#The3Llife: Legal Writing

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GUEST BLOG by Harrison Thorne,
3L at UCLA Law

After three years in law school, two judicial externships, and a summer associate position at a big firm, I have done plenty of legal writing.  I will admit that this type of writing is not my strong-suit.  However, I have gotten pretty good at it.  Here’s how:

  1. Know what you’re talking about
    A lot of people incorrectly assume they know what they are talking about when writing legal papers.  It is very, very easy to make a mistake—especially when you cite a case without Shepardizing first, or rely on laws that have since been repealed or amended.  Make sure to do your homework before stating anything with authority.  And make sure to check your facts.
  1. Plan before writing
    Many people sit down and start writing, only to find out five pages in that their arguments don’t accurately jive with the law, or that they aren’t actually making an argument.  Planning is an art.  Don’t get so caught up in planning that you forget to actually write.
  1. Write early
    Make sure to write early enough so that you have a few days to review and edit.  Unless you are superhuman, you will not be able to proofread or edit your work the day you type it out.  You need to give yourself at least 24 hours before retuning to your paper.  Alternatively, you could have a friend review your work.  However, civilians (people not in law school and not practicing attorneys) might not understand what you are saying, and might find the style awkward.  My friends always focus on the mechanical nature of my legal writing over the substance.  I used to spend lots of time trying to explain the structure and its appropriateness.  Now, I don’t give my papers to friends.
  1. Speak with your professors/bosses/colleagues
    The person grading your paper (or reading the brief you will file in court, etc) is typically available to discuss your work.  If a professor is willing to give his or her feedback on something that he or she will grade, why would you not ask their advice?
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