Writing Tips for all Legal Writing

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Use Active Voice as Primary Tool

The first thing you should keep in mind is to use the active voice as your primary tool. The active voice is when the subject of a sentence does the action of the sentence. The passive voice is when the subject has the action done to it, the passive voice can be used for emphasis but it should not be used as your default writing. Here is an example of an active voice sentence:- The defendant drove through the stop sign and violently collided with the plaintiff. Here’s an example of a passive sentence: The plaintiff was hit when the defendant drove through the stop sign. You can tell that one of those places, the emphasis on the defendant, is doing the action which would be helpful to show causation. In the other one, you can tell the plaintiff was hit and so he was the receiver of the action. So that might be more useful for damages. However, in general, you should default to the active voice. There are some possible examples when you can use the passive voice effectively. One example might be: The trust had been changed without the plaintiff’s knowledge. That sentence places the emphasis on the trust being changed but it also has that side fact of the plaintiff not knowing the trust had been changed, that could be very useful if you’re trying to establish the fact that the plaintiff had been shut out for unknown reasons, or the plaintiff was unaware of changes to his mother’s trust when he had good knowledge, good working knowledge of his mother’s plan as you can tell that sentence really only works because I had additional facts which were not included in that one particular sentence.

Know your audience

The next writing tip is to know your audience. The audience can be the partner at your firm opposing counsel, the judge of the case, or your client. Oftentimes your audience is a combination of the four. You must always remember that the judge could be privy to anything in the case, or even anything outside of the case. For example, if you were writing a confidential letter to your client, but later on that client turns around and sues you for malpractice. That letter is going to no longer be confidential because the plaint or your client is presenting that letter as part of an exhibit. It’s why you were a poor attorney.

Eliminate Qualifying Statements

The next writing tip is our qualifying statements and how to eliminate them qualifying statements are in a formal legal document. They make your argument look weak and they should not be used at all. They might be used in a client letter if you’re trying to hedge your bets, if you’re heading into a big motion. For example: you can say something like: I think we can be successful if we argue that the light was green, or I think we have a strong argument but the judge may disagree and each of those cases, it’s ok to use that qualifying statement but also each of those cases, it would be better if we just didn’t write.

Be concise

The next item is to be concise and this really takes a lot of practice and it is one of the hardest things for a new paralegal, new attorney to accomplish because you’re so unsure of what legal terms, what legal phrasings you need to have in order to make a point. As you practice longer, you will learn how to use six words instead of twelve and that is a huge skill. it is very beneficial and it will make you a stronger writer and much more favored within the office. The clearer you can write and the fewer words you can use to say the same thing, the better off you are.

Research the answer

The next item is to research the answer. Have an aim to look for one particular thing, one particular focus point, when you have the answer. That is the main idea of your motion. Once you have the answer, you have a reason and a basis to argue any particular point that’s that goes along with that answer. For example: During your research, if you come across three possible ways to win, which is the strongest way to win, which is the clearest way we can win. Sometimes there might only be one way and that is the answer. Sometimes you have multiple paths to victory. Sometimes you might see no path to victory but one dissenting opinion that might give you a chance to go, it’s an opening which you can take as answer.

Don’t waste time

The next tip is to don’t waste time. In any Court, a judge might have as few as five cases, or as many as thirty five or more cases to hear in an hour, and the judge is trying to make sure everybody has their fair day in court. So if you presented a 10 page motion, there better be a very good reason for it. Now, this particular tip, especially as it is, comes in regard to motions, might be different based on your jurisdiction. Some judges will hear a motion during the Regular Court Call while some judges, some courts won’t hear emotion during the Regular Court Call but they might have a special motion calendar. But still, whenever you go to court, it’s expensive and you will want to make sure that the reason you’ve written your motion is a very good reason and the research you’ve done is very clear and why you should be victorious. It should not be evident that your motion is just a file to be a waste of time.