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7 Ways To Improve Your Legal Writing Skills

Legal writing: concept, features

Legal writing is a process used to create legal documents. The rules of legal writing were initially developed exclusively in practice. The understanding of what constitutes legal writing formed gradually as the process became more complicated. The main purpose of studying legal writing is for future lawyers to gain skills of performing legal work. 

The methods used when creating documents is called legal technique. It makes it possible to bring the theory of law closer to practice. This process involves acquiring practical skills in performing legal work and deciding on a practical bias in legal education. Legal technique is one of the most important components of correcting and preventing possible legal errors. Of course, it does not explain why some officials make mistakes when performing the same work, while others, having a higher level of professionalism in their work, do not. All hopes should not be laid on legal technique; all shortcomings in the practical activities of a lawyer should not be explained solely by ignorance. Knowledge of legal technique makes it possible to improve the quality of legal work. 

Of course, students who study law may not yet possess proper legal technique, and their legal writing may not be of acceptable quality. I am talking not only about documents, but about academic papers as well. Such students can get essay help from essay writers on an essay writing service like EssayShark

Legal document: concept, classification

The legal document is a collective concept. The theory of state, constitutional, and financial law mainly refers to regulatory legal acts: laws, decrees and orders of the president, decrees and orders of the government, orders, instructions, and rules of ministries, agencies, services, and other departments. Civil labor law mainly refers to contracts: sales, leases, loans, labor, marriage contracts, and other types of documents – wills, letters of attorney, etc. Complaints and statements of claim are used in the course of criminal, arbitration, administrative, civil proceedings, protocols, and other decisions. Applied sciences are also characterized by a rather large array of legal documents. 

An analysis of the characteristics of different legal documents allows us to conclude that such characteristics are not always suitable for all types of legal documents. Legal encyclopedias do not contain a term such as “legal document.” It is replaced by the concept of “legal act.” In legal sciences, one cannot operate with such a broad concept as a “document,” since not all documents are legal. A legal document is a special type of document. With the help of legal documents, decisions and actions of various bodies, officials, and citizens are drawn up. The adjective “legal” gives the word “document” an additional meaning – that is, in relation to legal norms. The word “document” is derived from the Latin word documentum, meaning in ancient Rome everything that can serve as an example, lesson, or evidence. If we combine the terms given in different dictionaries and encyclopedias to this concept, then a document can be understood as a medium with information recorded on it, which is intended for transmission in time and in space. In a narrower interpretation, a document is a business paper that legally confirms a certain fact or a certain right. 

Many lawyers and legal scholars proceed from the fact that a document is a material object with information confirming the rights to something. But it is wrong to define a document only as written evidence, which is issued or certified by the competent authorities in the manner prescribed by law. All of the above formulations have in common the reduction of a concept to a material medium (paper) and a method of documentation (written source). However, thanks to modern technologies in the field of informatization, a large number of documents appear in electronic form. In computer science, a document means a material object containing information in a fixed form, having circulation in information systems. Often the definition of a document is fixed in regulatory acts and state standards. 

Some scientists criticize the legal definitions of the term “document” in the laws. The originality of the document as an object is as follows: a document is always the result of purposeful human activity. A document fixes an element or specific information about something, or both. Fixation takes place in various ways through the use of special knowledge, skills, abilities, and technical means. The object is fixed on some material medium.

Currently, various approaches are used in defining a legal document. According to one approach, the primary one in the definition of a document is a material information medium. In accordance with another definition, the primary information itself is the information recorded on a material medium. The situation is more complicated with electronic documents. If the approach is to recognize the information medium as the main (basic) one, then the documents cannot be attributed as the documents in which the material medium is not inextricably linked with the information recorded on it. Thus, the information in electronic documents cannot exist separately from the material medium. 

Styles of legal writing

A lawyer’s speech has two forms: oral and written. Let’s talk about the second form. One of the reasons why ordinary people ask lawyers for help in drafting documents is the inability to independently draw up a legal document. The stylistic basis of such writing-clad speeches is composed of three functional styles.

  1. Formal style. This style is mainly intended for writing official letters to counterparties. It also includes the writing and preparation of letters of complaint, statements of claim, and complaints/statements to various bodies. This style remains with us throughout life: from birth (issuing a birth certificate) to death (issuing a death certificate). Thus, we can conclude that the formal style is intended to serve the sphere of personal and legal relations.
  2. Scientific style. This style is used to write and defend scientific dissertations, monographic studies, and scientific articles. This area requires the most accurate expression of thought. Conclusions drawn in this style are logically inferred from knowledge and form new knowledge.
  3. Publicistic style. This style includes lecture courses, teaching aids, notes, and reviews. Compared to the other styles, emotionality will prevail here.

