The vast majority of legal jobs require the deployment of legal writing skills. In fact, your writing, along with your interpersonal abilities, will almost certainly be the most important elements on which you are professionally judged.
However, because of the sheer volume of written material produced by legal professionals — wills, leases, contracts, pleadings, briefs, instructions, client letters, settlement agreements, and so on — it’s easy for many to gloss over the fact that it’s a very tough thing to do well.
We’ve previously highlighted advice from some leaders in the field and suggested several common mistakes to avoid. Here, we’re going to share with you eight of the best books, tools, and resources that can help you to become a better legal writer.
#1 The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing blog
Marie Buckley, a writing coach and author of “The Lawyer’s Essential Guide to Writing,” maintains a regularly updated and insightful blog at mariebuckley.com. Her advice covers a broad range of subjects, from design and page layout to tips for writing in plain English. However, the most useful category is titled “Mission Critical Stuff”, where she concisely sets out the features legal writing must have to be successful.
Let’s face it, the built in spell checker in Microsoft Word still isn’t really up to the task. Yes, it’ll spot egregiously misspelled words. But when it comes to grammar or word choice its recommendations, if it makes any at all, are often weird or plain wrong.
That’s where Grammarly, a beefed-up super spell checker comes in. Grammarly checks for spelling mistakes, of course. However, it also goes several steps further and highlights overused words, incorrectly used homonyms, and hundreds of grammar errors. If you upgrade to the paid version, it will even point out when you’ve relied too heavily on the passive voice and will check your work for possible plagiarism.
#3 Grammar Girl’s daily tips email
No matter how much you practice writing, there’s always room for improvement. One of my favorite ways to stay on top of the minutiae of spelling and grammar rules is via Grammar Girl’s daily “quick and dirty tips” email.
Grammar Girl, a website written by professional writer Mignon Fogarty, is a wealth of short, friendly tips to improve your writing. The daily tips cover a wide range of grammar rules and word choice guidelines that even flummox experienced writers, making it a highly useful resource.
#4 Georgetown University’s legal writing guides
If you’re worried that the cost of all the various books and style guides mentioned here is starting to rack up, then this set of completely free resources will appeal. The guides are part of Georgetown University Law School’s Legal Writing Center.
While the guides are written for the school’s students — they cover subjects such as writing concisely, citing correctly, and drafting effective briefs — there are insights here to benefit almost all legal writers.
#5 The Legal Writing Prof Blog
If you’re looking for authoritative legal writing advice, you can’t do much better than this blog. Written by no fewer than four law school professors — all members of the Legal Writing Institute — the blog contains regular posts commenting on new legal usage and highlights some of the best resources elsewhere on the web.
#6 Adobe’s legal style guide
Despite being commonplace in marketing (we have one here at One Legal) and, of course, publishing, the concept of a style guide may still be unclear to many in the legal profession. It’s a simple and very useful document that sets out the prescribed styles and standards of formatting, typography, and so on to be used in particular circumstances.
Producing a style guide from scratch sounds like an intimidating prospect, however. Fortunately, Adobe — a company known the world over for the clarity of its communication — have released their legal department’s style guide for all to look at (and borrow from) under an open source Creative Commons license. It’s well worth taking a look at.
#7 Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
One of the first things you’ll want to do in a new style guide is to specify a “go-to” dictionary for any spelling or usage disputes. There are few sources more authoritative than Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage by the leading legal writing Bryan Garner.
The most recent edition features thousands of entries, as well as many illustrative quotations from judicial opinions and leading law books. It’s a vital resource for any serious legal writer.
#8 Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers
The second most important reference book you’ll want to highlight in your style guide should offer a robust set of typographical conventions. Trust me, when those tedious but seemingly never-ending typographical debates (such as whether one ought to type one or two spaces after a period) crop up, you’ll want a book as comprehensive as “Typography for Lawyers” to refer to.
What legal writing tools and resources do you use? Share your suggestions in the comments and we’ll add the best to the list!