As an attorney, the ability to write, proficiently, is imperative. Writing in the law is a form of art advocacy in its most creative form. The goal is to paint a pathway that leads to an obvious conclusion, one that the reader could and should have reached on his or her own when given the same information.
I have found over the years that there are numerous diverging opinions with respect to the proper style of legal writing in general, largely when it comes to formatting and vocabulary. In law school, I was taught to use a very conservative approach to formatting. We were told that the use of bold, italics, underlining and/or caps would not necessarily serve us well especially if combined. That is not to say that I was taught never to use these formatting options, just to use them conservatively.
In practice, I happen to be a fan of the fun options Microsoft Word has to offer, when used appropriately. Keep in mind, however, that "appropriate" formatting is clearly subjective and largely depends on one's audience. I appreciate appropriate formatting when both reading and writing, as it is a critical component of the organization and ease of reference that should be incorporated into every legal document. I have offered my opinion as to what I find to be appropriate formatting below.
On the other hand, I tend to side with what I learned in law school: the plain language style of writing when it comes to vocabulary, rather than the traditional "legalese" approach. In practice, I have read through many case decisions, contracts and briefs and just shook my head. As attorneys, we all understand legalese (hopefully), and I do believe that some degree of formality is necessary in legal writing. However, I don't think anyone actually enjoys the task of interpreting excessive archaic legalese. These days, outside of contracts and release agreements, especially with the use of electronic communication, it appears that we are progressing into the plain language style of writing, at least in this geographical region.
In addition to formatting and vocabulary, it is critical that our writing tells a story that the reader wants to hear one that is set forth in an organized, grammatically sound and efficient way.
A Writing Journey
When I first decided that I would be an attorney, in fourth grade, I had no idea what it meant. Obviously, I was not a huge fan of writing and did not understand the importance, even through high school. I remember my senior year of high school, turning in a paper that was required to be 10 pages. It was only one page. I remember thinking that even if I got a bad grade on the paper, I would still do well in the class based on an evaluation of my other work. I was right and still got a good grade. However, I did not realize how the faulty foundation would affect me in my professional future.
In college, I remember hearing my professors say that the practice of law is centered on reading and writing. I ignored their warnings, still thinking I could get through with the half-effort attempt that I had previously made in high school. And I did. Again, I did not enjoy writing, so I did what I could to avoid it. I graduated college and was accepted into law school; however, my writing skills were still less than adequate.
It was not until my first year of law school that I realized the importance of being able to write efficiently and grammatically correct. In law school, the expectations were high. I needed to remove the fluff, get to the point and be persuasive an art I had no idea how to achieve.
So, I went back to the basics. Adverb ... adjective ... linking verb. That's right, way back to the basics. I knew that in order to become a proficient legal writer, I needed to build the appropriate foundation. I needed to make sure I knew how to form an appropriate sentence and paragraph before forming an appropriate IRAC or CRAC analysis. And so I took a basic writing course. Embarrassing as it may be, I found it extremely helpful. Actually, it was a defining moment.
From that point on, I realized that being able to write is a gift something to be treasured and I took pride in writing. When I received an award for legal writing in law school, I finally became confident that this was something I could do.