Have you ever received a legal document and felt completely overwhelmed by what you're reading? You're not alone!
Legal texts stuffed with industry jargon and complex sentencing is enough to put off even the most astute English aficionados, let alone the average client.
The key to drafting legal documents that are easy to read and interpret is direct language, simple sentences, and the use of layman's terms.
Here's the lowdown on how to write legal documents anyone can understand!
Drafting Legal Documents: How to Keep It Simple
Technical documentation is integral to any law firm. These legal documents are, essentially, the backbone of the business and where important case details can be found.
Without accurate documentation of a lawsuit or any other legal issue, it may as well have never happened. But this doesn't mean legal documents should be indecipherable to those reading them.
For all law firms, regardless of their niche, it's important to create readable legal documents for the benefit of their clients.
Here's how to write a legal document in 10 simple steps:
1. Plan Out the Document Before You Begin
This is where you'll lay the foundation for the document you'll be drafting. You'll need to establish a few document essentials. This includes:
- Who you're writing for (your target audience)
- Defining the purpose of the document in a lawsuit or legal issue
- Including all necessary facts, statements, and information
- Confirming the exact style guide and terminology
- Identifying other members who will add to the document and their responsibilities
- Organizing your document resources to ensure they're on-hand for all technical details
Once you've established all this, you'll need to sit down and plan out your timing. Create a rough yet realistic timeline for writing, reviewing, revising, and editing.
It's important to understand that your document may go through several revisions and edits. It's important to account for this in your timeline too!
2. Write with Clear and Concise Language
Always keep your sentence structure short and concise in legal writing.
At the beginning of your document, you'll need to define all technical terminology that's used consistently throughout your writing to avoid confusion.
Try to avoid the use of long, complex words when simpler alternatives will do. Write sentences efficiently and keep things to the point.
3. Ensure the Correct Use of Grammar
This is an important point. Yes, the correct use of grammar and spelling is imperative for all professional documentation. But grammar is especially important for ambiguity in legal writing.
You'll need to be fastidious about the use of your grammar and punctuation in order to avoid confusion in your legal text. If not, this will only distract your reader and take away from the true meaning of what you're writing.
4. Be as Accurate as Possible
This is a no-brainer with regards to legal document drafting, but accuracy is a vital part of the job.
Ensure that all document content is true and detailed and vetted by an industry professional or expert where needed. Just one small inaccuracy can create a world of doubt with regards to the validity of the document.
5. Make Information Accessible
Legal documents tend to be long and time-consuming to both compile and read. Make it easier on your readers by defining important sections of the document for easy reference.
Use tags, reference points, and color-coded markers in the document where all relevant information can be found with paging through wads of paper.
6. Ensure All Necessary Information Is Included
This may sound obvious -- it's a legal document, after all. But it's important to decipher between what's necessary and what isn't.
A legal document must supply all technical information needed. But unnecessary footnotes, anecdotes, and long-winded explanations are distracting.
7. Always Use an Active Voice
Using the active voice in your writing is essential for eliminating confusion. Basically, it outlines who must perform what in a sentence.
Passive voice only makes sentences longer, creating more opportunity for ambiguity within your legal text. Passive verbs usually end with ''en'' or ''ed.''
An example of using a passive voice: ''The legal document was written by the lawyer.''
Instead, this sentence can be simplified by using an active voice: ''The lawyer wrote the legal document.''
Don't make the mistake of reversing the natural, active order of your English by falling into the use of passive voice!
8. Pay Attention to Imperatives
This is especially pertinent in legal texts because imperatives are used to define a legal obligation. In other words, an imperative outlines a legal instruction.
Common imperatives used in legal documents include the words: shall, must, will, and should. Using the right imperatives in your sentences helps to clearly define your meaning.
For example, ''shall'' creates a sense of obligation, but can also be interpreted as optional. If you want an instruction to be translated as legally obligatory, it's better to use the imperative ''must.''
9. Use Direct Language
This is similar to the use of active voice in your writing and helps to define instruction within a legal document.
Regulations, procedures, instructions, and lists of duties must all be written in direct language to avoid confusion or creating the illusion of ''optional''.
An example of direct language is: ''Sign all copies and return as instructed.'' Ultimately, this style of writing results in procedures that are easier to understand and carry out.
10. Use Consistent Descriptions
Finally, always keep your content descriptions consistent throughout each section of your legal document.
This means that you should avoid using too many variations of works to denote the same thing. Once again, this could create confusion.
Using a synonym, rather than repeating the same word is not recommended in legal writing. Just stick to consistent wording and you'll avoid ambiguity.
For example, choose to use the word ''motor vehicle'' and try not to change between ''car,'' ''vehicle,'' or ''automobile.''
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