Top 7 Legal Writing Tips for Paralegals
Writing is an important tool for all paralegals. The power of words can be used to advocate, inform, persuade, and instruct. Though legal writing/drafting is a task exclusively done by qualified lawyers in general but in the present scenario, we can see that most of the lawyers pass their work on to their paralegals. Therefore, it becomes necessary for a paralegal to have excellent writing skills.
Though legal writing or drafting takes time and practise to master, a paralegal can take several steps to improve their writing skills with time. So, here are some important tips & tools to help you with your legal writing skills:
- Know Your Audience
- Knowing your audience is a key to successful legal writing. Each word you write should be tailored according to the reader’s needs.
- It is possible that different document formats convey the same message and research, but they may differ greatly in content and tone depending on the intended audience.
- Whether you’re writing to a client, the court, a lawyer, or another paralegal, tailor your documents according to their needs.
- For instance, when writing a research memorandum to your supervisor, you can use contractions. However, it is best to avoid them when writing to the court.
- Plan & Organise Your Writing
- The organisational structure of your text enhances readability and aids in guiding the reader to the intended conclusion.
- To write a legal document effectively, it must be organised.
- Make an Outline: Prepare a roadmap by using visual clues and appropriate format for your document as it’ll provide a road map for your reader.
- For instance, if you’re writing a brief for appeal, your outline should follow the brief’s format, including the facts, issues, and arguments. This organised structure of your legal writing will be easier to read and will guide the readers throughout your text.
- Basically, an organised structure promotes readability.
- Do Not Use Legalese
- When writing it’s best to ditch the legalese (specialised legal phrases and jargon) as it can make your writing abstract, stilted, and archaic.
- For instance, avoid legalese words such as:
aforementioned, herewith, heretofore, and wherein.
- Avoid unnecessary legalese (as these words will make the meaning of the message unclear to readers) and other jargon in order to keep your manuscript short, clear, and simple. For instance, rather than using “I am in receipt of your correspondence”, you can use “I received your letter” as it is clearer and more succinct.
- Organise and simplify the legal constructs into understandable legal concepts and simple language.
- Simply put, avoid using unnecessary legalese, special legal terms, and jargon to avoid confusing your viewers – use those terms only when absolutely necessary.
- Keep it Short & Simple (KISS)- Be Concise
- There is no need to use complex or fancy words when writing legal documents.
- In fact, the focus should be on simplifying the already complex ideas into the simplest and shortest form/phrases.
- Therefore, removing extra words, shortening long sentences, and avoiding redundancies will improve your writing.
- Make sure that every word you write should contribute to the message you intend to present.
- Most importantly, keep it simple.
- Use active voice and active words
- Passive voice omits the person or thing responsible for an action thus eliminating the subject of the verb. Whereas, active voice makes it clear to your reader who is doing the acting. Hence avoid using passive voice while legal writing.
- For instance, rather than saying “a crime was committed,” say “the defendant committed the crime”.
- It is easier and clearer for a reader to understand your writing if you use the active voice. On the other hand, writing in the passive voice makes it difficult for readers to understand your point. Moreover, writing in an active voice conveys a strong sense within the narrative.
- For instance, A passive voice will state: “The interesting fiction novel was read by David in one long day.” An active voice will state: “David read the novel in one day.” You can see that it is more concise, to the point, and uses action words to convey the intended meaning.
- By using action words, your legal writing becomes more dynamic, vivid, and powerful. Write with verbs that will lead your prose to come to life. Here are a few examples:
- Instead of “The defendant was not truthful” use “The defendant lied”.
- Instead of “The witness quickly came into the courtroom” use “The witness bolted into the courtroom”.
- Editing & Editing Tools:
The best way to revise your own work is to pretend that it was written by someone else since people tend to be better critics of others’ work than their own.
It is important to edit thoroughly in order to catch errors and to add additional information as necessary. To do so, you must read the entire document, not just scan it, to ensure all the information is arranged in a logical and orderly manner.
Read and revise your work again and again after editing also. Following mentioned tools are the editing tools that will be very useful for content organisation and flow:
- PaperRater is an online tool that is a combination of Automated Grammatical Error Detection, Automated Essay Scoring, Automated Proofreading, and plagiarism detection.
- com (Free Legal Dictionary) is an excellent resource for anyone looking to improve their legal vocabulary.
- Grammarly is a tool that analyzes writing for grammar, spelling, style, and tone. In addition to general usage, the tool’s editing functions can help to keep a user’s writing clean and error-free.
- AutoCrit is an online book editing platform designed to help writers make quick and meaningful changes to their writing style, be publishing-ready, and become successful authors.
- Some more examples: ProWritingAid, CorrectEnglish, etc.
- Proofread your document again and again
- Proofreading is an important part of legal writing to make sure that there is no spelling, punctuation, or grammatical mistakes in a document submitted to the court, opposing counsel, or a client, as it can undermine your credibility. Hence, you should do careful proofreading.
- Proofreading your own work is very challenging. Proofreading two or three days after writing is the best way to catch mistakes (though you can still miss some occasionally). So, keep proofreading it until you are totally satisfied with the write-up.
- You might want to proofread your work as if it weren’t your own because we’re more likely to find errors this way.
- Omit unnecessary words and rewrite your documents for clarity. Keep editing until you have memorised every last word of your manuscript.
- And once, you are certain that you are on the verge of insanity then edit one more time.
- Remember, the last final edit can always reveal at least one grammatical or syntax error.
If you continue to read and write actively, your skills will never stop growing.
As a result, you will become increasingly marketable over time.
Also, as it is said “practise makes a man perfect”, writing skills require time, perfect practise, and subsequent repetition of writing and reading will help you develop the writing skill set.
Moreover, paralegals must immerse themselves in legal works (brief and texts) so as to practise perfect drills.
Author: Suhasini Singh, Tiger Cub