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5 Essential Elements of Legal Writing for Paralegals

Legal DocumentMany paralegals spend a good part of their work week writing legal documents. Such documents often include contracts, wills, motions, briefs and case summaries. Because the law is a stickler for detail, proper writing is a must for these efforts to be effective. Errors can, at best, force you to spend precious time — or overtime — making the necessary corrections. At worst, writing mistakes can cause your case to be thrown out of court and your law firm rightfully — and publically — embarrassed.

Here are five essential elements of good legal writing and how to achieve them:

1. Proper Spelling. This may appear obvious, but proper spelling is essential in legal writing. If you misspell a name, address, location or even a citation, it can render your document useless. “You know what I meant,” doesn’t fly in a court of law. Don’t count on your word processing software to catch all your spelling errors. You can use the wrong word and still spell it correctly. And, of course, commercial software won’t recognize whether a name or address is spelled properly or not. Print out your document and proof it manually. And, if you can, have a second set of eyes look at it as well.

2. Proper Grammar and Punctuation. In legal writing, a poorly written phrase or even a misplaced comma can have serious consequences. Have grammar questions? Readily available desk references include The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, and the Gregg Reference Manual.

3. Effective Organization. Good writing reflects clear thinking. This is especially true when writing a motion, brief or case summary. Documents that are rambling, disconnected or just plain confusing can create a tangle of legal problems or cause you to lose your case. Make sure your document has a thesis — your central statement or idea — in your introduction and in your conclusion. Support your case with arguments or evidence arranged in a clear, logical fashion with a beginning, a middle and an end. Use bold-faced subheads between paragraphs to add additional clarity.
Here’s the basic structure you want to employ:

  1. Introduction — Which includes your main point (thesis).
  2. Background — Placing your case in the proper historical/legal context.
  3. Facts — Lay out the facts of your case quickly and concisely.
  4. Court Decision(s) — Any past decisions that help support your position.
  5. Analysis — Argue for or against court decisions in a way that furthers your position.
  6. Policy — If policy issues are at stake, discuss them here.
  7. Conclusion — Wrap it up, basically restating all of the above.

4. Proper Citations. When using statues, case law or other sources to support your arguments, make sure you enter your citations in the format required in your state. This usually includes writing them in a way they can be easily retrieved. Need help? Reference such citation sources as The Bluebook or the ALWD Citation Manual.

5. Finding the Right Tone. When writing a brief or motion, always keep your audience in mind. You want to write with the right combination of rationality, certitude and passion. Your subtext should communicate the message, “Let us reason together.” Being too clinical can make the writing dull and unpersuasive, but getting too emotional can be equally counterproductive. Striking the right balance between cold, machine-like logical and hysteria can be difficult, but it’s essential to victory.

Earn a Paralegal Degree at Everest University Online

Legal writing is just one of the duties often performed by paralegals. Other jobs can include drawing up interviewing witnesses, document management and doing legal research.

You can learn to do all these jobs, and more, when you earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in paralegal from Everest University Online, a division of Everest University. Designed to prepare you to work under the direction of a licensed attorney in a law firm, corporate law department or government agency, Everest University Online’s Paralegal (associate degree) program can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to qualify for many entry-level positions in this exciting field.

Because these programs are online, you can earn your degree on your own schedule and at your own pace. It’s the perfect solution if you want to earn a degree while still holding down a full- or part-time job, or while taking care of your family.

For more information on Everest University Online’s Paralegal career education program, contact Everest University Online today!

Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

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