Understanding legal writing is vital for all legal professionals. From becoming a paralegal to becoming a lawyer, the ability to write in a concise, compelling manner is a skill that will be leveraged often. Legal briefs, memos and other legal documents require following certain style conventions and implementing legal reasoning skills.
This guide includes tips for improving your legal writing skills and additional resources on the subject.
Why Is Legal Writing Important?
Legal writing is used throughout all practices of law for a variety of documents. This can include:
(e.g., objective legal memoranda)
(e.g., client advice and demand letters)
(e.g., motions and briefs)
“Legal writing is an important and integral skill,” said John Flynn, associate professor of law at Elon University School of Law.
Effective legal writing is especially vital for first-year law students, as the rest of their courses are doctrinal focused.
“You need to learn what the law is and how it came to be, but in the first year, the only opportunity you really get to put any of that into action as a skill is legal writing,” Flynn said.
How to Improve Legal Writing Skills
There are a variety of resources available to individuals who are learning legal writing. The right practicing techniques can also help students improve their skills in this area. Flynn recommended the following tips.
Talk to Your Legal Writing Instructors
Professors are a great resource for those who are currently enrolled in legal writing courses. They may have recommendations on helpful reference books, practice activities and other helpful resources.
“Most legal writing professors, in my experience, are very accessible and very willing to help you with your writing,” Flynn said.
Reference Legal Writing Examples
According to Flynn, an easy way to learn more about writing certain legal documents is to look at relevant examples.
“If you’re trying to write a loan agreement or an employment agreement, you need to spend a lot of time looking at what has been done before that’s been tested, it’s been tried, and it works,” he said.
However, Flynn advised that students, particularly in the first year, should verify their professor’s policy on using materials and examples that are not provided in the course before using outside references for assignments.
Don’t Procrastinate Legal Writing Projects
It’s important to allot an adequate amount of time when drafting a legal document, as the process works best when there is time for revisions.
“[Legal documents] require drafting and redrafting, putting it down and coming back to it. You cannot throw something together the night before,” Flynn said.
Follow the Formula of Legal Writing
Legal writing can be formulaic, which may be a struggle for some. Flynn explained the IRAC method, which is used to compose legal documents.
Identify the issue.
Research the rule/law.
Apply the law to the set of facts.
Reach a conclusion based on that application.
Avoid “Legalese” When Drafting Documents
Flynn says there has been a shift in legal writing to make documents more clear and easy to understand for the layperson. When practicing legal writing, consider making some of the following language considerations:
“for the duration of”
“for the purpose of holding”
“the reason that”
Resources for Legal Writing
Legal Writing Books and Articles
There is an abundance of resources available for those who are looking for additional guidance on improving their legal writing skills. In addition to the resources below, view this helpful list of legal writing books.
ABA for Law Students – 10 Top Tips for Legal Writing
This article also provides a variety of tips on how to improve your legal writing, focusing primarily on structure and word use. Hosted on the ABA for Law Students website, this resource was originally published in Temple ESQ, a publication of Temple University Beasley School of Law.
ABA Journal – 10 Tips for Better Legal Writing
Written by Bryan A. Garner, president of LawProse Inc., this entry from the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal includes strategies for effective revision of drafted documents, language choices, the research process and more.
American Bar Association – 10 Tips for Better Legal Writing
This blog post from the American Bar Association recaps a legal writing webinar featuring David Howard Spratt, professor of legal rhetoric at American University Washington College of Law. This article provides a recap of Spratt’s talk in the form of a list of tips for improving legal writing skills.
Lawyers Mutual Inc. – 10 Easy Tips for Powerful Legal Writing
The author of this article, Jay Reeves, touts more than 35 years of experience as a lawyer. Within his list of tips, he includes a variety of strategies for managing the legal writing process and creating engaging, effective documents.
Legal Talk Network – Tips for Exceptional Writing Skills
In an interview to discuss his book, “Legal Writing Nerd: Be One,” author Wayne Schiess offers recommendations for advancing your legal writing skills. The interview was originally recorded for a podcast, but the transcript is also provided, allowing you to listen to or read Schiess’ advice on drafting legal documents.
The Balance Careers – 7 Ways to Improve Your Legal Drafting Skills
This resource is straight to the point and covers some of the basic foundations of effective legal writing. The Balance Careers website additionally provides other resources for aspiring legal professionals.
Legal Writing Online Tools
Briefcatch is a computer plug-in specifically developed for legal writing. The editing tool is designed to spot potential issues while drafting a document, including inconsistencies in spelling and punctuation and repetitive word use.
Grammarly is a free browser extension that helps writers assess their grammar, spelling, style and tone. While the tool is for general use, its editing functions can help keep the user’s writing clean and limit errors.
NaturalReader converts text to audio automatically, allowing the user to listen to documents they have drafted. Hearing your writing out loud can make it easier to spot mistakes that might go undetected when re-reading copy.
WordRake is writing software that uses algorithmic rules to provide targeted feedback based on the writer’s needs. This digital resource can be helpful in writing more precise copy and avoiding spelling and grammatical errors.