In the first instance, careful planning, sound research, a considered structure and consistent writing style are the basis of a good piece of legal writing. Well-conducted research acts as the foundation, whilst the structure should be laid out coherently, always keeping in mind legal argument posed.
In order to write a quality piece of legal writing, one's research materials need to be carefully considered. The use of secondary sources and legal opinion must be balanced with the application of primary source material, i.e. actual legal case judgments. In addition, one should very carefully consider the weight of the secondary sources that are used. For example, if one is going to use a legal opinion, to make sure that the opinion is an authoritative one by a leading legal peer (including those deceased) so that it may not be called into contention is likely to be a widely upheld opinion.
Legal Writing Structure
In the next stages, the strength of the essay necessarily relies on a carefully considered plan. This plan should then develop into a sound structure and underpins any piece of good legal writing.
Whilst keeping the objectives of the piece of writing paramount, the audience must then be targeted in a clear, direct and succinct manner by breaking the writing into the appropriate sections in logical and coherent way. Points or arguments should follow on fluently from each other and link together in a comprehensive and structured manner. Logic and reason should always prevail when undertaking a successful piece of legal writing.
Legal writing applies long established traditions that, whilst distinct in style across differing legal systems, essentially maintain the same structure of legal investigation, arguments and conclusion. For a quality piece of work, application of consistency and accuracy is crucial.
When writing a good piece of legal writing, style is an essential component. There are long-standing/established considerations traditions that constitute the effective practice of law today, and that is assisted by a minimum standard of legal writing.
It goes without saying that a good piece of legal writing is build on sound application of grammar and spelling. It is absolutely fundamental to the work that there are no spelling errors and equally, no grammatical/syntactical mistakes. This is especially relevant to the use of clauses and sub clauses. This is especially relevant to writing a good piece of legal writing, irrespective of the objectives, as legal arguments can become complex and it is vital not to distract from the main points of the argument.
Keep language simple, precise and avoid writing in the negative, such as ‘not impossible' or ‘not unreasonable' etc. For clarity, avoid the use of sub clauses wherever possible and keep sentences short, succinct and always to the point. Further still, the use of the active voice, and not the passive voice, is important in a good piece of legal writing. For example, “the prosecution held that” as opposed to “it was held by the prosecution that”.
In accompaniment to an effective and good piece writing, one will need to correctly apply the use of established legal abbreviations, particularly those of Op. Cit. – Opus Citato (already cited) Ibid. – Ibidem; (in the same place); Cf. (in conferment). These are just some of the most commonly employed abbreviations, and these will commonly used in a good piece of legal writing.
Referencing and Use of Quotations
All quotations from primary or secondary sources, without exception, must be attributed, precisely quoted and referenced. This is critical to any good piece of legal writing. Quotations that are more detailed, usually more than two sentences long, should be inserted into a following, separate paragraph and indented, usually in a font size one smaller than the main body of the text. Whilst this averts any charges of plagiarism, it also builds originality and strength of argument into one's work.
There are a number of referencing styles available for legal writing but depending which establishments you are writing for, whether work or academic, there is almost certainly a prescribed in-house referencing style that one must adhere to and apply in one's writing. In the UK, it is usually a numerical system of ordered footnotes. There are several other widely employed referencing styles, including the Harvard system. This is an author date system that is usually in disciplines outside that of law. It is important to check with one's own establishment what the prescribed system is.
It is equally important to use recognised and accepted referencing when citing legislation, treaties, case law and any other legal precedents/authorities. There will be an established method that one must prescribe to in order to write an effective and good piece of legal writing.
Finally, when writing a good bibliography at the end of a piece of work, one must cite all works consulted and employed in the research, irrespective of whether those sources have been quoted and listed in the footnotes. The list should also be subdivided according to the source materials; Statutes, Case Law, Books, Journals and e-sources. It is useful to note that the word count is exclusive of the Bibliography.
And Finally, Proof Read Work
Always make sure that enough time is put aside at the end of completing a piece of work in order that there is sufficient time to thoroughly read through, revise and correct any substantive or stylistic errors in one's work.
A good piece of legal writing is dependent on precision, clarity and consistency in argument; therefore it is vital that work is proof-read and revised to make sure that all these requirements are achieved.
Think of the question, research and plan a clear argument that answers this question then write it down in a clearly structured and precise manner. Always consult and adhere to one's in-house system of rules pertaining to legal writing methods. If all of the above considerations are made, from the initial planning and research stages, to the substantive writing, stylistic and referencing considerations are made then a good piece of legal writing is achievable.