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Three mistakes lawyers make in legal drafting

Three mistakes lawyers make in legal drafting

By LIV Professional Development

Continuing Legal Education Documents Practice & Procedure 


Legal drafting is a skill that should be continuously improved upon throughout your career in law. There are always new strategies to be learned, and as with any skill, if it is not used often enough it can grow stale. Particularly in the first few years of practice, lawyers can take some time to find their “voice” in legal writing. Here are three mistakes we see newer lawyers make in legal drafting, and how to avoid them.

1. Making grammar and spelling/word usage mistakes

In a world of word processors and autocorrect, it is getting easier and easier to let good grammar and punctuation slide. If there is no red underline, people often assume the word is correct. Even worse, sometimes a word will be highlighted that isn’t even incorrect! There are hundreds of word usage and grammar mistakes that you may be making which are not picked up by standard proofread checkers. Checking your own work is a skill in itself. It is easy to miss mistakes in your own writing when you know what you mean it to say. Consider pasting your text into an online grammar/spelling checker, such as Grammarly or Hemingway App, once you are finished to double-check your work. This will point out errors in word usage, spelling, grammar, and even passive vs active voice (lawyers love their passive voice, but active is ideal wherever possible!)

2. Writing in “legalese” instead of plain English

Whilst various human mortals venerate the myriad complexities of the English lexicon, the preponderance of language connoisseurs acquiesce that it is far superior to eschew obfuscation.

One of the most important things to ask when writing is 'who is my target audience'? In the case of a letter of advice, your audience will generally be a non-lawyer. It is critical to use appropriate language and citation – which will be addressed more in our third point – but this should not preclude using plain English to ensure every part of your letter is understood by the potential client.

3. Not substantiating assertions or citing sources

Although it is critical to use plain English in your legal writing, it is equally important to present evidence for your assertions. Your prospective client needs to feel confident that you have knowledge of their case and of similar cases that can be used as the basis for formulating advice and strategy. Similar to credible journalists, lawyers must “cite their sources” when presenting their findings. Ensure that your letter of advice is well sourced and cited properly, to avoid any doubt on the client’s part that you have a solid foundation for the statements you make.

To learn more about checking your work for common grammar mistakes, writing in plain English, substantiating your assertions and more, come to the Drafting with Accuracy and Clarity stream of the Drafting Skills Academy Series on 30 November. Presented by Rebecca Tisdale and Andrew McRobert, who hold a wealth of experience in training young lawyers on key practice skills, this is a fantastic workshop not to be missed by anyone who wants to refresh and improve their drafting capabilities.

Register now

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