Behind the Scenes of Legal Writing: Understanding the Writing of Practicing Lawyers

Behind the Scenes of Legal Writing Understanding the Writing of Practicing LawyersThis week we welcome back guest writer Marissa Geannette to talk about the different types of legal writing.

The legal profession is often associated with words, language, and writing, and students who are strong writers have always been drawn to it. From contracts and pleadings to briefs and memos, legal writing is an integral part of a practicing lawyer’s day-to-day work.

While you’ve undoubtedly taken a legal writing course or two in law school, the truth is that legal writing is much more diverse than what those classes make it out to be. If you’re wondering what type of writing you’ll be doing once you become a practicing lawyer, read on as we delve into various forms of writing that lawyers engage in every day.

1. Transactional Documents

One of the fundamental aspects of corporate legal practice involves drafting, negotiating, and reviewing contracts and agreements. Whether it’s a complex commercial contract or a straightforward employment agreement, lawyers are responsible for ensuring that the terms of these agreements are clear, concise, and legally enforceable.

This type of writing demands meticulous attention to detail, an understanding of contractual language, and an ability to foresee potential ambiguities or loopholes. Legal writing in this context requires you to accurately reflect the intentions of the parties involved while mitigating potential legal risks. It might not be the most creative type of writing, but every word in these documents has meaning and every word counts.

2. Litigation Documents

In the realm of litigation, lawyers are tasked with drafting pleadings, motions, and other court documents that present their client’s case before a judge. These documents need to state the facts, legal arguments, and remedies sought, all while sticking to specific court rules and procedures. Legal writing in litigation requires the use of persuasive language and the ability to organize and present arguments effectively.

Litigators also write appellate briefs, which is an entirely different skill. This type of writing requires that lawyers craft persuasive arguments to present to higher courts. To write an appellate brief, you must have a deep understanding of legal precedent, a mastery of legal research, and the ability to weave a compelling narrative that supports your client’s position. Appellate advocacy also involves anticipating counterarguments and effectively addressing them within the brief. In short, it’s a tough but very rewarding type of writing!

3. Legal Memos

At one point or another, every practicing lawyer will be asked to draft a legal memo. Lawyers often draft memos to provide clients with legal advice, analyze case law, or explore the potential outcomes of a particular, sticky legal issue. Clients rely on these memos to make important business and personal decisions. These memos involve extensive research and a careful analysis of statutes and precedents. Lawyers who can distill complex legal concepts into comprehensible language write the most effective legal memos.

In addition to client memos, it is often the job of a junior lawyer to prepare a memo for their supervising attorneys. This type of memo serves to educate the more senior team members on a specific topic that the junior attorney has become the expert on. Writing to an audience of other lawyers is different from writing to a client, and is yet another skill practicing lawyers must learn to master.

4. Legal Articles and Publications

Many practicing lawyers contribute to legal scholarship by writing articles and publications on various legal topics. These pieces can appear in legal journals, online platforms, or even mainstream media. A common type of legal article is called a “client alert,” which is usually published on a firm’s website. These articles are written with the firm’s clients and potential clients in mind. Topics include things like new regulations, recent court decisions, or other legal issues that need explanation.

Writing legal articles and client alerts requires thoroughly researching a topic, synthesizing complex information, and presenting novel insights or arguments. Lawyers across all practice areas use these articles to gain clients, solidify their existing ones, and educate the public.

5. Client Correspondence

Last but certainly not least is client correspondence. Effective communication with clients is one of the keys to success in the legal profession. This type of writing is mainly done over email, and lawyers send dozens, if not hundreds, of emails a week. They provide their clients with updates on cases, explain legal strategies, answer questions, and offer advice.

Great lawyers understand what their clients need and tailor the tone and content of their messages to fit their individual clients. Usually, emails to clients should be clear and concise, and translate complex legal concepts into language that clients (who are likely not lawyers) can easily understand.

Legal Writing Is an Integral Part of All Legal Practice

Legal writing encompasses so much more than what is taught in law school. It involves drafting various documents that span different practice areas and cater to various purposes. It includes formal briefs to the court and daily emails to clients, each of which can be just as important to get right.

Practicing lawyers must not only be adept at understanding the nuances of the law, but also be skilled at communicating the law. From crafting persuasive arguments in appellate briefs to meticulously drafting contracts, translating legal concepts into written form is no easy feat, but, with practice, it can be done with great success.


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About Marissa Geannette

Marissa graduated from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2009 where she was a member of the Law Review. She began her career in the corporate department of White & Case LLP in NYC and spent 8 years as an associate there. Marissa is passionate about educating law students and recent law grads about Biglaw and career paths one can take after law school (both traditional and non-traditional). She wrote her book, “Behind the Biglaw Curtain” to help demystify Biglaw for those beginning their careers. Whether it’s in Biglaw or not, she believes that there is a satisfying career out there for everyone (even if it’s not the traditional one you thought you were “supposed” to have).

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