As a freelance writer, you may often find yourself in situations where you have limited knowledge of the topic. Maybe you’re writing about home construction or a medical procedure you hadn’t heard of until today. These topics can be a challenge to get a handle on and even more difficult to make interesting. But perhaps topping the charts when it comes to complicated and dull topics is legal writing.
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Legal writing has the potential to be interesting, but the difficulty of the material – if you aren’t a lawyer or paralegal – can stymie even the most talented writer. That’s why it’s especially important for you to bring all of your talents and tricks to the table when tackling these projects. By focusing on clear, concrete writing, you can improve your legal writing immensely.
If you want to expand your skills and enter this market, here are tips to follow for effective legal writing.
Clear Things Up
Before you can start any legal project, you’ll need to do some research. Find clear explanations of the topic you’re supposed to be writing about and read up on the topic. You don’t need to know every detail, but you should have a clear sense of your topic. Read until you can give a succinct answer to any question that may arise, until you can explain what you’re writing about to a layperson. This is the foundation of effective legal writing.
Front And Center
When lawyers write, one of the most important things they do is summarize their key points up front. Rather than revealing their arguments slowly as they go, they state the central concerns and a brief summary of what they will argue – and then they proceed to argue it. You should do the same thing when performing a legal writing task.
By putting your key points up front, readers will be better able to follow your writing. In a sense, legal writing is a bit like a recipe – you list the ingredients first, and then you explain what to do with them.
One of the most useful things you can do to make your legal writing more interesting is use concrete examples. You don’t need to use a real case – often privacy restrictions would prevent that anyway – you simply need to bring together enough details to produce a useful hypothetical, thorough explanation.
Take, as an example, the Monder Law Group’s description of bail reduction. The writers describe how bail is set by providing two short lists of criteria. First, they explain that your lawyer can request that bail either be eliminated or reduced. Then, they explain that there are four major factors taken into account when modifying a bail amount, including the type of crime, criminal history, concerns about public safety, and potential flight risk. By setting out these factors, the writers allow any reader to quickly understand how bail works in our legal system.
Break It Down
In addition to making dense legal writing more comprehensible, stating your key points up front and relying on concrete examples will also help you break down the work with dividing headlines.
Using a lot of headlines helps readers unfamiliar with your topic know when you’re transitioning between concepts and allows them to go back and review sections that aren’t clear to them yet. It can also help you track your own process, using headlines to make sure you’ve covered all of the factors you outlined at the start.
If you’re taking on a legal writing project, don’t worry about not being a lawyer. While lawyers may have a strong grasp on the material, law school is a terrible place to learn engaging legal writing. As a freelance writer, your repertoire includes far more useful tools for helping readers understand a topic.
Use those skills and you’ll produce interesting and clear legal writing every time.
Do you have any legal writing experience? Can you share your own tips?
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