Many students have trouble tackling their first legal writing assignments. Your legal writing class will require you to think, write, and structure your assignments in a different way than you are used to. Many students have difficulty grasping this new way of writing. We recommend that you do your best to improve your legal writing right from the beginning of law school. Your efforts will shine through not only in your legal writing class but also in your other substantive law classes. Thus, below are five legal writing tips for students starting law school.
Five Legal Writing Tips for Law Students:
1. Find examples.
The best way to become a good writer is to become an avid reader of the type of document you are assigned. If you are assigned a legal memo, find examples of legal memos. If you are assigned a brief, find examples of a brief. Your law school professor may give you examples. Or you can find examples of the kind of document you are supposed to write using Lexis or Westlaw. An example will guide you as it will provide some idea of what you are supposed to do (and nut supposed to do!)
2. Connect the dots for your reader.
Legal writing, especially when you begin, is very “formulaic.” For many assignments, such as research and non-research briefs,, you will be expected to state the relevant law (and accurately cite it), apply the law to the facts of your case, make an argument, and conclude – over and over again. If you miss one step, it is a big glaring hole in your brief. Half of legal writing is making sure that you did not miss one step of your analysis.
Note that this inevitably means that there will be a lot of proofreading involved! Many students naturally omit one or two of the above steps when they analyze the issues presented.
3. Follow directions.
So many students get so many points taken off simply because they do not follow directions. Students go above the page limit. Or their font is too big or too small. Or the margins are off. Make sure to go through the directions in the beginning and at the end of completing your assignment to make sure you have done everything properly. Legal writing professors tend to be very picky about following directions (which is good, because courts tend to be very picky as well!)!
4. Start your legal writing assignments early.
Start all of your legal writing assignments early. Do not wait until the last minute. If you start early, you will have time to find examples, double-check that you’ve followed directions, proofread (and in some cases, completely restructure) your assignment. Adequate time is absolutely key to doing well in your legal writing class.
It is smart to come up with a calendar for tackling the project the day you are given an assignment. Write down what you will do during week one (i.e. find the case law, or make a skeleton-draft of your assignment), week two (draft one and make sure you have citations down correctly), week three (draft two – proofread to make sure you “connect the dots”, etc). A calendar can make a large, daunting assignment very manageable.
5. Learn it Right from the Start.
If you are confused, get help right away. The time you put in now will help you immensely in the future. If you are looking for help while you are in law school (or if you are looking for a primer on legal writing before even starting law school) sign up for our sign up for our Legal Writing Tutoring Program. We teach you one-on-one how to research using Lexis (you will even have your own ID) as well as key legal writing principles before law school even starts. We teach students in person or online and are happy to accommodate your schedule.
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.