Over the past week we’ve posted blogs on the kind of research skills that LLB students will need to deal with take home assessments such as 24 hour essay projects. Writing is a key legal skill, whether it is legal drafting, preparing memos or emails, or writing letters to clients or third parties. Here at Law Answered we’ve put together a detailed free guide to legal writing skills (which you can sign up for below), and in this blog we thought we’d share a few tips.
GET THE BASICS RIGHT
Ensure you always use the correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. Divide your writing into paragraphs at sensible intervals. Nothing looks worse than a mass of poorly worded text.
Think about your audience too. For example, if your question imagines that you are writing to a hypothetical non-lawyer client, avoid using highly technical language or excessive legal terminology. If you are answering an academic essay, avoid the temptation to be informal, but make sure not to go the other way and become overly formal – be clear, concise and get to your conclusion.
CLARITY, PRECISION AND STYLE
Choose your words with care. Remember that many words have specific meanings in a legal context.
When describing the quantity or quality of something, use precise language rather than subjective language. Do not exaggerate. Avoid sweeping generalisations.
Avoid emotive language. If necessary to convey feelings and emotion, do so sparingly – that will have greater impact than a melodramatic, “over the top” style.
Avoid using “filler” words like “moreover”, “furthermore”, “heretofore”, “on the other hand”, “notwithstanding” “not only … but also”. These can use up a lot of your word count and add nothing to your essay.
Break complicated sentences into individual sentences. You could also break your essay up with a handful of headings. These can help to guide the reader and make your answer easier to read than a simple mass of text.
Do not use complex vocabulary where simpler words are available. Make sure you are using straightforward English rather than jargon.
In short, long words do not impress examiners!
A DECISIVE CONCLUSION
Avoid the temptation to sit on the fence and give an inconclusive answer. Your examiner will want you to answer the question they have set you – not just discuss various legal sources without reaching a definite answer.
PROOF AND PROOF AGAIN
Once you have written your answer, go over it again several times.
On your first review, ask yourself: do my sentences flow logically towards my conclusion? Look back at your essay plan: Do you had a clear plan for how to get to your conclusion? You need to make sure that what you’ve written supports your conclusion. Every sentence you write should be tight and work together with your other sentences to help reach your conclusion.
On your second review, ask yourself: are there any unnecessary words I can cut out? Any complicated sentences which should be split into single sentences? Any jargon or technical terms which I should explain or remove? Remember that you want to have clear and concise sentences. Long words, complex sentences and jargon will simply confuse and annoy your examiner if a shorter and clearer sentence would have worked just as well.
Finally, on your third review, proof, proof and proof again! Make sure that you haven’t slipped up on any basic spelling, punctuation and grammar. And check your sources again to make sure that you are quoting and paraphrasing them accurately.
If you have any time left before handing in your assessment, check your answer again. There is no point handing in your answer well before the deadline – you’ll be kicking yourself if you hand in your answer and then think of something you should have changed!