The most important skill to be a legal professional is sound communication skills both oral and in written form. In a legal firm, written communication ranges from pleadings to emails and even letters. Legal writing uses formal language in a specific manner and to that extent grammar, spelling and vocabulary are all important in legal documentation.
Ways to improve your legal writing skills
1. Know your audience. Different legal documents serve a different purpose based on the documents intended audience. Pleadings submitted to the court must be persuasive. A memorandum to a client must state the issues at hand, analyze the state of the law and stipulate the appropriate course of action. When drafting a legal document, always bear in mind your intended audience.
2. Plan your writing. Planning is the key to success in legal drafting. Finding ways of presenting your case in a clear and coherent manner makes it easier to comprehend. For example, introduce your subject in an introductory paragraph, use transitional phrases such as “furthermore,” “however,” “in addition,” etc, between each paragraph. Also, use headings and subheadings to break up blocks of text.
3. Ensure clarity of language and avoid using archaic terms. Avoid using unnecessary legal jargon, for example, “wherein” or “herewith”. Using clear and accurate legal terms in short and succint sentences promotes better understanding of the matter at hand by creating the right impact.
4. Avoid passive voice. A sentence using an active voice indicates clearly who is doing an act and clarifies the message to the reader. For example, instead of “the filing deadline was missed,” say “the plaintiff’s counsel missed the filing deadline.”
5. Edit and proofread, over and over again. Usually, it is difficult to edit or even proofread your own work. It is advisable to take a break and come back the next day to have a fresh perspective of the contents in the document to make edits and tie up loose ends. Always remember that grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary are important in legal writing. Basic errors in terms of grammar or spelling will jeopardise your credibility as a legal professional.
6. Reach out to another person to review your work. It is advisable to get legal documentation reviewed by another person (and a fresh pair of eyes!) before it is submitted in court.
7. Enrol for legal drafting classes. Signing up for a class such as the Asia Law Academy’s Masterclass On Legal Drafting Skills equips you with the requisite skills required to identify legal issues, draft pleadings such as statement of claims and other legal documentation common in legal practice.