7 Writing Tips They Didn’t Teach You in Law School

Posted on 07-28-2017 by
Tags: legal writing , writing

writing pen 

Legal writing is smart writing, but even the smartest of lawyers can botch basic writing.  


Basic writing wasn’t in your law school curriculum.

But legal writing sometimes suffers from a lack of the basics.

Unless you were a pre-law English major, the basics can prove troublesome. Here are seven writing tips that’ll transform your legal writing from basic to better.

1. Biased or Bias: Which Is It?

One is a noun, and one is an adjective. It’s easy to get the two mixed up. To clear things up, a person can have a bias (noun), or they can be biased (adjective).

2. The Sentence That Never Ends

It’s on Stanford’s list of the Top Twenty Errors in Undergraduate Writing—the  dreaded run-on sentence. Keep your eyes sharp for sentences like this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.  - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

If your sentence looks like this, break it up into smaller sentences.

 3. Giving Pause for the Comma

It’s easy to make a mistake with comma placement, and spellcheck won’t flag every comma mistake. In fact, I tested the prior sentence without the comma, and spellcheck didn’t flag it. Thankfully, Business Insider has laid out a handy guide for proper comma usage.

4. For the Sake of Clarity

Language and word placement can create complications. A sentence that is grammatically correct can still be a problem. Take, for example, this sentence:

Forgetting your keys often will make you late to work.

Are you often forgetting your keys?

Or will you often be late to work?

You can avoid this ambiguity by either changing the word order or by using a different word.

5.  Don’t Go It Alone!

Utilize a drafting tool like Lexis for Microsoft Office. Drafting tools can save you time can help organize your resources. A drafting tool will help you focus more on writing and less on organization.

6. Credit Where Credit Is Due

Drafting tools don’t just draft, they cite too. Improper citations can cause significant issues. A drafting tool can double check your citations and ensure they’re in the correct format. With a drafting tool, all your citation headaches will be put to ease.

7.  Acronym vs. Initialism

Not all abbreviations are created equal. There are two main types:

  • Acronyms: A series of letters pronounced as a word (think FEMA)
  • Initialisms: Each letter is pronounced individually, like HOA or NYPD

This might not impact your writing, but it’s good to know if you have to verbalize an abbreviation. 

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