Need to Develop Skills in Legal Drafting

No lawyer can survive without writing skills

A lawyer needs to write a lot compared to any other professional. Writing is a skill which anyone can acquire. Without good drafting skills no lawyer can survive.

Writing is not just confined to constructing grammatically perfect sentences, with proper spelling and punctuation. It is much more than that. Systematic learning, strategic planning, and tenacity in learning its strategies can take one’s writing to amazing heights.

Writing is a creative art where craft also plays a part. Craft and creativity are two inseparable ingredients of writing. Good writing always rests on both craft and creativity.

The craft in writing can be effortlessly acquired. But the creativity in writing is an inborn quality that can be refined only to a minimal extent. It is more related to one’s inbuilt abilities. It does not lend itself for significant improvement.

Craft is the conscious part of writing; creativity is the intuitive part. Both need to be combined strategically for better results in writing.

Writing is a step-by-step process

Writing is a step-by-step process, from idea to research to writing to rewriting to further rewriting. When you start writing an essay or a legal draft you should set its basic objective.

The objective of writing can be for informing, persuading, explaining or even entertaining the reader. The objective will define the contours, whereabouts, or style of your writing.

Arrange your ideas logically

Every piece of writing from an article to a petition to a legal deed is an embodiment of ideas arranged sequentially. It is meant for communication between the author and the reader.

Getting the right idea to write on is the first step in writing any piece. Then think of different viewpoints about the idea. Relax your mind for some time to get every aspect of the idea. Explore all the nuances of the topic from different angles.

Bring clarity in your writing

Any piece of writing requires clear words and right sentences. Clear thinking leads to clear writing. Good writing avoids clutter. Strip every sentence to its barest skeleton to get rid of redundant words.

To write well, develop a passion for words. Words are the building blocks of any writing. Learn to use them with extreme care. To learn right use of words in writing read writings of the celebrated masters.

Do some writing regularly

Writing can be improved by reading something regularly. The best way to learn writing is to do some writing regularly. There is no other short cut. There are many styles in writing.

Overcome writer’s stumbling block

When you set your pen to paper for writing, you will face writer’s stumbling block. Overcoming this block is the hardest part in writing. To overcome this stumbling block, build up your passion to write. When you have intense desire, you can overcome the initial inertia in writing.

When you start your writing, do not think about the grammatical correctness or sequence of your writing. Just let your ides flow out into sentences. You can refine them later. When you finish a sketchy draft with every idea that you want to include, read your writing from the start to the end. Read it loudly. Then do some macro editing to fill the gaps in ideas. Correcting the grammar or structuring the sentences should be reserved for later.

Use proper words while writing

Use a dictionary if you want to find what a word means. It is a vocabulary learning exercise as well. Learn the word’s etymology and its root.  It will build your vocabulary.

In terms of choice of words, the right source a writer requires, other than a standard dictionary, is Henry Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. It is an essential practical guide to English usage and style. The prescriptions of usage in the book are nothing but personal advice but not the dictates of any God of grammar. Dictionary of synonyms is a useful tool. Roget’s Thesaurus is a must for anyone who engages in writing. It enlists different words of same class at one place.

Bring in some rhythm in your writing

When you entwine words into sentences, think how they sound in a sentence while reading. Rhyme and alliteration are vital to any good sentence. Think of cadence and resonance of the words while creating sentences with words. Deliberate word play will be good if it fits well for the context. A rhyme, a little alliteration and an occasional pun or a paradox can enliven any writing. But over use of word play is a danger. Equally distracting is the word play that falls flat. A bad pun is worse than no pun at all.

Use reversed word order in sentences to avoid monotony. Substituting a word with another one and altering the length of the sentences can enliven any writing.

Link sentences logically with right sequence

The first sentence is the most important one in every piece. It must force the user to keep reading the next one. There is no firm rule as to how to write a lead but the lead should not let the reader away easily.

The last sentence in each paragraph should be the springboard to the next one, making all paragraphs eventually linked into a cohesive whole. Keep your paragraphs short. Visual look of the writing is also important.

