Good legal writing can win cases; but it’s hard work to be a good legal writer. To be effective, the writer must write clearly and persuasively about complicated matters to readers who have short attention spans and who are sometimes hostile to the ideas articulated. So like any learned skill, good legal writing takes practice and a mastery of certain fundamentals.
Written submissions, says Michael McHugh, make the first impression on the appeal court – each judge will read them before the hearing commences. They give the court an overview of your whole case quicker than is possible in an oral argument.
When legal documents are poorly written, the judge has difficulty understanding your situation and your legal arguments might be lost. The easier it is to understand your documents, the more convincing your legal arguments will be. Since you want to convince the judge to decide in your favor, it’s important to take the time to write clearly and well.
“A judge may find it hard to focus on the merits of a particular argument, if the words used to express it show that the writer is wasting the judge’s time, or is advocating a position that will get the judge reversed. In other words, poor legal writing often results in failed attempts at persuasion.” Stephen Deatherage
At the start, organize your ideas by creating an outline. Outlines will help you figure out and communicate your key points. Organizing your outline into key points will make your writing easier to understand. It is helpful to number your paragraphs so you can easily refer to them. If you have multiple pages, make sure to have them numbered.
Writing ability is equally important when drafting letters and legal documents. Lawyers need to know technical and legal language and be able to convey it clearly and concisely. Various aspects of legal writing involve analysis of fact patterns, presentation of arguments, briefs and memorandums and drafting contracts and wills. It is highly essential for lawyers to be able to use the language with ease and convey their arguments as cogently and clearly as possible.
Consistency brings clarity. Referring to things in a consistent manner helps your reader understand what you are writing. For instance, do not keep switching between first name, last name, and nickname because the reader might think you are referring to different people.
Accuracy is pivotal to the success of legal career. A single word out of place can change the meaning of a clause or contract, while mis-spelt or ungrammatical emails, letters or documents give clients a bad impression, costing firm their business.
Legal professionals aim at a precise explanation of facts which should leave no doubts at all. This requires them to use a certain kind of language pattern: looking exact meanings up in a professional dictionary, including a high amount of definitions in legal texts, as well as numerous complex and ancient phrases.
A lawyer is expected to use legal terms with precision. Substituting one for another can result in serious errors and misunderstandings. The legal meanings of words constitute the common language of lawyers and judges, who rely on this language to communicate efficiently and effectively.
Great lawyers appeal to reason. They use solid arguments, based on fact, logic and common sense. They deliver only true and accurate statements, and they are fair and objective in the way they deliver them. They are cooperative; they object only when there is a good reason, and they are willing to concede on meaningless, minor details when they are true. Over the course of a trial, this earns the respect of the audience and gives them more reason to believe, trust, and stand behind the lawyer when it comes time for a decision.
Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on Law.