It is common knowledge that an exceptional lawyer is almost always an exceptional writer too. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to get a second degree in journalism and creative writing, though it wouldn’t hurt. Jokes aside, you need to do a fair bit of writing as a lawyer.
Before you start to worry, you should know that technology is taking over many tasks, including writing. Legal writing software is incredibly helpful in editing and proofreading contracts and memos. Besides, you will always have the help of your colleagues. Paralegals and junior associates often take over a chunk of the writing tasks too.
Though writing is important, it’s nothing you can’t learn. As you grow in your career, you can outsource the tasks you don’t want to do to other people. As a result, writing won’t be such a big part of your job if it’s something you really don’t enjoy. However, if you’re just entering the legal field, be prepared for everything and more! Here are some common documents that a lawyer should be able to compose.
Let’s start off by saying that it’s not illegal for non-lawyers to write contracts. In fact, anyone can write a valid contract as long as they follow certain rules. For instance, a valid contract should contain an offer and the acceptance of that offer; it should present some exchange and be signed by all parties.
The point is that not all contracts are written by lawyers, and not all lawyers write contracts often. In business law, contracts are key, but they are rarely written from scratch. You will gather a number of templates that have been effective in the past. There is no reason to not keep reusing them! Templates make your job significantly easier and save you lots of time. Besides, after drafting a few contracts, you will pick it up rather quickly.
Legal correspondence usually refers to communication to a third party on behalf of a client you’re representing. As a lawyer, you are always representing your clients, thus you will have to write quite a lot of correspondence.
It’s not as simple as writing a message to your friend. You have to maintain a certain tone depending on the subject matter, the recipient, and the mode of communication. Think about who you’re addressing in your correspondence and what message you are trying to convey. Clarity is incredibly important.
Different types of correspondence will end up looking and sounding different. You need to master switching tones and writing styles, while always keeping it professional.
A motion is a request in which you ask the court for your desired ruling or order. Submitting a motion is a great opportunity to speak to a judge directly and share a bigger part of your client’s story. When you write a motion, focus on the desired outcome. What are you trying to prove?
Just like in the rest of legal writing, keep it simple and brief. This is not an essay, so don’t drag it out. The judge won’t appreciate having to spend longer than a few minutes reading your motion. Stay on topic and only speak in facts. Nobody cares about opinions; you need to be able to back up every claim you make.
Keep in mind that your motion will be compared to the motion of the opposing attorney. Therefore, stay on topic and cite your sources.
Briefs or memoranda
There are different types of memos that you will come across in your career. In-house memos, for example, are usually addressed to a colleague or supervisor. A memorandum you send to court can be described as an informal record of a transaction that took place. You can use it to prove that an agreement was made.
Your tone will depend on the recipient of the memo. Keep it formal with legal institutions and supervisors. Avoid legal jargon with clients; they won’t understand it.
Be brief: There is no minimum word count you need to reach, so keep it short. Stay on topic and cover everything that needs to be covered. No more, no less.
Keep it simple: Save legal jargon for your colleagues and judges. A non-legal professional won’t be familiar with it, so keep it simple when addressing clients.
Be clear: Leaving questions unanswered only means dragging out the case. Say everything that your recipient needs to hear. Exhaustive doesn’t equal long, by the way.
If you’re still in college, you will learn about all of the documents that you should be able to compose, and more. Take advantage of your education and ask as many questions as you can. When you get to work, it is likely that your colleagues will be busy with their own cases and won’t have the time to help you out.
Remember that you don’t need to be a professional writer to compose these documents. Practice makes perfect, so you’ll be a pro after a few attempts.