10 Tips for Better Legal Writing

Written by Mark Childress

How to start writing clear, concise, and persuasive documents.

Effective legal writing is crucial for conveying information accurately and persuasively in the legal field.

It enables lawyers to communicate their arguments, opinions, and legal analysis clearly and persuasively to judges, clients, colleagues, and opposing parties, while also showcasing professionalism and credibility.  

Moreover, proficient legal writing promotes efficiency and time management by facilitating accurate and efficient drafting of documents, reducing the need for extensive revisions. 

Whether you are drafting a contract, a memorandum, or a court brief, mastering the art of legal writing can significantly enhance your communication skills as a lawyer.

In this guide, you will learn 10 valuable tips to improve your legal writing so you can create clear, concise, and persuasive documents.

1. Know Your Audience

In order to enhance the effectiveness of your legal writing, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of your audience. 

By adjusting your writing style, tone, and level of technicality to suit the intended readers, you can ensure that your message is properly understood.

For documents targeting legal experts, more complex language may be needed, while using simpler terms will enable laypeople to comprehend the content more easily.

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2. Organize Your Thoughts

Organizing your thoughts before you start writing is an important step in the writing process.

It helps you develop a clear structure, identify key points, and ensure coherence in your writing.

Here are some strategies to consider when organizing your thoughts:

  1. Outline: Create a detailed outline containing the main sections or points you want to cover in your writing. Start with a broad overview and then break it down into subtopics or supporting arguments. This provides a roadmap for your writing and helps you stay focused.
  1. Mind Mapping: Use a mind map or visual diagram to brainstorm ideas and connections between different concepts. Start with a central topic or theme and branch out with related subtopics or supporting ideas. This visual representation can help you see the relationships between different ideas and facilitate organization.
  1. Bullet Points or Lists: Create a list of key points or ideas you want to include in your writing. This approach allows you to quickly jot down thoughts without worrying about their order initially. Once you have a list, you can rearrange and group related points together.
  1. Research and Note-taking: Conduct research on your topic and take thorough notes. As you gather information, jot down key facts, quotes, or references that you may want to include in your writing. This helps you organize your research material and ensures you have the necessary information at hand when you start writing.
  1. Sequential or Chronological Order: Depending on the nature of your writing, consider organizing your thoughts in sequential or chronological order. This approach is suitable for narratives, historical accounts, or step-by-step explanations.
  1. Conceptual or Logical Flow: Consider the logical flow of your ideas and arguments. Ensure that there is a logical progression from one point to another, with each paragraph or section building upon the previous one. This helps readers follow your thought process and enhances the coherence of your writing.

Remember, different approaches work for different individuals, so find the method that suits your thinking style and the type of writing you are working on. Experiment with different techniques and find the one that helps you best organize your thoughts before diving into the writing process.

3. Be Clear and Concise

Effective legal writing requires clarity and conciseness.

To achieve this, you can utilize various tools and strategies.

Readability tools such as Hemingway Editor, Grammarly, or ProWritingAid can provide valuable feedback on sentence structure, word choice, and readability level.

Moreover, these tools help identify areas that need improvement, such as complex sentences, passive voice, or excessive adverbs. 

As you begin writing, avoid using more words than necessary.

If one word has the same meaning as several, it’s always best to go with that one word to eliminate extra reading for your audience.

For example, if you have written the phrase, “in/near the vicinity of…” you could instead replace it with the word “near.”

When you are writing any legal document, you want to state your point clearly and directly to keep the reader engaged and help guide them through your document. 

4. Read Other Writing Examples

The key to improving your writing skills, especially in the legal field, is to read.

When possible, seek out the work of exceptional legal and business writers. Dive into legal documents, books, blogs, and articles that showcase stellar writing.

By studying and comprehending how these writers craft their pieces, you'll gain insight into the standard format of a legal document.

From there, you can infuse your own distinctive ideas and writing style.

Don't hesitate to reach out to colleagues for samples of their work or join communities and forums for additional learning opportunities.

By following the lead of other experts, you can cultivate your skills as a legal writer. 

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5. Follow the IRAC Method

The IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) method is a widely recognized approach in legal analysis and writing.

It offers lawyers a structured framework to effectively analyze and present legal arguments.

When using the IRAC method, you want to do the following things:

Issue: Clearly identify and state the legal issue or question at hand. This entails pinpointing the key legal problem that needs to be addressed in the case or legal analysis.

Rule: Identify and explain the relevant legal rules, statutes, regulations, or case law that are applicable to the issue. Provide a concise and accurate summary of the governing legal principles.

Application: Apply the identified legal rules to the specific facts of the case. Analyze how the rules should be interpreted and how they relate to the facts. Discuss any exceptions or nuances that may impact the application of the law.

Conclusion: Formulate a clear and logical conclusion based on the analysis. State the likely outcome or legal opinion based on the application of the rules to the facts. Summarize the key points and provide a definitive answer to the legal issue raised.

6. Support Your Arguments

The importance of supporting arguments in legal writing cannot be overstated. 

As you support your arguments, you’re able to create stronger cases, increase your credibility, adhere to legal standards, provide effective counter-arguments, and produce more favorable outcomes.

7. Maintain a Professional Tone

Maintaining a professional tone establishes credibility by demonstrating competence, expertise, and respect for the seriousness of legal matters. 

A professional tone is essential for making persuasive legal arguments based on logic and reason, rather than resorting to personal attacks or inflammatory language. 

Additionally, it promotes constructive and respectful communication, fostering positive relationships with colleagues, clients, and the court. 

8. Use Headings, Subheadings, and Formatting

In the world of law, attention to detail is everything. And that includes how you structure and format your legal documents.

Keep the following in mind:

Organize and Structure. By using headings and subheadings, you create a clear roadmap for your readers. They can easily find the information they're looking for, without getting lost in a sea of text. This not only enhances comprehension but also highlights the important points you want to convey.

Highlight Key Points. Want to draw attention to a specific argument or crucial aspect of your legal analysis? Use formatting elements to make those points stand out. By doing so, you help readers grasp the main ideas and follow the logical flow of your document.

9. Edit and Proofread Thoroughly

Once your piece is written, take the time to edit and revise your writing; removing unnecessary words, phrases, punctuations, and repetitions.

Structure your sentences effectively by opting for shorter sentences. In doing so, focus on one idea at a time.

You should utilize headings and subheadings to create a logical hierarchy in your writing.

After you’ve finished revising your piece, it can be helpful to seek feedback from colleagues or peers experienced in legal writing to help catch anything you missed and offer additional guidance.  

10. Consider the Visual Presentation

You can significantly improve the impact of your writing by enhancing its visual presentation. 

Optimize the readability of your legal writing with suitable fonts, spacing, and margins; and make complex information visually appealing by incorporating tables, graphs, or charts.

When you incorporate visual elements in your writing, you're simplifying complex information and making your writing more memorable. 

Final Thoughts

Mastering the art of effective legal writing takes time and practice.

By following these 10 tips, you can significantly enhance your writing skills and produce documents that are clear, concise, and persuasive.

Remember, effective legal writing is not only about conveying information accurately but also about influencing your audience.

Credit: This post was provided by Mark Childress of the Law Offices of Mark M. Childress

About the Author

Mark M. Childress is the Founding Attorney of the Law Offices of Mark M. Childress, and uses his extensive litigation experience to help clients with various family law needs. By providing customized one-on-one services, Mr. Childress has been able to ensure the best possible outcome for each case he represents.

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