Tips For Ensuring Your Legal Writing Is Authoritative And Factual

legal writing skills
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Many students who embark upon a legal degree do so because of a love of writing or an interest in meaning and interpretation of the written word. If you thought that the online boom and the decrease in the popularity of reading has led to a loss of interest in the profession, think again. Recent data obtained by the American Bar Association shows that the number of lawyers rose by 15% between 2008 and 2018. The interest in written and oral expression, discussion and debate continues to exist. When it comes to the legal profession, however, accuracy and clarity are key, as is basing statements on respected authority sources.

Which Legal Documents Require An Authoritative Style?

Lawyers will not always be required to write authoritative texts. Those writing blog posts for their firm or specializing in client communications, for instance, will often employ a friendly, casual style. Legal writing, which is by nature authoritative, includes drafting balanced analyses of legal problems or issues, persuasive writing, and legal research summarizing legal topics or developments. These writings will require the use of reputable, quality sources that should be referenced and hyperlinked so that readers have easy access to relevant material.

Authoritative Secondary Sources

If you are given a piece of legal research to complete, your research will usually begin with reputable secondary sources. If you are researching online, you should hone your ability at using the advanced search option to search for specific domains such as .gov or .edu, source sites (source:thelegalreview.com, for instance), or even PDF file case studies. To evaluate the validity of your resources, aim for currency (update or new information), reliability, authority and purpose. You can also start off with classic legal dictionaries such as Ballentine’s, Barron’s or Black’s, as well as text books covering your specialty – be it tort law, negligence or copyright law. Other secondary sources to consult include legal encyclopedias, treatises, law journals, law reports and restatements – to name a few.

Primary Sources Are Key

The legal profession is similar to the study of history, in that primary sources wield great value when espousing an argument. Once your secondary sources cite pertinent cases or legislation, read through this to ensure interpretation is correct. Regulations, treaties and constitutions are also materials that should be cited in your writing. All renowned legal databases have mechanisms that allow you to link sources via topic and key numbers. You should use these sources to find parallel citations, later cases on the same point of law, secondary sources that discuss pertinent cases, cases in other jurisdictions that delve into the same subject matter, and cases that both expand and narrow the law.

Use Of Plain English

Since younger generations are spending much more time on digital media and less time reading, it is important to write in plain English, using features such as the active voice, short sentences (no longer than 20 words), and short paragraphs with subheadings. This rule applies to general writing, of course. In the case of reports or treatises this may be untenable, but the idea is to write in language that will not confuse the reader. Indeed, many famous cases have hinged on the meaning of a word or its position in a sentence, To write authoritatively, your grammar should be on point, so books like The Grammar and Writing Handbook for Lawyers or The Legal English Grammar Guide should be read and re-read.

To write authoritatively as a lawyer, relying on quality secondary and primary sources is key. It is always important to interpret the law in its most extended and narrowest forms, so you can shape your argument and point out potential flaws in those of your opponents. For research papers and summaries, using plain English is of the utmost importance. As reading rates plummet, people have shorter attention spans and will most likely tune out if writing comprises long, convoluted sentences that are difficult to comprehend.

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