How to Write Like a Lawyer

The bulk of my time as a lawyer is spent writing. I've picked up a few tips and tricks I'd like to share. In law school they teach you to write academic "legalese" - long and drawn out sentences sprinkled with random Latin words. Because ... you know ... it's Latin! Why? Or should I say "quare?" The only reason scholars write like this is to sound smart. But it's pompous and ostentatious and just isn't the best way of getting your message across.

In litigation I've learned to write short and succinctly. We write short and succinctly because we need to get the Judge's attention. Judges are very busy, and they want you to tell it like it is. Surprisingly, the best lawyers will write in simple and straightforward English.

Here's some ways to write short and succinctly like a lawyer:

  • Say everything you say with confidence.

Cut out all of the following:

I think that...

I believe that...

I feel like...

Correct me if I'm wrong but...

If I'm being honest...

When you say something, it comes from your head. You don't have to explain that this is your thought. You don't have to explain you're being honest, because I hope you're always being honest. Just say what you want to say.

  • Cut all fillers

So many words people use are fillers. They are just not necessary. When you have too many fillers you dilute your message. Don't overuse "very" and "obviously" and "clearly." Sentences need to be short. This is especially true in emails. No one wants to read long emails. Don't put your entire thought process in an email dragging the reader along. "I was considering X and then I realized I also have to account for Y which led me to conclude Z." Almost all of my emails go like this:

Hello [name],

My entire point in two to three sentences.


- Daphne

  • Don't have a preamble, instead have a preview

Even in more formal writing, get to the point right away. People are tired. Don't make the reader wait for the point. Say what you want to say, and then back it up with your foundation. Don't start a sentence with a shorter sentence, like "After careful consideration of all of the factors and after evaluating the pros and cons, I have concluded that ...." Don't wait for the conclusion to get to the point either. That will be the best way for someone to skim to the end. Briefly outline your argument at the outset, then elaborate.

  • Use underline, highlighters, bullet points and bolded text

I've done this at exams, including the bar exam, and I still do this in my briefs. No one ever criticized me for it and I've never lost a motion. It's likely because I help the Judge get through my briefs by drawing his or her attention to the key points. If you can highlight your key points, it's a lot easier to digest than a bunch of words that look the same. You need to make it look exciting to read. Make sure your text isn't too condensed. Let the words breathe. People like to read beautiful text, even the really important ones you're trying to impress. Jazz it up.

  • Use humor

It's just memorable and refreshing, especially when it's done in a serious industry. It can be done in a tasteful way. Everyone loves a good laugh. I wrote a mediation brief to a Judge which had a line that made him laugh, and he's always approached me to say hello ever since. I made an impression.

  • Read it out loud

When you're done, print out your text and read it out loud. You'll see that you repeat a lot of points and that some of your sentences don't flow. Cut everything that is superfluous or repetitive.

Did you find these tips useful? Make sure to share them with a friend! Just don't use too many words.