7 Must-Follow Rules of Legal Writing
Legal writing is the examination of factual patterns and presenting arguments in documents like legal briefs and memoranda. It can be persuasive writing or an analysis supporting a legal argument.
Importance of Legal Writing
Have you ever wondered why one person seemed to advance in their career while others seemed to hit a wall? Most times, it has to do with how they communicate in writing. Good written communication and legal writing skills can help you in communicating clearly and effectively.
This article examines several errors many lawyers make when writing legal documents and how to avoid these mistakes. We will learn about the legal writing style guide and tips to take your legal writing to a new level, dominate memos, briefs, legal research, and writing, and win those brief battles with the opposing counsel.
Rules of Legal Writing
Rule 1: Do not use Adverbs and cut Adjectives.
Adverbs are words that lawyers use to describe things that are not important to the argument. They add nothing to the argument but suggest to your readers or the court that your argument is much weaker than it seems.
Common ways to use adverbs are to say that “the contract was breached,” “there was an exceedingly long delay before the goods were delivered”, or “that the defendant’s actions were incurably Negligent.”
You don’t have to add these words, when you add extra words that exaggerate things or events, it suggest to the reader that you’re trying to make up for something that didn’t happen.
Cut adjectives; instead of saying that “he drove all the long way from Los Angeles to New York,” you can say that “he drove from Los Angeles to New York.” You don’t have to say, “take the deposition.” You can say “deposed” instead. Avoid prepositional phrases as much as possible.
Remove them from your writing; they are unnecessary and don’t help you. Instead, say what you know to be true. If you don’t embellish your writing, it will be clearer, shorter, and more convincing.
Rule 2: Don’t get angry, aggressive, or mean.
Some lawyers care about their position or clients’ cases, but not in a good or positive way. Getting angry or upset about the other side’s argument or position is not professional. We all care about our work, but it’s better to keep a clear head and argue a matter on its merits rather than using loaded language.
This type of language is phrases like “outrageous,” “horrible,” “unforgivable,” “misleading,” “frivolous,” and “sanctionable.” Don’t say that in your writing, no matter what. No matter how ridiculous the other side behaves or how silly the argument is, your words will not be effective if you keep using these vocabularies.
Rule 3: Don’t use legal jargon.
Write in plain English; the time for legalese that is high-brow and fancy language is over. Modern legal writing is all about using clear, simple language that people use to talk to each other. It can be quite tempting to use fancy legal language. For example, “forthwith,” “whereas,” “thereto,” and the fancy Latin maxims. No one’s impressed that you know those words. Please don’t use them.
Rule 4: Don’t use Pronouns.
Don’t use the most common pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they.” Remove these pronouns from your writing because, while you’re writing it, it might seem clear to you, and you might know who those pronouns refer to, but for your readers, it’s such a pain to guess what subject your pronoun mean.
Instead, please take a few extra seconds to rewrite the subject of the sentence to make it crystal clear to whom the pronouns are referring.
For example,” James was crossing the street and was immediately confronted by the car’s driver. He started yelling and waving his hands.”
In the second sentence, we don’t know who “he” refers to in the sentence; could it be James? Or the Driver?
If James is the car’s driver, take the guesswork out of it and say who it is. James started yelling and waving his hands, or the driver of the car started yelling and waving his hands. That made it clear to everyone what you meant in your sentence.
Rule 5: Always use an active voice and never a passive voice.
For example, instead of saying that “the police questioned the witness,” say that “the police asked the witness questions.”
Get rid of transitional words as much as possible, for example, “however,” “but,” “therefore’,” and “is.” Such adverbs are so overused that when you can’t cut them out completely, move on to your next point.
Rule 6: Don’t overuse lawyers’ slang
For some reason, lawyers have become addicted to these sayings that you see in briefs. Examples of these overused lawyerly sayings include ‘it is trite law”,” distinction without a distinction,” “in the constellation of factors,” and “there is no basis to believe it goes without saying.” Don’t say any of these. They smell bad.
Rule 7: Always proofread your work.
After writing any legal document, always ensure that you read them out loud to yourself and check for grammatical errors. Also, ensure that a paragraph’s last sentence extends to the next line. Always go back to each paragraph and redraft it. Reword, tighten up your language. Take out facts or arguments that aren’t important so that the last line is as close to the margin as possible.
Proofreading your writeups shows the reader that the paragraph is well-written and important because the last line fits on the page.
Get a special guide on legal writing from our bookstore.