Review: Legal writing tips for any medium

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

Legal writing spans a lot of territory, from briefs and motions to such mediums as blog posts, Twitter feeds and e-mails.

Marie Buckley, a lawyer, writing coach and the founder of Legal Advocacy Workshops, has authored a new book published by the American Bar Association's Law Practice Management Section to guide lawyers through all forms of legal communication.

The Lawyer's Essential Guide to Writing: Proven Tools and Techniques suggests three overriding writing principles, regardless of the medium: use plain English, lead from the top with a strong opening and tell your readers what to do next.

To keep legal writing interesting, don't be afraid to broaden your vocabulary, but be sure to avoid jargon and legalese (no "heretofore" or "whereas" allowed), said Buckley advises. She suggests avoiding formalities that sound like they come from the 18th Century. Each sentence should say something new, refining a legal argument or introducing new material.

Although the book stresses avoiding clichés, it recognizes that familiar phrases will help when discussing case law, such as "The most analogous cases hold that..." or "The First Circuit has long recognized..." To show a reader which case law is most important, discuss the case in prose, rather than a parenthetical, Buckley suggests.

The book also discusses the process of writing, including the struggle to overcome writer's block by outlining or starting from the middle or even conclusion of the document.

Separate chapters address different formats like contracts, letters - which should start nicely, no matter the subject matter, Buckley says - and the "perilous territory" of e-mail.

Lawyers should understand privilege and work product issues when communicating via e-mail and be cautious in messages to opposing counsel.

Despite the relentless and informal nature of e-mail, remember to be nice, keep it short and use proper English, particularly for e-mails that will be widely distributed, the book notes.

Published: Mon, Oct 10, 2011


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