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Seven tips to improve your legal writing skills

There are many ways to improve your writing skills. Whether you use online and in-person classes, training courses, or helpful tools such as Grammarly, you can make your writing the best it can be.

However, not everyone has the time or budget to take these steps– so our blog post runs through seven top tips for improving legal writing skills.

Good writing skills for lawyers to have include writing in plain English, knowing your audience and writing in the active voice.

Use plain English

Remember that not everyone will understand legal jargon. - think way back to when you were first starting your law career! There are lots of abbreviations, phrases and ways of writing that won’t make much sense to a large proportion of the population.

Writing in plain, straightforward English is your best bet for ensuring everyone will understand you. That being said…

…Know your audience

Different audiences want different things. Your clients don’t want pages and pages of jargon they don’t understand but, on the flip side, to make a contract legally binding, it will be necessary to include specific phrases, wording, and information.  

Once you know who you are writing for, you can tailor the information included ensuring the best result.

Keep it concise 

Short, concise writing is usually the way to go. Just because you’re writing a legal document, it doesn’t mean every piece of communication needs to be unnecessarily long.

By writing in short and concise sentences that get to the point, there’s more chance that all the necessary parties will understand what needs to be done. It’s also more likely to keep the reader’s attention.

Use headings 

As you can hopefully tell from this article, using headings in your writing helps to break up the information, making it more fluid and easier to digest. This way, you can be sure the important points are getting across. This could be in your letters, email communications, website pages and any blog posts you are writing for your firm.

Make sure you are grammatically and technically correct

There are many technical and grammatical legalities that you need to follow as a lawyer, so how can you improve on these skills? Well, make sure you understand the verb tense - a singular subject should have a singular verb and a plural subject should have a plural verb.

Ensure you understand how the placement of a comma or a full stop changes the meaning of a document. Take note of where the word “only” should be placed in a sentence.

It’s no secret that it’s a tough job ensuring you are following all of the rules necessary. Try using a writing tool.

Write in the active voice

By writing in the active voice, you can avoid ambiguity. Although not appropriate for all types of documents, writing in the active voice puts the emphasis on the subject rather than the action.  

This means that you will be being clear about who should do what. Writing in the active voice avoids words such as “it”, “this”, “they” and “such”, instead using words like “the buyer will ensure the fridge freezer is removed from the house” instead of “they will ensure this is removed”. 

Consult with the rest of your team

Your firm might do particular things different to other firms, so one of our biggest tips is familiarising yourself with your firm’s policies and chatting with other members of your team.  For example, legal letter writing skills might be different to drafting a contract and there might be a difference between writing documents for businesses and individuals. Dates might be written in specific formats and some words or phrases might be no-gos in documents. 

So, the best way to make sure your writing skills are up to scratch is to attend an in-house workshop.

And finally, read it again

And the most important tip, where all of these other tips would be useless without it, is to make sure you are proofing your documents multiple times before you send them out. And better yet, have someone else proof them for you too.  

You should also ensure that ALL sections of the document are being proofed – if you’re sending out a contract, make sure you check the address, the footnotes and the references as these sections are often overlooked.  

If your documents are being rewritten, don’t take it to heart. There are so many specifics that need to be covered, and the best documents will have changes made to them. By reviewing the changes that are made, and following our top tips, you’ll be writing better legal documents every day!