The importance of writing and drafting skills for lawyers should not be underestimated – mastered correctly, writing is a skill that will help you succeed in your legal career.
A strong written ability is an essential skill for all lawyers, including legal secretaries, and should be practiced from the early stages of your career (particularly at university, or before you consider entering the law). Below, we’ve highlighted the importance of writing in your job and how you can improve it.
Why is legal writing important for my job?
When working in the law, you will be required to undertake certain tasks including drafting letters and legal documents, and communicating technical jargon in the written form. Therefore, clear writing is crucial in legal practice – without it, cases can be won or lost. Providing concise information correctly leaves less chance for ambiguity or questions when explaining different cases to judges, other lawyers and clients.
Tips on how to improve legal writing
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs have kindly provided key tips on how to improve writing for the law:
- Know your audience: Understand what level of competency your audience is at, and then you can decide what level of language you should be using for your document. Tone down unnecessary complexity, vary the sentence structure and avoid any jargon.
- Be concise: Drafting will include long-winded waffling, so you must have the ability to cut out unnecessary information to ensure your audience is receiving only the key points for the cause. Decide on the concept of the document before you start writing, and this should help keep you on track for what points and phrases are relevant, and the parts that don’t add any value to the cause. Use shorter sentences where you can present one idea clearly – this will also make it easier to spot mistakes when you come back to proofread it. Less complex words are also useful – the key is to ensure simplicity of expression and concise use of language. This is harder than it looks, but practiced regularly, it can be mastered.
- Avoid using jargon: If you are using language you think a non-lawyer won’t understand, don’t use it. Confusing others with your language means you haven’t properly relayed the message you intended to get across.
- Plan ahead: Your documents could likely end up in front of a judge. Keep this in mind when you write – it will impact your ability. If you’re not happy for your first, second or fifth draft to be put in front of a judge, then write it again.
- Proofread: Nobody writes perfectly the first time around. Typos, structural issues and spelling errors can so easily happen if you’re writing extensively, so it is essential that you proofread regularly. Good writing is not a skill that you can learn overnight, but a skill you develop over time. Getting into the habit of checking it regularly will improve your ability. Every detail is important in a legal document, even the mundane details – a minor mistake could render you careless to clients, colleagues and other legal professionals.
Legal writing practice exercises
There are writing exercises you can do regularly to improve your ability, if you are just entering the legal profession as a graduate or from another industry. The following have proved popular for a number of lawyers:
- Write two letters which tell the same story. One should be written to your boss or someone of a higher position than yourself, the other should be written to a peer. The concept of the letter should be that you are writing to impress the individual in the first letter. When you’ve finished, read back over them and decide which letter sounds more clear and concise. The main aim of this exercise it to identify what you are saying, and attempt to engage the reader. Get straight to the point and understand that using long words, forcing legal terminology may not work.
- Verb tense practice is an exercise which can be found online. Here, you are given paragraphs with multiple tenses are used. You have to identify the correct tense to be used and then convert the paragraph so that it reads in the appropriate tense.
- Punctuation, apostrophes and italics exercises, which again, can be found online, will help you better identify where punctuation is necessary, and unnecessary.
- Wording exercises can also be useful, where you are given an extract of written information and are expected to whittle it down to as few words as possible, while still maintaining its concept.This is a great exercise to help you understand redundant information, and how to add value to a piece of writing.
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA) is a professional body who are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey. For more information please visit our website.
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