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Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid in Legal Writing for Attorneys

Drawing from my 15+ years experience in performing legal writing for attorneys, I wanted to highlight some common pitfalls and help you create more impactful motions, supporting briefs and other filings.

For lawyers, the ability to write clearly and persuasively is critical. At Mazur Legal Research, I understand that effective legal writing is both an art and a science. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Sacrificing Clarity for Complexity

Clear and concise language is the hallmark of effective legal writing. Joseph Kimble, an expert when it comes to legal writing for attorneys, underscores this in his research, showing that plain language reduces ambiguity and enhances understanding.

Ways to Improve: Examine your sentence structures and word choices. Replace legalese with plain language whenever possible. This approach not only makes your documents more accessible, but also minimizes the risk of misinterpretation.

For many lawyers, there’s a common misconception that complexity equates to thoroughness and intelligence. This often leads to briefing that is more cryptic than clear.

The use of complex language can create several issues in legal documents. It can obscure the true intent of the parties involved. When language is convoluted, the risk of misinterpretation skyrockets, and with it, the likelihood of disputes. Overly complex language can also make documents inaccessible to those who lack legal training. This inaccessibility can lead to a breakdown in communication between attorneys and their clients, or even between the parties to a contract. And in litigation, a judge may struggle to decipher the meaning of overly technical language, leading to an unfavorable ruling.

The solution? Embrace the power of simplicity. This doesn’t mean dumbing down the content; instead, it means conveying legal concepts in language that is accessible, yet precise. This approach requires you avoid legal jargon, opt for shorter sentences, and use common words where possible. Simplifying language can also enhance the document’s persuasive power. A well-articulated argument in plain language is far more compelling than one hidden behind a veil of legal complexities.

And using plain language aligns with modern trends. Courts and bar associations are increasingly favoring and, in some cases, requiring clearer language in legal documents. This shift reflects a broader movement towards transparency and understandability in the legal field.

While the temptation to use complex language is understandable, resist this urge and opt for clarity and simplicity. Your writing will be more effective. As legal professionals, our aim should be to demystify the law, not to make it unnecessarily complex.

2. Ignoring the Audience

Tailoring your writing to your audience is critical. For example, a brief intended for a federal judge overloaded with technical jargon can be off-putting, even to a legally trained reader. On the other hand, a client communication filled with legal terms can confuse and alienate the client.

Strategy: Identify your audience and adjust your tone, style, and complexity accordingly. This adaptation ensures that your message is not only received but also understood.

3. Overlooking Structure and Organization

A logically structured document is persuasive and easier to follow. A motion lacking clear organization can lead the reader through a convoluted path, obscuring key arguments. This can result in critical points being overlooked or misunderstood by the court.

Technique: Use headings and subheadings effectively. They serve as signposts for your reader, guiding them through your argument or narrative. Additionally, bullet points and numbered lists can highlight important details or steps in a process.

4. Over-Reliance on Templates

Templates are helpful but can be a double-edged sword. Bryan Garner, an expert on the topic of legal writing for attorneys, warns about the dangers of using boilerplate language without proper contextualization.

Best Practice: Customize templates to fit the specifics of your case. This involves more than just changing names and dates; it means reviewing each clause to ensure its relevance and accuracy in the current context.

5. Glossing Over the Proofreading Stage

The importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. Errors can undermine the credibility of your argument and your client’s position as a whole.

Tip: One effective strategy I recommend is allowing your document to ‘sit’ for a while after you’ve completed the initial draft. It’s tempting to dive straight into the editing phase, especially under tight deadlines, but giving yourself some time away from the document can be remarkably beneficial. When you return to it after a break, you bring a fresh perspective, which is crucial for spotting errors and inconsistencies that were not apparent initially. This practice could be as brief as a few hours or, ideally, an overnight pause. This one tip can make an enormous difference in enhancing the clarity and coherence of your arguments.

Often, we may feel attached to certain phrases or sections of our work, but effective legal writing requires a ruthless editing eye. It’s about removing those parts, no matter how clever we think they are, if they don’t contribute to the clarity and purpose of the document. The focus during editing should be on eliminating redundancies, simplifying legalese, and avoiding jargon that could obscure your points. Remember, good legal writing is essentially good editing – a process of refining and honing your draft into a clear, concise, and compelling argument.

Conclusion

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can elevate the quality of your legal writing significantly. Effective legal writing is about clear communication, tailored to your audience, and meticulously reviewed for errors. At Mazur Legal Research, we specialize in performing legal writing for attorneys, and we are dedicated to helping you refine your legal writing skills and work product for greater impact and success.

If you’re interested in improving your work product using the legal writing services offered by Mazur Legal Research, find out the best tips in choosing a legal writing service, and visit our site for professional support: Mazur Legal Research.