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Professional Development

How Reading for Leisure Can Improve Your Legal Writing

Elisa Hawkins Pedrosa


  • Reading fiction helps lawyers humanize their clients, fostering empathy and creativity in legal writing.
  • Engaging with diverse genres broadens vocabulary, clears the mind, and develops the ability to create compelling arguments.
  • Reading for fun is crucial for staying connected to human experiences in a world increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence.
How Reading for Leisure Can Improve Your Legal Writing

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Reading for fun has many benefits. Whether comedy, literary fiction, or nonfiction, reading cleanses the mind’s palate, allowing for better critical thinking. Most importantly, reading transports the reader into a different world, engaging them in what the character perceives and feels. We have all felt connected to characters at some point, letting ourselves delve into the mystery of what happens in the next chapter until the story’s ending.

Reading is part of the lawyer’s job. Reading becomes integral to our day-to-day job as we research, edit, and perfect our best arguments for our clients. In this career, we get sucked into the technical world of legalese and formulate arguments to win our cases. So why spend time outside of work reading for leisure? Because it helps us humanize the very people we represent and helps us be creative in our legal writing.

Reading Humanizes Your Legal Clients

Ultimately, we represent human beings with issues that affect their lives, much like the characters in the books we read for fun. Reading nonlegal material, whatever it may be, must have a problem that needs to be resolved. The main character must navigate the world alone or with others to solve their problem. Much like the characters in books, we must find a way to solve our clients’ problems. Yet characters in books inevitably find themselves along their journey. They learn something about themselves that helps them solve the problem. A hero, for example, learns they cannot rely solely on themselves to defeat the enemy; they must rely on the best characteristics of others.

As lawyers, we often forget this human aspect of our work. We are narrowly focused, researching and arguing to best advocate for our client. Yet how do we accomplish this without knowing the client? What caused the client’s problem that now needs to be solved? What is the client’s goal? Winning a case is always a positive goal, but what do we learn along the journey? These questions highlight why reading for leisure has many benefits in this profession. It humanizes us and keeps us in tune with the realities of the world and how imperfect it is.

Reading reflects the world back at us and presents us with challenges for which we may not have solutions. This is a good thing. It makes us change our thinking, taking us outside our respective boxes to see how to achieve our goals and tackle new challenges. Reading translates to creative legal writing. Inspiration can lie within the pages of a good, fast-paced book that may have nothing to do with the issue you are tackling at work. The creativity and humanity we gain from reading can help our legal writing by showing the reader that you are advocating for a real person, for real change. Arguments become more compelling and enlightened.

Reading Clears Your Mind and Develops Your Vocabulary

Reading for fun also has the benefit of cleansing the mind’s palate. It erases thoughts related to the legal task at hand and transports you into the plot of the book. With a clear head, your mind has a clean slate to build from and create better arguments in your legal writing. Reading for fun can expand your knowledge about the world, increase your vocabulary, and help you develop creative solutions to problems.

Reading has brought me many benefits that are reflected in my legal writing. The mental clarity that comes with reading fiction gives my mind the respite it needs to develop better arguments for my clients and better advocate for them. Reading has exposed me to many different worlds, some of which are even like the world in which my clients live. This exposure helps me write in a compelling manner so that I can educate the reader about the kind of situation my client is going through and help them develop empathy for my client. Reading fiction has not only helped me keep my legal writing client-focused but has also helped me cultivate innovative arguments to appeal to the reader’s sense of empathy and humanity.

Reading for pleasure has also helped me develop a vocabulary the reader can relate to and understand. The wide variety of material gives me insight into how readers think and relate to the world around them. Hence, when writing, I consciously try to use the tools and skills developed in my reading to make the writing understandable to the reader. While still necessary in legal writing, I try to minimize the use of complex legal jargon so the reader can easily understand legal concepts. And when legal jargon is used, I explain it in terms that the reader can comprehend. Thus, reading for fun develops my writing skills to provide understandable legal writing to my readers.

Reading Keeps Us Connected

In a world that is evolving toward the increased use of artificial intelligence and its influence on the legal world, reading keeps us grounded; it reminds us that we are making the best of our human minds to develop legal answers for people. Reading for fun helps us connect with one another in meaningful ways, and when you become the writer, those connections expand and reach people in ways automated writing cannot.

As lawyers, we tend to think that we must read only those books that will help us in our careers, books that boost our skills in our profession. Reading for fun, even for the avid reader, becomes secondary and often abandoned because of negative biases. I used to think that my reading had to be limited to books related to law, legal writing, and books that would generally stimulate my mind to become a better lawyer. Like how parents play Mozart for their children, I was stuck in the mindset that there were only intelligent books, and those were the ones with the most value to my career and my legal writing. Reconnecting with other genres, even the most trivial ones, helped reset my mindset. It reminded me that inspiration can come in many forms.

In my reading journey, I have found mystery and thriller novels to be the most helpful with my legal writing. They present a problem, a mystery that seems unsolvable at first. But as the story develops, more clues appear, leading the reader closer and closer to the ultimate revelation. Sometimes, authors add plot twists that throw you through a loop—an unexpected event the reader could not predict. The same thing happens to us in real life. Our clients’ lives are not linear and predictable. At times, your writing will need to reflect developing events.

As an immigration attorney, this is especially true when developing declarations for clients. Circumstances such as trauma or newly discovered information can alter how their story will develop before a judge or immigration officer. My line of work requires me to reflect on these changes in writing and formulating arguments that match the facts of each case. Reading mystery and thriller novels has helped me narrate my clients’ stories in a way that points the reader to the ultimate revelation: the reason my clients are in the United States.

Regardless of your reading level on your off time, consider reading for fun. Not only will it reshape the way you think and approach issues in real life, it will definitely improve your legal writing skills.