Traditionally, the task of legal writing has been assumed by the attorney. Increasingly now, however, paralegals are being asked by their supervising attorneys to prepare a variety of legal documents. Some documents are created for internal purposes, relied upon by the attorney in preparation for litigation or an appeal. Other documents are reviewed by the attorney, revised, and ultimately filed with the court. In law offices of all sizes, it is not uncommon for experienced paralegals to write case briefs, research memoranda, motions, memoranda of points and authorities, and even appellate briefs.
Legal writing can be intimidating for the most seasoned legal professional. Approaching your next legal writing assignment does not need to be a daunting experience if you can remember this pneumonic device:
Every Outstanding Paralegal Knows How to Write Well and Effectively.
The first letter of each word corresponds with a tip to help propel your legal writing skills. If you follow these ten tips, you will be well on your way to torture-free legal writing!
Tip #1 – Establish a G.O.A.L. for your writing project.
Before you put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, you must first gather some essential information. This information is the GOAL of your project.
* G stands for the ground rules for your project. Whether you play golf, Monopoly, or checkers, a thorough understanding of the rules of the game is paramount. The same principle holds true in legal writing. Familiarize yourself with the document format that should be followed, the type font and font size that are required, and the margins that are acceptable. If you are writing a document that will be used internally, be certain to follow the format preferred by your attorney. Use samples of previously submitted work as a guide in completing your assignment. If you are preparing an appellate court brief, you should know the procedure for incorporating references to the record and the transcript. If you have any questions about the technical requirements for your document, ask your attorney or consult the local rules of the court where the document will be filed. Or, call the clerk of court. Because failure to follow the court rules may be grounds for the clerk to reject your filing, it is always prudent to ask questions and get it right the first time.
* O stands for the objective of your project. Now that you know the ground rules, you need to know how to “win” the game. What is the purpose of your assignment? Are you writing to inform or to persuade? Are you writing a research memorandum to inform your attorney about the client’s viable defenses under state law? Or, are you writing to persuade the court to deny the opposing party’s motion for summary judgment? Understanding the objective of your project enables you to better approach the way you conduct your research. Keeping the objective in mind also helps you focus and structure your writing, safeguarding against the likelihood that key information will be overlooked or omitted.
* A stands for your audience. Whether you are writing to your attorney, another paralegal, opposing counsel, the client, or to the court, it is important to tailor your writing style, tone, and formality in a manner appropriate for your intended audience. For example, the use of contractions is generally considered too informal when writing to the court, but may be acceptable when writing a research memorandum to your attorney.
* L stands for the limitations for your project. When your attorney gives you an assignment, you should confirm the due date. If you are preparing a document that will ultimately be filed with the court, you should also know the filing deadline. Depending upon the type of document you are preparing, it will be important to know the applicable statute of limitations for the cause(s) of action being asserted. Additionally, you should consult the court rules for any restrictions on the number of pages your document may include and the number of exhibits that may be appended.