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Client-Focused Legal Writing

Client-Focused Legal Writing
This summer, you’ll quickly discover that writing well is a critical skill for every lawyer—and anyone who wants to be a lawyer. Legal dramas often give the impression that oral and theatrical skills are paramount. But make no mistake: writing is the main way lawyers communicate with each other, with judges and other decision-makers, and with their clients. 

Now, you may think that because you can already write well, and because you’ve already done so much writing in law school, writing is not something you need to pay much attention to. If so, think again. The writing you did in law school is vastly different from the writing you’ll need to do at your summer firm. In this post, we’ll show you why that is, and we’ll give you a few tips to help you excel at all your summer writing assignments.

Law-School Writing

So, how are law-school writing and law-firm writing different? Let’s break it down, starting with law-school writing.

In law school, you write largely because it’s a course requirement. In your final exams, you write to show your mastery of the course material. In your legal writing classes, you write to display your research and analysis skills.

In law school, most writing is academic writing, for which convoluted sentences and lengthy paragraphs are often viewed as essential to fully developing ideas. In academic writing, the tone is often stuffy and aloof.

For your writing assignments in law school, you’ll typically have a deadline. But how much time you spend writing until the deadline is almost entirely up to you. And if you’re persuasive enough, even the deadline may be flexible. As we’ll soon see, that’s not so in law firms.

In law school, for the most part, you write alone. After all, the assignment is designed to test your knowledge and skills, and no one else’s. You’ll often write somewhere quiet, where it’s easy to think. People generally won’t pester you constantly with urgent matters.

In law school, your audience is whoever grades your assignment. That person may be the only one to ever read your work.

Finally, in law school, once your assignment is graded, it has served its purpose. You may read it again once or twice, but then you’ll file it away somewhere, probably never to read it again.

None of this is true of the writing you’ll do this summer. 

Law-Firm Writing

At your firm, as in law school, you’re writing because someone expects you to write and, to some extent, you’re being assessed on what you produce. But the purpose of most of your summer writing assignments is not to test you but to solve the legal problems of real clients, who are paying for the work you do. You’re no longer writing to pass a class; you’re writing to make something happen for the client or the firm.

Law-firm writing is not academic writing; it’s business writing. To succeed, business writing must be clear, concise, and engaging, with shorter words, sentences, and paragraphs. Rather than stuffy aloofness, your tone will need to reflect the image your firm wants to project, likely one of confidence and professionalism.

In law-firm writing, time is a vital factor. You’ll need to treat the deadline as immovable. And you’ll need to carefully monitor how much time you spend on each assignment, mindful of your budget for time and fees.

And at your summer firm, you won’t be writing alone. Others will contribute to the final product. Your supervisor, in particular, will almost certainly make substantial changes to what you write before sending it on. You’ll also be writing on the job, with all the myriad distractions that entails.

This summer, everything you write will have a wide audience, including the person who gave you the assignment, whoever supervises that person, and if your work is good enough, a host of others, such as the client, the court, and opposing counsel. 

And expect everything you write for the firm to last a very long time. At a minimum, your summer documents will remain somewhere in the firm’s databases when you graduate, and they’ll stay there for many years after that. During that time, someone else at the firm may look to your work for guidance.

Keeping these differences in mind this summer will help you produce better documents. To take your summer writing to the next level, here are 4 tips. 

Tips for Law-Firm Writing

First, be concise. The firm is looking for quality, not quantity, which is why you’re not paid by the word. The best legal writing conveys the writer’s point succinctly, and with a level of detail that’s appropriate to what the client needs and expects. Avoid old-fashioned English, legal jargon, and needless Latin. Use simpler, more direct language. And remember that some of your work will be read by people who aren’t lawyers.

Second, get to the point. Write for busy people with precious little time to read your work. Put your conclusion right where your readers need it: near the beginning. For longer documents, consider including an executive summary.

Third, answer only the question you’re supposed to answer. If the law is unclear or the caselaw is divided, say so up front, although you’ll still need to do your best to predict what a court is likely to decide and why. And if the client simply can’t do what it wants under the law, be sure to suggest alternative courses of action. Where the client has several options, indicate what those are.

Finally, proofread carefully. In a law firm, attention to detail is highly valued. Everything you submit must be error-free and in the correct format: no typos, no punctuation mistakes, and no citation errors. The lawyers you work with need to know that they can count on you to produce documents that are ready for the client and the court.

Quimbee has your back in law school and beyond. Expert-written case briefs, outlines, and a practice-oriented bar review course give you the edge you’ll need to ace law school finals and conquer the bar exam.

Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,450 real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.

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