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Savvy letter writing tips from a rock ‘n’ roll writer and former lawyer

Savvy letter writing tips from a rock ‘n’ roll writer and former lawyer

By Meg Crawford

Young Persons 

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After 15 years as an industrial relations lawyer, I made the jump to journo, writing for Beat, Mojo, Broad-sheet and Rhythms, with a stint as Lifestyle Editor for Time Out. While it looks like a whopping sea change, the connecting thread is good writing. That said, I can still remember busting my chops on a letter of advice only to have it shredded by a partner. With that still (surprisingly) fresh in mind, and pooling it with the skills I’ve honed in recent years, here are some of my top-writing tips for new players.

Know your client

Good writing starts way before nutting out an advice. In fact, it starts before you even meet your client. Check out their LinkedIn profile (incognito), google them, scroll through their social media, find out if they’ve been in the news, have a gander at their annual reports, and find out whether they’ve been the subject of previous litigation. Next, prepare incisive questions, especially if you’re taking a statement. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Don’t waste time

I’m not even talking about procrastinating in the office (but that too, obviously). The number of times I’ve realised that someone’s sweat over an email when they could’ve made a call is crazy. It can be a much more efficient way to convey info or getting further instructions. Plus, it’s more cost effective for the client. Win, win.

Don’t talk nonsense – ever

This extends to fudging answers as well as timelines. The bulk of complaints against lawyers boil down to poor communication, so always let your client know well in advance if there’s going to be a delay. They’re not going to be stoked, but they’ll appreciate your honesty. Also, be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to turn something around. One of my old bosses had a splendid rule of thumb: think about how long it’s going to take you, then double it because something’s guaranteed to get in the way.

Cop criticism on the chin

Don’t take it personally and, for the love of god, change accordingly. The bottom line is that partners and senior associates have their own style: figure it out, then roll with it. There’s no point wasting your personal flair when someone knows what they want. Save it for when you’re in the driving seat.

Less is definitely more

Editors scour articles, ruthlessly pruning out anything that’s unnecessary, and your clients will love you for doing the same. A subset of this is not to use jargon (unless you have to). Just share the necessary info, then get out.

Does it read well?

It’s a bone of contention in paperless offices, but it’s hard to properly proofread a document on a screen. My suggestion is to print it off and read it aloud: it’s the best way to figure out whether your language is stilted and whether your advice flows.

Use successful lawyers as inspo

Who’s the gun at your firm? People really do love talking about themselves, so ask if you can take them for a coffee and pick their brain about how they communicate with their clients.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

If a colleague has already written a cracking letter of advice on the same issue, use it! That said, sometimes it’s actually quicker to start at the start.

Grammar moves

I would’ve copped a metaphorical clip around the ear for a split infinitive and now no one cares. That said, rulez is rulez, and good spelling and punctuation are always on point.

 

Join us at the LIV Proofreading and Grammar Workshop on Wednesday 6 June 2018, click here for more information.


Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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