Our partners, The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs cover the top tips for effective legal writing below:
Good writing skills are fundamental for any Legal Secretary. Most jobs in the legal sector will have some reference in the job description to “excellent communication skills” and this will include written communication. Even if writing skills are not specified, a high standard will still be expected.
We would like to give you some tips to help you spot good legal writing, as well as provide suggestions on how you can improve your own and the standard of others’ written communication.
Keep errors in cheque?
Perhaps the sub-heading speaks volumes about how simple writing errors can totally change your view of how competent someone, or an organisation, is. Errors in language are a “red button” issue for Legal Secretaries as part of what they are paid to do is have an eye for detail.
A lack of attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling will be treated seriously. If you produce documents full of mistakes, then not only will the firm’s professional image be dented but the quality of the advice may be questioned.
For a recent spectacular example of a typo in a court pleading, look no further than one of the legal teams acting for Donald Trump. When they addressed his appeal to the “Unites” States Senate this was not a promising start. Misspelling the name of the body you are appealing to is bad enough.
Even worse, the mistake was on the front page and only five lines down, so it was hard to miss. You may not be surprised to learn that this was not the first time that a legal team acting for Mr Trump had made basic spelling mistakes. In another example the lawyers had spelt the word district “distrcoict”.
While online tools such as spellcheckers will help weed out some errors, they are not without their limitations. For example, they will not spot a missing word in a sentence. Nor will a spell check be of much use when you use words like “there” instead of “their” or “sail” instead of “sale”
The remedy is simple enough – proofread properly – but how do you develop this behaviour as a habit? The first step is to be bothered enough to do it. Habits usually only form when you have done something many times. Eventually you do not even notice that you are checking everything you write with a proper amount of care.
The key reason why people do not automatically proofread all their work is lack of time. Ask yourself – have you ever written a long email and at the end simply pressed send to get it off your workload? Because emails are meant to be quick and easy, it can be tempting to try to save the few minutes it takes to proofread them a final time.
Use plenty of short, informative, accurate headings
Headings are a good way to improve how a long document reads. They can help direct a reader to the points that interest them the most. This can save the reader’s time and help them understand the key points of a long piece of writing.
Make sentences short
Sentences that are no more than two lines long can help with making writing clear and easier to understand. By using short sentences, you are presenting one idea at a time. Any points that are unclear will stand out.
The reader is also less likely to get lost.
Use good punctuation
Punctuation is like grammar and spelling, and it can hit the same nerve for Legal Secretaries. Good punctuation helps with understanding. Poor punctuation can cause confusion.
Avoiding using punctuation is not the solution even though in some legal drafting (not client correspondence, by the way) this is exactly what is done. If you know that you have a weakness with punctuation, then the solution is to learn more about it.
While you are studying ILSPA’s courses, you have an excellent opportunity to practice good writing habits. As you develop your writing skills, your confidence will grow and help make you an invaluable asset to your organisation.
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