“The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. ”
― Will Rogers
“You write like a lawyer” is an oft-repeated phrase. Although legal writers are faced with more challenges than writers of other genres, lawyers are criticized for churning dense,jargon-ridden, complex writing. The challenge lies in writing articulately and compellingly on complicated matters for readers who are neither familiar with the finer points of law, nor with legalese.
The Truth is lawyers are expected to possess a legal mind, i.e., expertise in the application of law/legal reasoning, and a writer’s mind, i.e., rational, logical, and enquiring mind.
Despite the criticism that lawyers produce dense prose, possessing a legal mind has clear advantages over other writers. The general perception that legal reasoning is merely applying the “the right rule” to the “right situation” does not give the complete picture.
Legal rules/Legal principles can be applied appropriately only after looking at the broader context.Lawyers have to be guided by this interaction from applying the law correctly, even in the face of inconsistent or absence of precedents. A deep understanding of the myriad statutes, rules, and regulations is not enough from a writing perspective.
A lawyer’s approach may still come across random advice (s) if the writing is incoherent. To bring the desired acumen to legal writing, a lawyer has to develop a ” writer’s mind”.
Legal writers have certain demands and limitations, legal writers do not have the kind of license which creative writers do to indulge in literary pursuits. Telling a story through factual narration cannot always pique the reader’s interest, and legal analysis should not be manipulated to construct an elegant sentence.
There is no winning formula for legal writing. The audience, the purpose, and the language, all play a crucial role. Effective legal writing is one that caters to the reader or audience. Judges, clients, colleagues, partners, opponents, all have varying perspectives, requirements, and knowledge. When writing for a sophisticated audience, complex explanations, may not be needed, a certain amount of knowledge of the subject can be attributed to them. But for the informed readers, the language may have to be modified, it could be toning down the complexity in the language or avoiding the use of jargon.
Barring a few exceptions legal writing is persuasive in nature, as manifested in court-related documents. The statements and assertions made in these writings must be supported by precedents or citations to authority. Legal research is, therefore an inseparable part of this genre of legal writing.