How to write legal documents
A legal document is official and is written by a lawyer. It states contractual relationships between two or more parties, giving some rights in the process.
For lawyers, words are the most important tools just like a weapon is to a hunter. It is through the written word that they can inform, advocate, instruct and persuade their clients, peers, and the judges. Writing this kind of document needs stellar writing skills that take some time to acquire. Below are some tips that can help you produce a persuasive legal document:
Know you audience. One step to writing a good legal document is to establish who your reader is. If you are writing something to present before a court of law, make it persuasive enough. Similarly, when writing a memorandum to your client, give a detailed analysis of issues and provide recommendations at the end.
Knowing your audience also helps you to tailor your language to suit their understanding. If you are writing to a client with no background in law, do not include terms that can make your reader feel less educated. It also helps to know your reader so that you can determine the kind of legal document to prepare; be it a letter, a memorandum or a pleading to a court.
Ensure your document has a heading. It can be a letterhead or any other title of your choice. If you are writing a letter, include a letterhead at the top of the document. The letterhead should contain your company logo, name, address, and contacts. A case caption is used when writing a pleading. It contains the information about the case, starting with the state, names of the parties and addresses. A document title is used when writing directives and agreements such as wills.
Organize yourself. Make your thoughts flow, introducing each paragraph in a manner that guides the reader to the next. Use a heading or a subheading if possible, so long as it makes the reader get your points clearly. Each of your points should take up a paragraph. Use transitions to connect your thoughts.
Write concisely. Unless you are writing to fellow lawyers, the message you are passing across should be simple enough for anyone else to understand. Explain your points in simple and clear sentences. Organize your document into short paragraphs. Most readers have no time for long and wordy sentences. Ordinary language endears you more to your audience.
To make your document more powerful, use an active voice. It brings out the vividness and the dynamism in any piece of writing. Passive voice makes your writing weak and trifling.
Read and edit your work. Read your first draft and also give it to a non-lawyer to get the desired results. Note the words they take some time to understand and the phrases they find hard to fathom. Edit and proofread it once more to ensure there are no grammatical and spelling errors. Be sure the document is of high quality before you release it to the audience.
Furthermore, a legal document should be consistent. The names, if any, should stay the same to the end. Any change is likely to cast doubts on your document. Remember to include the exact dates and time. It is also advisable in legal writing to use numerals instead of words when referring to amounts.
A legal document should, therefore, follow the above steps, summarized below:
- Know your audience.
- Have a heading.
- Organize yourself.
- Write concisely.
- Use an active voice.
- Read and edit your work.
- Be consistent.