “The defendant was charged with negligence.” This could easily have been written as: 

The defendant was charged with negligence.” Or even better: simply “The defendant was charged.” If we remove all unnecessary words from our example sentence above, we get this version: “The defendant was charged.” That’s better!

3 | Use Active Voice

When you write in the active voice, you use a subject and an action verb to show who did what. In contrast, when you write in the passive voice, you put the focus on what happened rather than who performed it and that can make your writing feel vague and lifeless.

Here’s how this might play out: in active voice: “Lucy broke her arm.” In passive voice: “Her arm was broken by Lucy.”

The first version is direct; it tells us exactly what happened right away and keeps our attention on Lucy as she deals with her injury. The second version makes us wait until later to learn about Lucy’s injury and even then we’re not sure who broke her arm!

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4 | Focus On The Reader (Write To An Adult)

Keep your writing as direct, simple, and informal as possible. This will make it easier for the reader to understand your ideas, which is what you want.

Write in short sentences (usually around 15 words or less), short paragraphs (1-2 sentences), and short words.

Use active voice where possible e.g., “I will do this” instead of “This will be done by me”; “we need to work on this project” rather than “this project needs working on by us”; “she gave a presentation at our meeting today” rather than “her presentation was given at our meeting today.

Active voice makes things sound more natural, but the sometimes passive voice is better – see rule #5 below for more details!

Use simple words that are easy to understand and pronounce(!) For example: use “a lot” instead of “many”; “us” instead of “we”; “that” instead of “which.” Avoid long-winded phrases like “because…” or even worse…the dreaded cliche,” in my opinion,” which is just filler anyway!

5 | Don’t Tell Lawyer Jokes

Lawyers aren’t any funnier than other professionals, but the stereotype of the humorless lawyer persists. Don’t perpetuate this fallacy by telling lawyer jokes to your colleagues or clients. The only people who find them funny are other lawyers who are also insecure about their profession.

When you’re writing an official document or email, you must maintain a professional tone at all times. Jokes can undermine that goal and make others wary of working with you in the future especially if they don’t get the joke!

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6 | Avoid Jargon And Acronyms (Spell Them Out)

Jargon is a word or phrase that is only understood by a particular group of people. It’s usually used in legal documents, but it can also be found in other types of texts. 

For example, if someone says “the plaintiff filed an answer,” you might wonder if the person meant to say “the plaintiff filed an answer” or “the plaintiff filed an answer.” If so, then what does “answer” mean? To figure out which one it is, first look at the surrounding text for clues about what a word means. 

If this doesn’t work and you’re still stumped, just ask! That way your reader will know exactly what you’re talking about and can better understand where you’re going with your argument or point.

Acronyms are words formed from initial letters (e.g., NATO). Like jargon, they are often used within certain industries or professions like medicine and law and may not make sense outside their context; therefore avoid them unless necessary!

7 | Identify The Audience

Identifying your audience is an essential step in the legal writing process. You need to understand who you’re writing for, and how they will use your document. It’s also important to know what they don’t know so that you can provide enough background information for them to follow along easily. 

As a rule of thumb, if you’re having trouble explaining something to yourself in plain English (or whatever language is appropriate for your audience), then it’s a sign that more explanation may be necessary.

When identifying your audience, try not only thinking about their needs but also their interests it can help you frame the way you talk about something in terms of what will most interest them rather than just focusing on facts or legal reasoning alone. 

For example: if someone has worked extensively with contracts before but is less familiar with court procedure terminology or procedures like depositions and interrogatories go into detail here first it’ll make sense out of context later! 

Also, keep limitations like time constraints or unfamiliarity with subject matter into account when planning out how much background information needs to be included ahead of time

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8 | Research Your Audience

Before you start writing your legal memo, brief, or contract draft, it’s important to know who will be reading it and why they’re reading it. Every time you write something that could affect a client’s case or even just her reputation you need to make sure that the document is clear and accessible to the intended reader. 

If there’s one thing all lawyers have in common, it’s that we’re taught how to write for a judge or jury; but our clients don’t want us doing that in everyday work documents. Regardless of what type of document you’re creating, always keep your audience in mind as you write (more on this later).

9 | Learn New Words. Repeatedly Read Over Complex Words That You Don’t Fully Understand Until You Do

Learning new words is one of the best ways to improve your legal writing skills. There are many ways to do this, including reading a dictionary, looking up the word in a thesaurus and seeing how it is used in context, or simply looking up the word in an online search engine. 

If you don’t understand what a word means when you first see it and read its definition, try reading over that definition again and again until you finally get it. 

You can also read short news articles that use the new vocabulary word or chapter headings from textbooks (if you’re studying for classes) that include this type of information so that your brain becomes used to seeing these words on paper instead of just hearing them spoken aloud by someone else.

