The most effective patent agents and patent attorneys appreciate how important great legal drafting is. Instead of gimmicks and tricks, they heed the fundamentals of legal writing. Legal preparation is about the recipient, not the drafter.
That concept should be the starting point of all documents produced. The best advocates possess the talent of expressing a complex subject in simple terms. Appreciating a subtle message one word sends over another is also a skill owned by those who write quality legal documents.
In the legal profession, writing skills are among the most significant attributes. Words are used to instruct, persuade, inform, and advocate. Mastering the art requires time and patience. Writing well is necessary for your success. Therefore, spending a little time to improve your writing skills is well worth the time. Here are some tips to use to hone legal writing skills.
Keep the Audience in Mind
Every word should be tailored to the reader’s interest. The same message and research can vary significantly in tone and content in a document for two different readers. Court-submitted papers persuade and advocate toward an outcome.
A memorandum sent to a client analyzes the issues, reports the status of the law, and recommends appropriate action to be taken. Always keep the audience in mind when drafting a written document.
Journal readers, opponents, colleagues, clients, and judges have different knowledge, perspectives, and experiences. The more understanding you have of the specific audience, the easier it is to write. Sometimes, you have to cater to more than one audience.
Even short documents require good structure. The framework dramatically impacts the effect. A meaningful and deliberate structure must be considered. Successful legal writing must be organized.
Visual clues create a road-map that guides the reader. Traditional phrases such as ‘in addition,’ ‘however,’ ‘furthermore, and ‘moreover’ at the beginning of a paragraph introduce a subject. The use of headings and subheadings followed by an introductory sentence breaks the text into blocks.
Each paragraph should focus on one topic. A concluding paragraph or sentence sums up the message. Complex documents may have multiple points. Young lawyers tend to graduate with a talent for stringing concepts together.
Three or more ideas are found within a single sentence. When a point needs making, make it. Make the next point separate from the first. An organized document leads the reader through the text and promotes readability.
Young lawyers, in particular, find getting a product such as a submission, a brief to a barrister, pleading, or letter signed off by a supervisor to be a burden. The frustration lies not in the conclusions reached or legal points but requests for changes in form.
Generally, the look and feel of court documents are set. The content still requires important consideration. Use feedback to avoid future mistakes. Keep in mind what a supervisor finds unclear and the questions that are asked.
Do clients call confused after receiving a letter? The solution may be changing your writing style. Ask yourself what matters more, getting signed off on a product or maintaining your style. Long-winded, waffling legal letters are the worst drafting style.
That style lacks a discernible point. The many delightful and eloquent words used fail to establish the position. It is lost in an unnecessary maze of ink. The writer must know the point of the document in advance. It assures drafting is refined and targeted to an end.
Avoid Legal Jargon and Phrases
Legalese makes a document archaic, stilted, and abstract. Examples include ‘wherein,’ ‘heretofore,’ ‘herewith,’ and ‘aforementioned.’ Use clear and simple terms instead of jargon and legalese.
In the interest of clarity, read the document to a colleague or substitute simple, concrete terms for abstract words. ‘Received the letter’ is more succinct than ‘receipt of correspondence.’ An attempt is being made to explain why an approach to a set of facts should be accepted when applying the law.
All parties know the law and will know the asserted facts. The submission will be materially different. A writer of a court document is charged with making a side of an argument persuasive while ensuring compliance with the duties of honesty and frankness. The job of the writer is to persuade rather than to advise.
Every word needs to contribute to the message. Keep it simple. Eliminate redundancies, shorten complex sentences, and omit extraneous words. Deleting unnecessary words add impact and clarify the meaning of phrases.
Concise use of language and simplicity of expression is essential. Simplicity is more powerful than complexity. The authenticity of expression is a critical component in developing relationships. Unless called for, phrases such as ‘court submissions’ and ‘pleadings’ should be avoided. The writing style should be as authentic as possible. Clients appreciate it.
Make Use of Action Verbs
Action verbs make legal prose vivid, dynamic, and compelling. They add punch to the writing. Verbs bring prose to life. Saying a client lied is better than saying he was untruthful. “Bolted’ is better than ’came quickly.’ ‘Enraged’ is a stronger usage than ’very angry.’
Do not use passive voice. Passive voice uses two-word verb phrases. The usage eliminates the verb’s subject. Active voice lets the reader know who commits the act and clarifies a message. As an example, substitute ‘counsel missed the deadline’ for ‘the deadline was missed’ or ‘the defendant committed a crime’ for ‘a crime was committed.’
Legal writing contains a call to action. The writer may want the judge to issue particular orders, the other party to accept demands, or a client to give specific instructions. A critical element is missing if at the end of the document precisely what should happen is not clear.
Proofread and Edit
Whether you are looking at academic writing, business writing, writing a short story, or, of course, writing legal documents, another way to improve your writing skills is to edit the work ruthlessly. Omit unnecessary words and rewrite for clarity and you will become a good writer soon enough. Proofreading is especially crucial in writing legal documents. Grammar errors, punctuation, and spelling errors in submitted court documents undermine credibility as a professional.
Parts of a document that receive the least attention often contain the most errors. Components include the footer, reference parts, subject line, and address block. Check for missing words, plurals, and apostrophes. Forgetting the word ‘not’ can be catastrophic. Attention to these details polishes the final product and is the first step to improving your writing skills.