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Book Review: Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide

Effective Legal Writing cover

Legal writing can be baffling for first year law students. It’s almost like learning a new language! But trying to write like a lawyer does not mean you should start smattering your essays with ‘hereins’ and ‘whereas-es’. If anything, using lawyerly words like these can confuse your reader, chew up your word count and lose you marks. Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide is a useful introductory text that sets out the dos and don’ts of legal writing for baby lawyers.

The book covers basics for beginners, including an entire chapter dedicated to English grammar and the law. It sounds a bit boring, but through case studies it effectively demonstrates why grammar and punctuation matter. For example, who knew that a poorly placed comma in a contract could determine the outcome of an entire commercial dispute?

Authors Nichola Corbett-Jarvis and Brendan Grigg also introduce students to plain English writing techniques to improve the readability of assignments and hopefully translate into extra marks! This chapter explains how legalese and the practice of creating longwinded legal documents developed (apparently lawyers used to be paid based on the length of the documents they created) and how students can write with greater clarity. Of course, not every legal concept can be explained in a few words. A key piece of advice: keep your writing “as simple as possible – but no simpler”.

Perhaps the most helpful chapters are the sections dedicated to academic and professional legal writing. While these detailed chapters can be a slow read, they are well worth the effort for students tackling these types of assessment tasks for the first time or for those who feel the need to brush up on their drafting skills. In these sections students learn how to structure responses to problem and essay questions, as well as how to complete ‘professional’ tasks in a law school environment such as running a file, drafting letters to hypothetical ‘clients’ and more.

Reading Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide probably won’t turn you into the legal equivalent of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it does provide a solid foundation in legal writing skills that will help you to put a smile on your marker’s face and maybe turn those credits into distinctions.

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