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If you are a lawyer or law student, then you should write in whatever ways are most likely to persuade your reader that you are right. Those ways are likely to rest on 3 influences: the logic of your argument, the emotions you evoke in the reader, and your level of credibility. Here are some tips on how to write like a lawyer should write.
First, learn how to write clearly. If you don’t write clearly, then your reader won’t understand the logic of your argument. And, in legal writing, logic persuades the most.
Also, clear writing positively affects your reader's emotions. Well-written prose pleases the reader, but unclear writing makes the reader struggle through your argument.
Clear writing also boosts your credibility. “Credibility” means a lot of things. For one thing, credibility involves evincing your intelligence. Intelligence, in turn, involves paying attention to detail, organising an argument properly, articulating an argument, and empathising with the reader. A clear writing style can demonstrate all these traits of an intelligent, and therefore credible, writer.
To write like a lawyer also means writing politely. Young lawyers sometimes wrongly believe that scorn, insult, and sarcasm are what clever lawyers do; but impolite writing is not clever. Even worse, uncivil language is unpersuasive because the reader begins to question your own good character and soon recognises the artificiality of your arguments.
Writing like a lawyer should write means avoiding grammatical and punctuation errors and other common English errors because even these so-called “trivial errors” damage your credibility. If you can’t even get the simple things right, then how can the reader trust that you’ve got the difficult things right?
For your credibility’s sake, and to demonstrate good character, you should also avoid easy overstatements such as "clearly", "obviously", and “extremely”. Words like these show weakness rather than strength because they strain the reader’s credulity and these words lack detail, candour, and fairness.
You need more skill and intelligence to understate than to overstate. It’s easy to write generalities and to add unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. But an understated argument requires detailed, specific, and close reasoning.
On the other hand, think carefully about using hedge words. Hedge words are words such as "probably" and "possibly". Sometimes, hedge words can weaken your writing. But at other times hedge words can strengthen your writing.
The persuasiveness or otherwise of hedge words depends on your audience. For example, qualified statements may be more persuasive than unqualified statements if the reader knows what you’re talking about; but unqualified statements might be more persuasive for readers who don’t know about, or who don’t really care about, your subject matter.
To write like a lawyer should write does not mean using big words. On the contrary, good lawyers use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs, where possible. The less involved the language, the easier the reader can follow your argument. And it requires more skill, thought, and intelligence to condense an argument than to write something long-winded and convoluted.
To make your writing easier to read, avoid:
- unnecessary legalese and other jargon
- throat-clearing phrases (for example, "It is significant that", "It is important to note that")
- other needless words
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