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The writing is on the wall:
To be a great lawyer ...
... you need to be a great writer too.
Well, not exactly. Sure, you learn the ins and outs of a courtroom, legal research, case law, etc. But that’s not all there is to being a great attorney. There are some very important lessons that may not make it into your curriculum.
One survey shows that 66% of litigation attorneys agree that strong writing skills are essential, and they say that recent graduates are often lacking in drafting skills, particularly in the areas of trial briefs, pleadings, and motions. This could be a perfect opportunity for you to stand out from the rest of your fellow students. If you take the time and effort to improve your writing skills before you graduate, you’ll have a leg up when it comes to starting your career.
But how do you improve your writing?
Here’s a saying I’ve heard all my life:
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
Writing is just like playing the piano or perfecting a golf swing. To get better at it, you have to practice. Take twenty minutes a day, and just write. Keep a journal, and write in it daily. If that doesn’t work for you (it feels weird to write about myself so I’ve never been able to do that), try a free writing-prompt app or website. It doesn’t really matter what you write about as long as you’re writing.
Like your morning coffee or your daily workout, make writing a part of your daily routine. Set aside a specific time to write. That could be during your lunch or first thing when you wake up. Use it as a way to wind down before bed or relax after a long day of work or classes. Whatever time works best for you is perfect, but make sure you keep to it. And don’t stress yourself out about trying to write a masterpiece. It’s just practice, and no one is going to grade or judge it except for yourself. As you keep writing, your skills will improve over time.
In his book titled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, the famous author Stephen King wrote:
If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Reading is another essential way to improve your writing. Read everything you can find. Fiction, non-fiction, biographies, short stories, poetry. Read things that you normally wouldn’t read. I know you’re busy with classes, but if you have the time, join a book club to read and discuss things you never would have thought of picking up. When you’re reading, don’t just skim to understand the content. Make yourself aware of not just what the author is saying, but how they’re saying it. What do their transitions from paragraph to paragraph look like? How does the word choice affect the message? See how different authors and different genres structure their works, and apply this to your own writing.
Absolutely! Strengthening your general writing skills will pay off when it comes to drafting motions and pleadings, but there are a few ways to fine tune your legal writing skills as well. Remember—practice makes perfect. Try using your daily writing time to draft briefs for fictional cases. Read the motions for existing cases, and study their language and structure. Look at both what information is being conveyed and how it’s being presented.
And remember—the most important part of legal drafting is communicating effectively and accurately. One of the best ways to ensure your accuracy is to use a drafting tool to integrate your research into your draft and help you proofread. This way, you can focus more on your structure and content and less on the grammar.
Improving your writing and drafting skills will make you a more attractive candidate for law firms. If mastered before graduation, you won’t have to learn these skills after you’re hired. Firms will invest less in getting you "client ready," which will make you a superior investment compared to other graduates.
Honing your writing skills will give you a major advantage as you enter the workforce after graduation, and it will carry with you throughout your entire career. So let’s open that journal to a fresh sheet and sharpen that pencil. It’s time to write.