March 25, 2013 at 12:45
You may have heard this already, but it bears repeating. One of the most important goals of your legal education should be to improve your legal writing skills.
I came to law school feeling fairly confident in my writing abilities. I have always enjoyed writing and I had the benefit of learning from excellent writing professors and teachers throughout my education. I have even been told that I am a good writer. Ok, that was mostly from my mom. But when I started law school, I discovered that I was not as prepared as I thought I was.
I learned quickly in the first semester that I needed to start from zero on my legal writing learning curve. It is so different. Of course, the rules of grammar and subject/verb agreement all still apply, but there is a hard-to-define balance in legal writing that can be difficult to strike.
I have had to put my brain in an entirely different frame to complete a decent legal writing product. I still struggle with the art of composing a succinct and persuasive brief. In my externship for the U.S. district court, I still stare at the blank computer screen for way too long when I try to write a memo. Last week, I submitted my law review paper to the executive board. The final product was the result of five drafts, and the editing comments of three editors over a period of three months. It is not a creative writing process. It is very structured, methodical, and organized. As in any writing, brevity is golden, and word choice is important. Words should be descriptive without being over the top. Passive voice is the devil, and I discovered how very, very frequently I use it.
Last year during on-campus interviews, the majority of the interviewers talked at some point about legal writing. This is a huge part of what recruiters are looking for in candidates. Your writing skills will play a part in the job offers that you receive. The company that hired me for the summer stressed this when one of the recruiters told me: “I may not agree with your legal analysis, but you have to be able to write a decent sentence.” After almost two years of law school, I have a new understanding of legal writing and what makes it great. I read judicial opinions, briefs, and memos differently. I can now say that I know good legal writing when I see it. Have I achieved it myself? Well, I’m getting closer! But I realize that this will be a long-term pursuit for the rest of my legal career, and with practice, each draft I write gets better and better.