Every paragraph should be a coherent whole with sequential sentences making it a holistic piece altogether. The ideas should flow from one to another and then move smoothly to yet another. Poor coherence will defy the reader’s comprehension of the concepts.

Sentences and paragraphs should be designed cohesively in a way ideas should flow smoothly without having any problem for the readers in following them. In addition to logical cohesion, use rhetorical strategies to engage the readers.

Adverbs and adjectives are unnecessary

The verb in a sentence pushes it forward. Most adverbs, like most adjectives, are unnecessary in a sentence. Use them sparingly. The connecting words like but, however etc. are good mood changers. Use them whenever required. Do not overstate anything. Paragraph tells the reader the organisation of your thoughts. Each paragraph should have integrity of content. Tinker a lot on your writing to make it clear and precise.

Rewriting is the essence of writing

The first draft is probably the worst draft. Rewrite it several times to make it better. Rewriting, in fact, is the essence of writing. Rewrite your draft as many times as possible.

Keep in mind some editing tips while rewriting. Linking up one sentence with the other using connecting words (like because, hence, as, therefore etc) can make a piece of writing better in cohesion, logic, and sequence.

The connecting words emphasise an idea (besides, in addition etc.), or contrast two ideas (though, however etc.) or show cause effect (because, therefore etc) in any piece of writing. But over use of connectors can make your writing style poor. Correct grammar and punctuation are, as well, important.

After redrafting the piece of writing a few times, please ask someone else to read your passage to commend on it. Based on the suggestion you get, redraft it for a few more times. In case, you do not have someone else to read, you may read your draft critically deposing yourself as a reader. Then incorporate your critical ideas as inputs while redrafting.

Micro editing of your writings

When you are satisfied with your draft in ideas and sequencing, start the process of micro editing for grammar, punctuation, and further stylizing. After micro editing keep your near final draft idle for a few days and re-read it with a fresh mind. Then re-edit the article with microscopic details and take the final version. The final draft would be far better and different from the earlier ones.

Effective writing depends closely on things like rhythm and flow of ideas/sentences, organization of material into paragraphs, and arrangement of paragraphs into a coherent piece.

What not to write is important

A writer must know what not to write. It is a bit difficult task. The writer must have an ear that can hear the difference between a sentence that limps and a sentence that lilts. A writer with an ear for language will avoid trite phrases.

Any writing consisting of short and monosyllable words will last for long. A shoddily constructed sentence can be read in different ways, giving no definite meaning.

Clarity of thought is an important element in legal writing. Every sentence must be a logical sequel to the other in a way the rails on railway tracks are packed into, with no missing link in between.

Cut redundant words from your draft

When you edit your early drafts to make your writing better, do it ruthlessly to cut all redundant words or phrases.

Avoid all unwanted frills like flowery adjectives, trite expressions, and flabby phrases. Be clear about choice of words. Use only those words you find appropriate, but not the one with one syllable more than what is required. A long word, which can be substituted with a shorter one, needs to be dropped.

Clear writing hinges on clear words and sentences. Choose concrete and proactive words. Omit every needless word. It is a sparkling rule of writing. Avoid static words. Avoid unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargons. The writing must stop at the right exit point. When you finish presenting the facts and making the points, stop writing and exit.

William Zinsser in his seminal work titled On Writing Well offers many ideas on writing well. The book carries many tips a writer must know.

Practice, practice, practice, but no other short cut

In short, the best way to build your writing skill is nothing but practice. Anyone can learn to write better. Some writers begin with more talent than others because of their genetic makeup. Most writers, both beginners and professionals, will benefit if they pay a little attention to the craft of their writing.

Hard work will propel any writer to a new level of quality in writing. Solid craft results in good writing; a dose of creativity will make it great. Writing is half gift and half hard work. The absence of the first can be compensated by the surplus of the second.

No doubt, tenacious practice will make anyone a better writer.

Additional Reading

  1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. New York, Harper Collins, 2006
  2. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M Williams & Joseph Bizup. Boston, Pearson, 2007
  3. The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing Well by Tom Goldstein & Jethro K Lieberman. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002