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  • Writer's pictureWenee Yap

How to Write a Legal Essay

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Legal essays are a strange quirk of study. While they are the bane of your existence throughout your law school life, stealing time and driving you to sleep-deprived delirium at least twice every semester, they cease to bear much significance as a practicing lawyer – unless you choose an academic career or publish legal research.

Despite this, the act of researching and writing essays for law does have a valid purpose – it provokes critical thinking, fluent and succinct written expression, and that most essential mantra of higher level education: assume nothing, question everything. In any case, ongoing legal research and publication deepen both your knowledge of the law and perhaps a particular specialisation, and make you more authoritative professionally.

Joshua Knackstraedt, a practising barrister, immediate past president of NSW Young Lawyers and member of the ABC Advisory Council, stressed that skills like essay writing and problem solving for law are developed over time. Rather like laying siege or wars by attrition, it is a process of patient and constant practice.

“When you read, you only absorb a very small percentage of information,” said Knackstraedt. “It is a good idea to take notes while you read.” For exams, he suggested a review of your notes and any guidance given by the lecturer on what topics will be covered in the exam. “Writing essays is a different skill. I found that headings and sub-headings are worth using in legal essays: they focus your thoughts and those of the reader and provide the basis for a structured and logical argument.”

Faced with writing a 2,000, 3,000 or 12,000 word essay in a ridiculously short timeframe? We suggest you keep the nervous breakdowns at bay (and hold off on the No-Doze, it’s for truckies) by breaking down your essay into smaller, more manageable parts and dedicating 300 – 500 words to each section.

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