The legal writing process is not “one size fits all” and “people need to find the one that fits them best, David Howard Spratt, professor of legal rhetoric at American University Washington College of Law, said in the recent “Landslide Webinar Series: Take Your Legal Writing from Good to Great—Drafting Tips from the Pros”. The webinar was sponsored by the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law and ABACLE.
No matter your personal style, all writers want to be considered credible. To do so, “the grammar has to be there and the proofreading has to be there, because those are the things that make the impression with your reader,” Spratt emphasized.
Spratt and his fellow panelists shared these basic musts:
Planning: Think about who you’re writing the document for, by asking yourself these questions: “Who is my reader?” “What is my reader’s relationship to me?” and “Why am I writing this? Is it to inform, persuade or to accomplish some other end?”
Spratt recommended giving your reader just what he needs to know. “Sometimes we write and regurgitate everything we know about a topic
- Check verb tense. A singular subject should have a singular verb and a plural subject should have a plural verb.
- Note word placement. “The verb should come after the subject and be as close to the subject as possible,” Spratt said.
- Stay active. Writing in the active voice is clearer, more concise and easier for the reader to understand. Writing in the passive voice makes the reader “struggle to figure out what you’re saying,” he said.
- Placement matters. “Put the modifying words as close as you can to the words you’re modifying,” Spratt said. Julie Schrager, legal writing coach at Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, said she’s often