When you’re writing something official and important – for instance, some type of legal document – writing like a lawyer is important because otherwise, the project won’t be professional or effective. This doesn’t mean you have to be a lawyer or even a legal expert to write like one; it just means you have to know how to write well enough to get your point across so that people know what the purpose of the document is.
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Knowing a Few of the Basics Is Important
Although lawyers have to be great writers, this doesn’t mean you have to have a law degree to write as well as they do. Instead, all you have to do is pay attention to form, organization, and structure, and take into consideration some of the basics, which include:
- Make sure you know what the issue is. Keep the issue statement short and succinct, and identify what the basic issue is and why you’re writing the document or email in the first place.
- Use facts to make your argument. Supporting your position won’t happen if you use your opinions or emotions. Just stick to the truth to make your point.
- If there are laws and regulations regarding the topic, state them so that the reader knows you’re using legal justification for your argument.
- Identify any counter arguments that could be made, and address them directly. The act of being proactive goes a long way in making the right point and getting that point across to others.
- Have a clear-cut conclusion to the document or paper. The readers should know exactly when the ending arrives and what it means to the rest of the document.
As you can see, if you want to write like a lawyer you have to write intelligently. You also have to stick to the facts and be succinct, because droning on or not using facts is a great way for the paper you’re writing to become ineffective. Most business writing is also very professional, and lawyers definitely know how to write professionally.
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Some Practical Tips to Write Like a Lawyer
Other than the basics, there are some other more specific tips and suggestions for people who wish to write like lawyers do. One of the first things to learn is not to make the document too complicated, which means reducing or eliminating the number of legal-sounding words and terminology that you use. Try not to use phrases such as “pursuant to,” “said,” “to wit,” and anything else that makes you sound like you’re trying to imitate a lawyer, especially if you aren’t one.
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Some very important, yet simple to follow, tips for writing like a lawyer include:
- Never start your sentences with the word “however.”
- Don’t use passive sentences; instead, use active ones.
- Don’t use too many dates in your writing.
- Use vivid and dramatic language only occasionally and only when necessary.
- Always include your nouns close to your verbs.
- Never use “and/or;” instead, use one word or the other.
- Don’t write either too formally or too informally.
- Use short sentences with no more than 20 words each.
- Always use headings.
- Use bulleted or numbered paragraphs when you can.
- Don’t use too much definition or too much emphasis.
- Don’t use block quotes or quoted language very often.
The ultimate goal when you’re writing is to sound professional: use brevity and get to the point quickly. Write what you’re trying to say and nothing else, because you’re not writing a piece of fiction or a short story. In addition, make sure your grammar and basic writing skills are up to par, because the last thing you want is a typo or a punctuation error to be found in your writing.
There are other tips as well, of course, and before you start writing, it is imperative that you know who you’re writing to – in other words, your audience. Whether it’s your boss, a judge, colleagues, or readers of a journal, you have to know who they are before you decide how to start writing the article. The more you know about the intended audience, the more effective your writing will be. Here are a few additional suggestions to consider:
- Keep in mind that there has to be one main point in the document, and you have to know what that point is. You also have to know how to get that point across to your audience.
- Be organized and structured. Make sure each sentence and paragraph go in the right order so that the document can be effective. Ask yourself the importance of each paragraph and point, and then put them in the right order.
- Make sure the document is authentic. This means to make sure it sounds like people do when they talk. If it’s too stuffy or formal, your readers may just concentrate on that factor more than they do the meaning of the document.
- Don’t over do it on the case citations. Use them only when appropriate and necessary. This is not the time or place to show off your legal knowledge.
- Most of the time, a call to action is necessary. Use it properly and make sure the action you’re expecting is made clear to the other party.
As with other types of documents, you also need to edit it and make sure there are no errors before you send it out to anyone. Read it aloud and get feedback on it. Both of these tips help you catch mistakes you may have made. In short, you need to make certain that grammar and spelling are perfect, otherwise, the document simply won’t have the same effect.
When Working with Customers or Clients
Writing like a lawyer can benefit you in many instances, even if you aren’t a lawyer yourself. Any time you have clients or customers that depend on you, it is good to think and write like a lawyer. If you’re preparing any type of documentation for a client, there are things you can do to make it even better and more effective, and below are a few of those things:
- Make sure you know what your client needs from you. Whether you work in a corporate office or you’re a retailer, you have to be familiar with your clients’ needs before communicating with them about anything.
- When researching, don’t rely just on your computer. You may have to go to the library and check out a real book to get the best information for your document.
- Never turn in an interim draft of a document, even if it is overdue. Always wait until the document is completely finished before turning it in to anyone.
- Remember that an up-front summary works best. Answer three questions: What are the principle questions? What are the answers to those questions? What are the reasons for those answers? Include all of them in your document at the very beginning.
- Make sure even laypeople can understand the document. Don’t make it so complicated and jargon filled that only a lawyer or judge will understand it.
- Always use a natural tone when writing the document, but don’t be chatty about it. It should sound real, but not too informal or casual.
- Always use the right citation formats for your jurisdiction. These style manuals go a long way in helping your writing be consistent with writing similar to yours.
- Make sure all unnecessary words and sentences are eliminated, and make sure you edit and proofread until it is perfect. The more succinct, the better.
If you can and you have time, it is a good idea to get an editor to look over your document before you send it out to anyone. This will ensure that it says what you want it to say and looks good before anyone important reads it. The last thing you want is for a reader or your client to catch typos or sentences that don’t make sense before you’ve had a chance to correct them.
Write Like a Lawyer All the Time
Whether the document you’re working on is a memo, letter to a client, email, or even a legal brief, you can write like a lawyer without the document sounding too clumsy or too difficult to understand. If you do need to use legal terms, make sure you explain them to your readers in terms that a layperson can understand. This is a good rule to follow for any type of professional document that needs to be written, and it also applies to non-legal words that most people will not understand.
It is also good to make the paragraphs more interesting by inserting shorter sentences into them along the way. This not only makes the paragraphs look better, but it makes them easier to read as well. In addition, when you’re interested in writing like a lawyer, it is a good idea to use lighter phrases instead of cumbersome ones. These phrases include “in short,” “after all,” “as a result,” “indeed,” “for that reason,” and “of course.”
You can learn to write professionally just like a lawyer does by following a few simple tips and suggestions. It is easier than you think, and the best part is, it is beneficial whether you’re a lawyer or not.
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