We can distinguish the following forms of language used in these styles: 

  • Language of texts of sources of law.
  • Applied legal language.
  • Scientific legal language.

The speech of the lawyer, whether it is written or oral, will always act as an instrument of the person’s influence on the person or persons to whom it is addressed. Also, a lawyer’s speech is often filled with terms. In the legal literature, legal terms are usually divided into three types:

  • Commonly used terms, that is, those that are used in everyday speech and understandable to everyone.
  • Special legal terms (for example, “employment contract,” “service contract,” and “cause of action”). Such terms have special legal content and mainly serve to denote legal concepts.
  • Technical terms. These terms reflect the area of special knowledge (for example, “conducting an examination of technical solutions”).

What is important for all texts written by lawyers? It is important that the text is literally selling something. And here we are talking not only about the direct sale of legal services, but primarily about the fact that any written text should attract the counterparty, judge, or ordinary citizen, that is, the people to whom this text is addressed.

7 ways to improve your legal writing skills

When you start writing, it turns out that it is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. Creating clear, understandable, and effective legal writing involves hard work to find the right words. The lack of clarity in a legal letter is often explained precisely by an inattentive attitude to the selection of words, or the careless handling of them. 

1. Know your audience

You should know whether you are writing for ordinary people or for those who work in the legal sphere. For example, if you are writing for ordinary people, keep in mind that they are already tired of reading complex texts concerning laws, treaties, and official letters. Complicated things need to be explained in simple language. 

2. Take special care with the organization of the text

Legal writing will not work without proper organization. You should add some visual clues to guide the reader in your writing. Use topic sentences, headings, and subheadings to make the text easier to read. Each paragraph should present one separate idea or topic. In general, add readability to your legal writing. 

3. Avoid legal jargon

Reading legal writing without holding a dictionary is becoming more and more difficult. Lawyers often use legal jargon, foreign words, as well as Latin in their vocabulary. Try to avoid using these terms because an ordinary person may not understand you. Once again, your legal writing should be as understandable as possible. 

4. Be concise

Good legal writing is easy to read, concise, and, most importantly, clear. One way to adhere to this rule is to stick to the norms and rules of the English language. Remember that any mistake in legal writing, on an intuitive level, prevents people from reading the written text. Also, don’t be shy to highlight the important things in bold, italics, or with an underline. It is important to remember that one thought should be contained in one paragraph. Therefore, the text must be formatted, divided into paragraphs, and have headings highlighted.

5. Use the “right” words

There are general requirements for using the “right” words in the preparation of legal writing, in addition to what has already been said, as there are a number of peculiarities that are characteristic only of legal texts. This specificity is due to the fact that legal writing should be extremely clear and concise and should exclude the slightest interpretation of uncertainty. 

6. Avoid passive voice

It is not recommended to use passive voice in legal writing. Active voice can clarify your message more clearly. 

7. Proofread and edit

Needless to say that you should have excellent knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and style, as well as pay close attention to detail and find mistakes easily. If you can’t do it yourself, ask someone else who is more knowledgeable to proofread your writing. 

The right recipe

The text is a kind of essay, and the essence of this essay should be understandable and clear to the person reading it. It must be remembered that this person does not always have a legal education

Let’s use a life example. You want to cook some kind of meal, for example, a pie. You open the cookbook and begin to read: “Take flour, milk, salt, sugar, and eggs, and mix everything and roll the resulting mixture with a special utensil. Add the filling and place in the oven.” Is it understandable? Is the result of making a pie clear? Is there a clear desire to make a pie after reading? It seems like after looking at a recipe, the desire to cook something disappears altogether. It’s a good sign, however, if you read this recipe to the end. This type of text often causes internal discomfort. 

So the same thing happens with legal documents. If a document prepared by a lawyer is easy to read, then you can be 80% sure that this document will be read to the end. The written speech of the lawyer is prepared according to a plan, and a certain outline is required. An outline needs a bottom line. The bottom line is the legislative norms written in simple language so that they can be conveyed to the reader. 

In legal writing, as in every essay, there should be an introduction and an inference (usually this is an inference in the form of a specifically expressed desire, of course, in the legal field: “pay off the debt,” for example). Only in this way will your legal writing be great. 

If you follow our advice, you will be more successful in your legal writing

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