Top 15 Most Common Legal Writing Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

Legal writing is a lot like chess: the rules are strict, but once you master them, you can create works of art. Here’s how to avoid the top 15 most common legal writing mistakes and become a master of your craft.

10 Things to Avoid in Your Legal Writing – YouTube
1. Identify and rectify issues related to lack of clarity in your legal writing.
2. Pay attention to improper citation to maintain the accuracy and credibility of your work.
3. Avoid overly long and complex sentences that can confuse your readers.
4. Eliminate redundancy and streamline your writing for more concise communication.
5. Be cautious with legalese and jargon, ensuring your content is understandable to a wider audience.
6. Proofread meticulously to catch spelling and grammatical errors that could diminish the professionalism of your writing.
7. Address issues of inconsistent formatting to present a polished and cohesive document.
8. Organize your content logically to guide your readers through complex legal concepts.
9. Avoid using overly complex language that might alienate or confuse your audience.
10. Focus on using active voice to make your writing more engaging and direct.
11. Understand the importance of proper punctuation in legal writing for conveying accurate meaning.
12. Provide sufficient context for legal terms and concepts to aid comprehension.
13. Balance precision and clarity, finding the right level of detail without overwhelming readers.
14. Embrace conciseness without sacrificing necessary information in your legal documents.
15. Seek feedback from peers or mentors to refine and improve your legal writing skills.

Using Unexplainable Acronyms

You should use acronyms only when they are widely understood. If you run into a situation where the meaning is unclear, then explain it in full.

Here’s an example: “The client was charged with one count of first-degree murder” vs. “The client was charged with one count of first-degree murder.

The latter is preferable because there isn’t any confusion as to what this phrase means; the former may cause your reader to pause and think about what “[F]irst-degree murder” means which is not something you want them doing at this point in your document!

To write compelling legal documents, it’s crucial to understand the 12 elements of good legal writing. These elements form the foundation for clear and effective communication within the legal field.

Being Unclear About What You Want

You’re probably not the only person who’s ever thought about writing a legal document, so it’s likely your audience has read many documents similar to yours before. 

But this doesn’t mean that they know how you want to express yourself. Instead of assuming that readers will switch into “lawyer mode” and figure out what you mean from the context, be explicit about your intentions by explaining exactly what you want in each sentence.

For example:

“The United States Supreme Court held that the individual mandate was constitutional under Congress’s power to tax.” (bad)

“The Supreme Court held that Congress could impose an individual mandate under its power to tax.” (good)

Creating A Run-On Sentence

A run-on sentence is a sentence that’s too long. A run-on sentence can be difficult to read and understand, especially when it contains more than one idea. To fix this, you must break up each clause into a new sentence.

Here’s an example of a run-on: “Ann visited her Aunt Mary in the hospital yesterday because she was very sick and needed someone to talk to about it.” This could be broken down into three separate sentences: 

Ann visited her Aunt Mary in the hospital yesterday because she was very sick and needed someone to talk to about it,” “Aunt Mary is Ann’s favorite relative, but Ann hadn’t seen her in years until now when they met at the hospital,” and “Because they shared so many similar experiences.”

Here are some other tips for avoiding run-ons:

Aspiring law students looking to excel in their writing should explore the top 12 legal writing tips for success. These valuable insights can help students develop the skills needed for effective legal communication.

Using Incompatible Terms

  • Use consistent terminology.

It’s important to use the same word for the same thing throughout your document. That way, you avoid confusion and ensure that your message is clear. For example, don’t refer to “the court” in one paragraph and then use “the judge” in another. 

The reader won’t know what you mean by either term unless they read closely and pay attention and most people won’t do this! Conversely, using different terms where there are none needed can confuse readers even more; just try reading a sentence like: 

He went into his kitchen, grabbed some milk from his refrigerator, and poured it into a glass.” This sentence could mean anything from grabbing milk out of an icebox (old-fashioned) or from an automatic dispenser (modern).

Using Too Many Clauses

Using too many clauses is a common mistake that can make your writing confusing to read. A clause is a group of words that work together, and there are two kinds: independent and dependent.

An independent clause has everything it needs to function as a sentence on its own; in other words, it contains both a subject and verb, but no dependent clauses (e.g., “I went home.”)

A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence because it lacks either the subject or the verb (or both). Dependent clauses can be introduced by subordinating conjunctions (“although,” “because,” etc.), relative pronouns, and adverbs (“who,” “where,” when,” etc.).

Avoiding common pitfalls is essential when drafting legal documents. Learn from the mistakes to avoid when writing legal documents to ensure your work maintains accuracy and professionalism.

Describing Incorrectly A Factual Situation

Describing the facts correctly is one of the most important parts of a legal writing assignment. If you get it wrong, your entire argument may collapse on itself.

Here are some tips to make sure that doesn’t happen:

Organize your description based on a logical sequence. If you’re writing about what happened in chronological order, start with the first event and then work through them in order until you reach the end of your story or point (e.g., “First John bought his house; then Mary moved in…”). 

If certain events are more important or relevant than others (e.g., “After John sold his house…”), make sure to highlight them accordingly so readers can easily understand their significance and importance within their larger context.

Make sure that each sentence describes only one thought or idea at a time don’t try to cram too many into each paragraph! This makes things easier for people who aren’t familiar with all the details because they will be able to understand each part separately instead of having everything jumbled together into an incoherent mess where nothing makes sense anymore.

