As a paralegal, it’s a given that you need to have excellent legal writing skills. Whether you use it in an office where you work for a lawyer, for independent work, small claims, immigration issues, or tenant and landlord disputes, legal writing will always be core component of the job.
While mastering legal writing will require practice and time, with the right tools and the tips below, there’s no doubt that you’ll master it in no time.
Write for Your Audience
Every single word that you write must be customized to your readers’ needs. Documents that contain the same message and research might significantly differ in tone and content according to the intended readers.
For example, a memorandum sent to a client should evaluate issues, state relevant laws, and include recommend specific actions, while a brief you submit in court should persuade and advocate.
Refrain from Using Legalese
Legalese is basically specialized legal jargon and phrases that could make your writing archaic, stilted, and abstract instead of simple and straightforward. Words like wherein, heretofore, herewith, and aforementioned are legalese.
To try and avoid using legalese when writing and to ensure that it reads clear, read whatever you’ve written to someone else or substitute abstract words with more concrete and simpler terms.
Organization Is Key
Having an organized structure will help guide people as they read through your document. Craft a roadmap for everything you write by incorporating visual clues.
Include the subject of the document in your intro paragraph. Put transitional words such as “in addition, online paralegal degrees…” or “however, it’s not… or “furthermore, paralegals…” in between paragraphs. Utilize headings and subheadings for breaking up ideas, talk about one topic in each paragraph, and then finish it with a concluding paragraph or sentence.
Always Go for Action Words
These will make your writing more vivid, dynamic, and powerful. For example, instead of writing “the plaintiff didn’t tell the truth,” say, “the plaintiff lied.”
Edit unnecessary words, eliminate redundancies, shorten your sentences, and make sure it’s straight to the point. Take a look at this sentence: “Because the defendant has failed to pay back the amount of money he owes our client, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps and pursue legal action so that our client can be paid.”
Now, consider this sentence: “Because the defendant still hasn’t paid our client the money he owes her, we should sue him to seek reimbursement.” This sentence conveys precisely the same message in just 20 words instead of 36. Getting rid of unnecessary words has more impact and makes the message easier to understand.
Edit as Needed
To ensure that what you’ve written is as clear and concise as possible, get rid of redundancies and rewrite accordingly. Proofreading is especially crucial when it comes to written legal documents, as grammatical, punctuation, and spelling mistakes sent to a client, opposing counsel, or the court could damage your professional credibility.
Don’t forget the best advice of all: write every single day to help improve your legal writing skills. And always proofread, edit, proofread, and edit some more.