Legal Writing Tip: Learning to Convey Your Expertise

Leslie A. Gordon

You’re a lawyer, not an academic. In briefs, opinion letters and client communications, you must convey your expertise simply, even when describing something complex. Consider yourself a technical writer, a knowledge expert just like a software manual writer, whose job is to assimilate information for the reader.

Here are some tips for drafting more like a technical writer.

First, plan. If you don’t, you’re just setting yourself up for more work later. Planning forces you to hone your logic and to construct orderly and integrated arguments. Planning enables you to discover themes that will resonate with readers and allows you to more easily incorporate new information discovered later. Planning helps you anticipate readers’ objections or concerns and ensures that you’ll adopt a measured, rational tone rather than one that’s frantic or desperate. Planning forces you to know and prioritize your points, which will prevent over-description without analysis and unfocused recaps of history or facts.

Like a technical writer, use tangible examples to explain your points, always choosing the concrete over the abstract. To this end, don’t be afraid to use visuals such as tables, figures, bullet points and numbered lists to illustrate relationships, sequential values and to make comparisons. (But don’t waste precious real estate referring the reader to a visual; rather, give the information and then put it in parenthesis (example: Table 2).)

Use smooth transitional sentences to connect ideas and to keep your reader alert.

Repeat information only when necessary. Use meaningful section titles to repeat effectively.

If you must use acronyms, abbreviations or legal or industry jargon, always explain – but just once. When citing sources, don’t repeat the primary source language any more than required to accurately convey the idea. Instead, put the idea in your own words, which will demonstrate to the reader that you’ve truly analyzed it.

About the author:

gordonA former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. She is the author of Cheer: A Novel, which is available on Amazon. She can be reached via email at leslie.gordon@stanfordalumni.org. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @LAGordonWriter.