Resilient Legal Writing

Purpose and Audience

Understand your purpose. What outcome are you trying to accomplish, and for whom? Structure, tone, and voice change based on the document you are drafting. Judges, another attorney, or a client all have expectations in your writing. Familiarize yourself with the courts or attorneys’ tone, style, pet peeves, etc. While a judge will almost always be a member of your audience, a judge will rarely be the only member.

Research

Legal writing requires attention to detail while incorporating legal precedent. The first step in any research process is ensuring that you understand the issue. Understanding the question can be as difficult as answering it. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you need help. Do not commit the fatal error of excluding relevant cases because it does not support the conclusion you want to reach. Research should present an accurate assessment of the relevant law with an honest prediction of how the client’s facts are likely to come out under that law.

Clarity

State your point directly and clearly using active voice. Avoid double negatives, and depending on your audience, do not use two spaces after the period unless required. Be consistent. If the document is longer than a few pages, use headings/subheadings as signposts. Just as the legal research mentioned above is a process, legal writing with clarity is also a process.

Proofreading

When submitting something to a partner, supervising attorney, or the court, you are making an impression. It is imperative to take proofreading seriously to produce high-quality work and to maintain professionalism. Those not proofreading their work should start immediately. It is also important to remember that under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Professional Responsibility, Rule 1.1 states that a

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