Better Legal Writing

First Draft

When writing a first draft, your goal is to establish your main points, ideas, and reasoning in black and white. Revising and editing is the essential stage—that is when you craft a cohesive, competent, and easily understood document.

Audience

For most legal writing, you will know your audience. Whether it is your senior manager, a partner, or the court, write in a professional tone. The breezier you are, the less seriously you will be taken.

Structure

Many writers find it helpful to create an outline before drafting. Even a short outline like the following will help guide you to where you want to go and the points that you want to make: (1) issue; (2) answer; (3) facts; (4) discussion; and (5) conclusion.

For persuasive writing, consider the order of your arguments. Ask yourself what will make the biggest impact. Most of the time, use your strongest argument first. Other times, you may want to lead with the most contentious issue, getting that out of the way for less prickly topics later. Sometimes a substantive or jurisdictional threshold question may affect the rest of your argument, so start with that.

Always keep your reader in mind. To ease the reader into your world, consider writing broadly and then gradually narrowing down your issues. Alternatively, think of starting with simple concepts and then advancing to the more complex.

Flow

The flow of a document helps guide the reader, so provide as many road signs as possible, including transitions, topic sentences, and headings/subheadings. Use connecting or transitioning words liberally between both paragraphs and sentences.

Paragraphs are your basic unit of composition. Don’t worry about their length too much (although you should avoid very long paragraphs that may make it hard

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