I recently asked several of our claims attorneys to identify the top habits they felt new lawyers should develop from day one. Most of what they shared was what I anticipated claims attorneys would say; but one item caught my attention, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right they were. In short, all lawyers, not just new lawyers, need to know how to write well.
The professional writing you do, be it an email to a client, a brief filed with a court, or a response to opposing counsel, can all too readily say more than you might intend. For instance, think about the hastily written email composed with little forethought or a legal brief impetuously penned under a time crunch. In short order, you could come to realize that, well as the Hagrid character from the Harry Potter series would sometimes say, “I shouldn’t have said that.”
The correct choice of words and proper grammar matter because poor writing often results in the sending of a secondary and unintended message that can all too easily say something about your competency, sense of civility, or personal integrity. The better the writing, the lower the risk of having your words say more than you intend.
Start by being intentional, as opposed to impulsive. Allowing your emotions to get the better of you with any work-related writing is asking for trouble. Even better, and if time permits, read aloud what you’ve written or set it aside and come back to review it a day later. Both approaches can help you avoid saying something you might regret later on.
Be concise and write to your audience. For example, if your audience is a non-scientist which of the following two sentences more clearly answers the question what color is the sky? 1) “Only on days when the sky isn’t completely saturated with an aerosol of a visible mass of minute liquid droplets, the gas molecules that make up the earth’s atmosphere will, through a process called Rayleigh scattering, absorb light waves with shorter wavelengths and then radiate this energy back out into the sky in many different directions which will result in anyone standing on the ground on such a day seeing a blue sky,” or 2) “On clear days, the sky is blue.”
In a similar vein, use plain English instead of confusing legalese with all of your writing because a writing full of gobbledygook serves no one. Consider poorly drafted legal documents. If the understanding you intended to convey is eventually misinterpreted by one or more of the parties due to the inclusion of such gibberish, you’ve may have a very serious problem on your hands.
Finally, proofread everything you write and don’t rely on spellcheck. Better still, have someone else review what you’ve written for two reasons. First, a fresh set of eyes can often catch a few typos you’ve been missing; and second, it’s a great way to confirm that your words are being interpreted correctly.
(Did anyone catch the typo?)
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.