The skill of legal writing and drafting, writing in particular, sounds easy. After all, you will have been writing now for, what, at least 16 years? In fact, they are both very subtle skills which take time to master. When reading a letter or a contract, the distinction between a competent and great legal writer or drafter is clear, but explaining what made the difference is much more difficult! As a trainee, this is all too clear: often you spend hours on a piece of writing only for it to be butchered by your supervisor’s red pen, often making changes that emphasise that very subtle distinction. Luckily, you only need to be competent for the LPC!
Legal writing is the skill of putting your knowledge to paper, often for your client. The assessment will be taken through one of the core modules – in my case, litigation– and you will be asked to produce a piece of writing, such as a letter or instructions to counsel within a set timeframe. You need to remember the rules for the particular kind of writing you have been asked to do (the format of a letter for example) whilst producing a skilled piece of writing.
My last, and possibly most effective tip will not help you in the exam, but has proved invaluable in practice: leave a piece of writing alone for an hour or overnight if you have the time. When you go back to it, get rid of all the bits that don’t add anything to what you are saying. It is amazing how much you can take out if you look at a piece of writing with fresh eyes.
Legal drafting is a different skill. This is real stuff – drafting creates documents that have binding legal effect. Again you will be examined in a core practice area, in my case Property Law and Practice, and will be asked to draft a document such as a transfer document or a standard clause in a contract. The actual drafting you will be asked to do will not be difficult because, again, true drafting is a skill that takes time to master. Also, in practice (and reality) lawyers rarely draft freehand so you won’t be asked to either.
The reason why lawyers rarely draft freehand is because there are a wealth of precedents to draw from; documents that have already been drafted either for a previous client or by legal support companies whose job it is to know all the base law and to provide a framework for lawyers to work from.
Lawyers are far too risk averse to burden themselves with the risk of getting it wrong unless they have no choice! And you shouldn’t either. You will have practice material to hand – take it with you and don’t feel guilty for copying as much as you can! You will do it in practice and will be missing a trick if you don’t in your exam.
Here are a few more tips for legal drafting:
Both legal writing and drafting exams should be simple, mainly because the tasks you are asked to complete should be simple. The skills themselves are not simple, so please don’t take the exams lightly. Practise and prepare well, use your time wisely and produce a good piece of work. Any principles and good habits you pick up now will be worthwhile when you start your training contract and will help keep that red pen at bay!
Next post will be looking at choosing electives for term 2.