When I was a lawyer for a minute or so, my supervisors praised my writing far more often than my substantive legal work. Luckily for those who are better lawyers than writers, the latter skill set is easier to learn. And for in-house counsel, being a better writer means those memos you send to C-suite colleagues and other corporate clients won’t lead to confusion and explanatory follow-ups.
Here are three simple tips for clarifying your legal writing style in the office:
1. Semicolons are not your friends
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen legal writing that uses a semicolon to string together sentences that span pages, then giving up corporate law for journalism wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The first rule of writing: Keep it simple. Chop up those marathon explanations into concise sprints. There’s no need for unruly compound sentences that only serve to confuse clients and, quite frankly, anyone trying to make sense of the law.
2. Keep a Thesaurus Handy
Whenever I write (legal or otherwise), I have a thesaurus sitting next to me—or more accurately, Thesaurus.com open on my computer screen. If you find yourself repeating an important word in a paragraph—don’t. Take the time to look for synonyms. This rarely takes longer than a minute or so and can drastically change your style for the better.
3. Proofread from the bottom up
Have you been working on that research memorandum or opinion letter for so long you can recite it? Then be sure to proofread it backwards. Once you know the material well, it’s very hard to disengage from the flow of the content and spot mistakes. But if you trick your brain by reading a document from the bottom up, they’re easier to find. And don’t think for a minute the errors aren’t there.