Finally, when writing legal documents yourself try using some of these newly learned words but remember not too many!

10| Get A Mentor, Proofreader, Or Editor To Review Your Writing

Get a mentor, proofreader, or editor to review your writing. We all need an extra set of eyes on our work before sending it out into the world. 

You can ask a friend or colleague to review your writing, but don’t be surprised if they don’t have the same sense of urgency you do! Instead, consider asking someone who knows more than you such as a professor or mentor for feedback on your paper. 

If that isn’t possible, some professional editors will read through your work and give their opinion on how it could be improved (for example, by removing unnecessary jargon). 

Finally, there are online tools like Grammarly which help automate certain types of editing tasks so no matter what kind of writer’s block you’re facing today whether it involves legal research or case studies you’ll always have someone at hand ready to lend their expertise in whatever field needs attention most at any given moment.”

11| Aim For Simplicity And Clarity

In the legal field, in particular, you will be expected to write clearly and concisely. Clarity is critical because most legal documents are intended for use by nonlawyers. So your readers won’t have an insider’s understanding of the law or its jargon.

Lawyers who don’t write well are often seen as careless or incompetent, even if they do their jobs well otherwise. This can put lawyers at a disadvantage when they try to advance professionally within big firms or government agencies that value good writing skills highly, so it pays off in terms of salary and career opportunities if you learn how to write well!

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12| Don’t Rely On Spell-Checkers; They Are Inadequate

In addition to the other errors you can make, spell-checkers aren’t going to catch all of your mistakes. A spell-checker won’t tell you that you should use the word “and” instead of “&” if your document needs it. 

It also won’t tell you that an incorrect abbreviation or acronym has been used even if it’s an obvious mistake and even if there is no way anyone could be confused by what was written (e.g., using “UCC” instead of “UCC 1”).

Spell-checkers are also not much help for legal terms. For example, a few months ago I was writing about a contract provision relating to a real estate transaction and needed to use the term “Equitable Title.

Spell check failed me here; it didn’t recognize this term at all so I had no idea whether I had spelled it correctly until after sending my first draft out into the world!

13| Read Aloud What You Write Because It Forces You To Slow Down And Pronounce Each Word Clearly And Distinctly.

Read aloud what you write. This is one of the most effective ways to improve the quality and clarity of your writing because it forces you to slow down and pronounce each word clearly and distinctly. You can read aloud to yourself or someone else; either method works well.

When reading aloud, make sure that every sentence is complete in itself and that there are no fragments or run-on sentences (unless it’s for dramatic effect). 

Also make sure that each paragraph has a topic sentence at its beginning, supporting sentences following it, and a concluding statement at the end. If a paragraph fails these tests, rewrite it so that it does pass them.


So, let’s a recap. Legal writing is essential to the practice of law, and it’s one of the most important skills you can develop. The key points we covered here are:

Start with the main point; omit needless words; use an active voice; focus on your audience (i.e., don’t write like a lawyer).

Avoid jargon and acronyms (spell them out). 3. Identify your audience and research their needs before writing anything for them! 

This will help make sure that what you’re saying is relevant to them because they’ll know exactly what they need from each sentence/paragraph/piece of work as well as where they can find more information if needed later on down the road when reading through documents which may be hundreds at times depending on how complicated.

Simple multi-step processes are within certain areas.”

4 | Get someone else who knows better than yourself to look over everything before sending off copies to clients so that all those grammatical errors aren’t missed out on during proofreading stages due to lack of knowledge over certain areas within legal sectors such as contracts law etcetera

Further Reading

Expand your knowledge on effective legal writing with these recommended resources:

Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide (3rd Edition) Enhance your legal writing skills with practical insights and techniques in this comprehensive guide.

The Legal Writing Handbook Explore a handbook that offers valuable advice and strategies for improving your legal writing proficiency.

Oates’ Legal Writing Handbook (8th Edition) Dive into the 8th edition of this handbook, which provides essential guidance for crafting effective legal documents.


How can I improve my legal writing skills?

Improving your legal writing skills involves practicing clear communication, mastering legal terminology, and structuring your arguments logically.

What resources are available for legal writing guidance?

You can find valuable guidance in books like “Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide” and “The Legal Writing Handbook,” which offer tips, techniques, and examples.

How can I make my legal briefs more persuasive?

Craft persuasive legal briefs by clearly stating your arguments, providing supporting evidence, and addressing counterarguments effectively.

Are there any recommended legal writing handbooks?

Yes, “The Legal Writing Handbook” and “Oates’ Legal Writing Handbook (8th Edition)” are two recommended handbooks that provide comprehensive insights into legal writing techniques.

How do I balance legal precision with clear communication?

Balancing legal precision and clarity involves using plain language, avoiding jargon when unnecessary, and ensuring your arguments are easily understandable by a wider audience.