chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Improve Your Legal Writing

Organization - think about the structure of your piece before you start to write. Create an outline to help guide you to where you want to go and the points that you want to make. As you begin to write, consider the order of your arguments. Ask yourself what will make the biggest impact. Most of the time, you’ll want to use your strongest argument first.

 - provide as many road signs as possible, including transitions, topic sentences, and headings/subheadings. 

- a solid page of text with no white space is intimidating and tiresome to read and can impede the reader’s ability to comprehend the document. Break up the text with headers, numbered paragraphs and spaces between paragraphs.

- eliminate nominalizations which are phrases that use an abstract noun instead of a verb. For example: give an analysis = analyze. Also, avoid negative constructions. Positive constructions are almost always shorter. For example: not allow = prevent.

 - it is verbose, confusing, and patronizing - eliminate it. Think about editing wordy idioms (despite the fact that = although), redundant legalisms (full, null and void = null), Latin phrases (inter alia = among others), fancy words (behavioral dynamics = behavior) and archaic phrases (Sturm und Drang = turmoil).

Passive Voice
- occurs when the object of an action is turned into the subject of the sentence. For example: The county offices were damaged by fire. (passive) = Fire damaged the county offices. (active). To identify passive voice, ask yourself who or what is doing the action. Is the person or thing doing the action (active voice) or having the action done to it (passive voice)? In the example above, county offices is in the subject position even though it is the object of the action (damage). To spot passive voice, look for a form of the verb to be (e.g., am, are, is, was, were, have been, had been, will be, will have been, being) plus the past participle (a verb that typically ends in ed). In the above example, the phrase were damaged indicates passive voice.

 - arguably the most important part of the process. Edit line by line and cut unnecessary words. Read your work out loud at least once to gauge the rhythm. Are there spots that trip you up? Your ear might be more attuned than your eye to clunky construction. Don't rely on spell-check or your word processor's grammar feature. Ask a colleague to proofread one last time before submitting, especially if you have revised many times and are sick of looking at your work. You may be surprised at the number of errors that she will catch. 

Download a PDF of this practice pointer here!