Intro to Writing Legal Papers

Legal writing is a demanding task which will challenge even the most skilled writers; forcing them to think and write in a style that conflicts with the habits of ordinary communication.

Legal writing differs from most other forms of writing due to the extraordinarily high level of accuracy and efficiency required in legal communication. Such accurate communication requires massive amounts of legal research which (at first glance) may appear impossible to condense into a research paper, let alone a tiny memo. This is where the art of efficient writing comes into play, allowing the author to condense complex legal arguments into an understandable package.

This efficiency aspect of legal writing is also key to the accuracy of the legal writing. Even if your legal argument is undeniably correct, presenting that argument via lengthy and convoluted logic will risk losing the attention of your audience; failing to deliver your message, or worse yet, deliver the wrong message. Such results are never desired, especially with important audiences such as judges, juries, clients, and law professors.

Use the following the guides to improve your legal writing skills, helping you to improve the readability of your logical arguments and ensure these arguments will lead your audience to the logical conclusion.

Utilize The IRAC Method

The IRAC Method is the standard format for legal writing because the IRAC format forces authors to separate dense logical arguments into smaller and more understandable components. Rather than throwing a densely packed logical argument at the audience, the IRAC Method will first introduce the reader to the legal Issues at hand, provide the legal Rules necessary to evaluate those legal issues, then Apply those legal rules to the facts to the case at hand; thus leading the reader to a logical Conclusion.

Every legal issue is different, though, and some will not fit nicely into a preset formula such as the IRAC. Therefore, the IRAC should only be used as a guideline for writing (unless your professor states otherwise, of course). More on the IRAC method

Use Introductions To Prepare your Audience

For every legal issue, begin with a strong introduction that states that issue, why that legal issue is relevant to the facts at hand, any sub-elements of that issue, and finally, the logical conclusion that you intend for your reader to reach by reading your argument.

This introduction should be a brief summary of your entire argument, with which you can prepare the reader for your logical argument and the subsequent logical conclusion. This summary should brief the reader with the facts that give rise to the legal issue, the rules and and logic which will be used to reach your conclusion. This summary will help the reader understand where your argument is heading and thus, hopefully, help them digest the dense material contained within the rest of the paper.

Organize Your Writing Logically

While good structuring is a necessary component of all writing, legal writing demands near-perfection in logical organization. Luckily though, the inherent logic and hierarchy of the legal rules used will provide this organization for you; as long as you understand how the rules relate to each other.

Let us imagine a few easy legal issues regarding a breach of contract case. First, was a contract formed? Second, did the party in question have justification for breaching said contract? 

The first logical step is to determine whether a contract was formed at all; because if no contract exists, there is no need to discuss whiter there was a breach of that contract. If there was a contract formed, and you needed to discuss the possibility of a breach, that discussion would naturally fall after the discussion of contract formation.

By letting the legal rules determine what issues are discussed first, or discussed at all, the organization of your paper will develop on it's own. One way to hone your skills at organizing these rules is to outline your argument thoroughly. More on Outlining

Write Efficiently

To write a good legal paper, or to at least get it under the specified word count, you are going to have to think about every paragraph, sentence, word, and punctuation mark with a critical eye. Ask yourself, does that really need to be there?  When writing a complex argument, any extraneous word is an obstacle for the reader in their attempt to follow your logic. Basically, every sentence you write should regard a necessary element of your paper, and that element should only be addressed once; redundancy is useless. 

Write Precisely

Precision in legal writing is essential. Typos and errors not only appear unprofessional, but they can also change the meaning of contracts, wills and court documents. A sloppy lawyer (or law student) will not impress anyone, and continuing those bad habits will lower points on exams, fail the expectations of clients, and set the lawyer up for professional discipline.