The Importance of Writing in Law School
In the section of The American Bar Association (ABA) devoted to law-school preparation, the ABA provides a list of core skills and values that are essential. Writing skills are emphasized. The association regards language as the most important tool of a lawyer, and emphasizes the need for lawyers to learn to express themselves clearly and concisely. Legal education provides students with the training in specific techniques and forms of written expression required in the field; developing those skills as an undergraduate isn’t always feasible. What is feasible, however, and strongly recommended is acquiring fundamental writing skills prior to entering law school.
Most law schools only offer one year of legal writing coursework. While that may be sufficient for learning the methods of legal research and how to craft legal documents, a law student cannot learn the technical aspects of writing during that amount of time. Legal education and the practice of law have a significant writing component, so addressing the challenge of adapting to the expected writing style must be a high priority.
Having an English background is not required—students from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds excel in law school—but having the ability to write well, practice good grammar, and cater to specific rhetorical situations is extremely important. Writing is the final expression of analysis, so if you do not have strong writing skills, you will be unable to communicate what you know.
Though all students have experience with undergraduate writing, those who attend law school post-graduation are met with a very different set of writing requirements.
Differences Between Undergraduate Writing and Legal Writing
Upon entering law school, students are often bursting with confidence about their general writing ability, assuming that if they were good writers in their undergraduate careers, they will automatically be successful at legal writing. However, legal writing and the research methods involved are significantly different than what is expected of writing at most undergraduate institutions in terms of content, structure, and style.
Some differences include:
• Less room for personal opinion
• Deeper level of intellectual rigor involved in framing ideas
• Conclusory statements are not acceptable
• Greater level of precision required
• Structure - restatement of the conclusion is often required
Strategies for Successful Legal Writing
Be very deliberate in your word choice. Legal writing isn’t about expanding as much as possible as it often is for undergraduate assignments. It’s more focused on the content and quality of writing assignments than undergraduate work, which often places an emphasis on the quantity of pages and sources in a piece. Experts recommend studying poetry to prepare for law school. The analysis of how words come to have meaning, which is required in studying poetry, makes you more aware of the words you are using and enables you to determine how to use language most effectively in any discipline.
Be conscious of your audience. The legal audience is very skeptical and critical; therefore, the level of precision required in legal writing is greater than that in most undergraduate writing.
Understand writing is more about the reader than the writer, so it is important to avoid making conclusory statements. Law students must be able to write for a reader who may not be familiar with what’s being discussed.
Practice good grammar and being more deliberate in your use of grammatical structures. In the legal field, word and punctuation placement can make a big difference in how the law is interpreted.
Suggested Reading List
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser
• Writing to Learn by William Zinsser
• The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective by George Gopen
• “Rhyme and Reason: Why Studying Poetry is the Best Preparation for Studying the Law” by George Gopen