A Brief Guide To Paralegal Writing

The legal profession demands precision and accuracy. These values must be reflected in the documents submitted to the courts. Lawyers and paralegals should be able to write with a strong voice that is clear and concise.

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paralegal writing guide

The Importance of Good Writing and Effective Communication

It is rare for people to complete all of their work tasks alone. Most of the time, projects require people to talk to one another. This isn’t always easy as words can convey different meanings. Misunderstandings and confusion can make a difficult job even harder. Effective communication is necessary to drive action. Nearly all industries consider communication skills as the most desired skill set.

Workers need to be able to say what they mean and be clearly understood by their peers. This might seem simple but it is a complex skill that few have truly mastered. In fact, employers say that more than 60 percent of applicants do not demonstrate sufficient interpersonal and communication skills. It is for this reason that they are not considered for the jobs they are applying for. It is interesting to note that this figure is 10 percent higher than the results of a similar study conducted just two years ago.

Another survey commissioned by the National Association of Colleges and Employers asked over 200 employers regarding their top priorities when picking new hires. The type of candidates that got the most nods were effective communicators, team players, problem solvers, and good time managers. This emphasis on effective communication can certainly be felt in the legal profession. Written documents have to pass high standards and adhere to length restrictions. Failure to do so can have disastrous results.

Consequences of Poor Legal Writing

The most successful paralegals have all demonstrated impressive legal writing abilities. On the other hand, those who struggle in their profession are often the people who haven’t yet reached this degree of mastery. Their failure to write well could put their legal team and their clients at a disadvantage. Countless cases have been lost due to technicalities and documentation errors.

For instance, a judge in Minnesota once scolded a bankruptcy attorney due to unprofessional conduct. He was fined 250 dollars and compelled to attend legal writing courses. This was after he filed documents that were filled with numerous errors. It was so bad that the judge called them unintelligible.

Another example in Vermont features an attorney who submitted briefs with several citation errors. This kept happening over a period of seven years which was the length of the trial. Due to the errors committed, it became difficult for the judge to identify the cases referenced. This led to the attorney’s suspension for at least six months. He could only resume his practice once he has demonstrated the ability to do his job well.

Rules for Good Writing

In order to write well, you have to consider why you are doing this in the first place. Know your purpose, as this will guide you towards the goal. You also have to think about how your reader will be using your output. Make it as useful as possible to your audience.

Strive for precision in your use of words. You need to be able to convey your thoughts in a clinical manner and leave no room for doubt or misunderstanding. Just remember that striving for precision does not mean elaborating at length for every single point. Be concise and keep your sentences short.

Your paragraphs should be short as well. Do not try to cram numerous topics into a single paragraph, as this will only make the document unreadable. Each paragraph should revolve around one topic. Create another if you wish to pursue another subject. Readers appreciate well-organized writing.

Use the active voice whenever possible. Construct your sentences in such a way that the subject performs the action. The cause and effect will be clear to the reader. This is the opposite of the passive voice in which the action is performed upon the subject. It creates a lot of confusion and should be avoided.

Support all of your assertions with indisputable facts. Make sure that they can stand even the toughest scrutiny. Use simple words to explain your points. Resort to legal language only when it is necessary. Aim for clarity above all else.

Additional Rules to Consider

Review the general rules of writing as these are definitely applicable to the legal profession. For instance, every paragraph you make should contain one topic sentence. The rest of it should be filled with supporting details and a nice transition to the next one. Make sure that your paragraphs are not populated with empty words. They should be able to move the argument forward.

One trick that you can employ is to read your work aloud while writing it. You will be able to spot awkward construction and overly long sentences. Fix them right away for better flow. Adhere to simple sentence construction with a subject, verb and object. Be ruthless when editing. Chop off any unnecessary words and leave only the essentials. For example, don’t use “at this point in time” when “now” can get the point across.

Avoid clichés. People who don’t really mean what they say often abuse these verbal units. Although these might sound nice on paper, they are rarely applicable to specific cases. Find a more precise way of saying what you want to convey. Always use the best word for your purpose.

Be sure to state the facts in a methodical manner. Do not cloud these with your opinions. If you are going to present your arguments, then do so dispassionately using cold logic. This makes them more powerful because it shows that anybody should arrive at the same conclusion with a rational approach.

The English language is not gender-neutral. This can create problems when crafting statements. You might be accused of favoring one over another. Steer clear of gender issues by utilizing plural pronouns whenever possible. Talk about groups of people instead of individuals so that you can use “they” instead of “he” or “she”.

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