Omitting A Disclaimer

A disclaimer is a statement that announces the writer’s lack of responsibility for any consequences resulting from reading or following what is written. It protects both the writer and reader by giving everyone a clear understanding of what’s being said or done. Disclaimers should be used whenever:

You are writing about something you don’t know firsthand (for example, if you’re quoting someone else).

You make assumptions based on your own experiences and knowledge (for example, in an article about how to write an effective business plan).

You provide information related to a topic but not directly related to your main point (for example, when providing a list of resources relating to legal research).

Crafting legal briefs that resonate with judges is an art. Discover techniques that can help lawyers write legal briefs that don’t annoy judges and effectively present their arguments in a persuasive manner.

Using the Wrong Word Order Without Knowing It

The wrong word order can confuse and make your reader take time to process what you are trying to say. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is by using a thesaurus. If you don’t know the correct word order, then use a thesaurus to find it.

Diffusing Multiple Points in One Sentence

  • Use short sentences.
  • Don’t use passive voice.
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Mixing tenses up is a common mistake, especially if you’re not used to writing in the past tense yet.
  • Using too many words doesn’t make your writing better; it just makes it longer and more difficult to understand. Remember: simple is best!
  • If you can, avoid using really big words or phrases that only people who went to college would understand (e.g., “the interminable elusiveness of truth”). Instead of trying so hard, keep things simple by explaining what you mean as simply as possible—you’ll get your point across much more this way!

Making A Confusing Statement

You can avoid confusing statements in your writing by following these steps:

Explain the problem that you’re trying to fix. For example, “This sentence is confusing because it’s unclear who is going to do what.”

Give an example of a confusing statement. For example, “The defendant was charged with manslaughter after he shot his friend, who died from his injuries.” This sentence sounds like the defendant shot himself!

Explain how you would fix it by making your meaning clear or changing how you order your ideas. For example, “The defendant was charged with manslaughter after shooting his friend.” Or, “After shooting his friend, the defendant was charged with manslaughter.”

Overlooking Proper Abbreviation Usage

As you read through this article, you’ll notice that I’ve used several abbreviations. Some of these may be familiar to you such as “The U.S.,” which stands for “United States” but others may not be as intuitive: “UCC,” for example, is an abbreviation for the Uniform Commercial Code (a set of laws governing commercial transactions).

To ensure that your legal writing is clear and understandable to its intended audience, use abbreviations only when the reader will understand them without explanation. 

If you’re writing a brief or memo for a judge who is well versed in the law but unfamiliar with some of your terminology and concepts (such as UCC), it’s appropriate to use abbreviations that help clarify things without being too confusing or distracting from your main point(s). 

However, if you’re writing something like an email message meant only for review by another lawyer in your office who has already been briefed on topics like contract negotiation or enforcement protocols before her current tasking began, do not include any unnecessary jargon unless necessary.

This will help ensure that both readers understand what they need to know while also making sure nothing gets lost in translation during subsequent communication cycles between parties involved with completing this project together!

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Good Legal Writing Is Hard, But Worth It

There are many reasons why good legal writing is worth learning. For example, good legal writing is highly valued by employers, because it shows that you have good judgment and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely. 

The ability to write well enhances your chances of getting a job in any field; however, if you want to work as a lawyer or paralegal, your writing skills must be excellent.

Legal professionals also rely on their own written documents for reference in court cases and often need them to be authenticated as evidence at trial before they can be accepted by the court. 

In addition, lawyers often need written documents from other lawyers when they work together on cases (for example when one firm hires another firm). This means that good legal writing skills are essential if you want any hope of working in this field!

If this sounds like something that would interest you check out our guides on how to become a law clerk or paralegal


Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they’re learning. But the best way to avoid making these errors is to be aware of them and always keep a close watch on your writing process. By doing this, you can catch mistakes before they become too big of an issue and save yourself some trouble in the long run.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to help you delve deeper into the realm of legal writing and avoid common mistakes:

7 Legal Writing Mistakes to Avoid: Explore seven critical legal writing mistakes and learn how to steer clear of them to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your legal documents.

Common Legal Writing Mistakes to Watch Out For: This blog post highlights a variety of prevalent legal writing mistakes and provides valuable insights on how to identify and rectify them for polished legal communication.

Quick Fixes for Common Legal Writing Mistakes: Discover quick and practical solutions for rectifying typical legal writing errors, ensuring that your legal documents maintain accuracy and professionalism.


Have questions related to legal writing and common mistakes? Find answers to some frequently asked questions below:

What are the most common legal writing mistakes to avoid?

Legal writing often involves errors such as lack of clarity, improper citation, and lengthy sentences that can confuse readers.

How can I enhance the clarity of my legal writing?

To improve clarity, use concise language, organize your ideas logically, and avoid unnecessary jargon that might obscure your message.

Are there quick fixes for common legal writing mistakes?

Yes, there are. Simple strategies like proofreading, using active voice, and eliminating redundancies can significantly enhance the quality of your legal writing.

What resources can help me identify and rectify legal writing mistakes?

You can refer to articles and guides on reputable legal websites that specifically address common writing errors and offer practical solutions.

How important is proper citation in legal writing?

Proper citation is crucial in legal writing to give credit to sources, strengthen your arguments, and ensure the accuracy and credibility of your work.