WRITING LEGAL PAPERS - AN INTRODUCTION


          While earning your undergraduate degrees, you have probably seen or experienced the following phenomenon: A professor will assign a paper on a particular subject with a minimum page length of about 5-10 pages. Just before the paper is due, the student discovers (to their horror) that they have only 50%-75% of the required page length. This is where most students learn and master the fine art of adding unnecessary content in order inflate their page count.


          In law school, this horrible habit is the exact opposite of the skills you need to develop. A writing assignment in law school will usually give you a topic and a word limit that is way too small to hold a good argument, or so you will think. I  spent many a grueling night trying to figure out how to remove entire paragraphs from my papers without ruining their content in order to meet these torturous word limits. As painful as this process can be, it will teach you how to write better by forcing you to write only those words which advance arguments; such is a great skill to have and to learn early on in your law school career.

 

LEGAL WRITING REQUIRES:


Organization / The IRAC Method:
       There is a lot to learn, or unlearn, about the IRAC method depending upon your previous experience with it. First, the acronym I.R.A.C stands for Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion, and is usually taught as the standard way to order a legal analysis. Although, unless your professor specifically tells you otherwise, your paper should rarely follow the IRAC method to a "T", but should only be used as a guideline because legal analysis will never be this straight forward. Don't let your writing suffer by following rigid organizational rules blindly; you should blend, mix, and order these functions as necessary within your paper. Again, much more on this subject can be found within my article on The IRAC method.

 

Introductions are Key:
       Start with a strong introduction that names your conclusion as well as every issue that you will be addressing. Order this introduction identically to how the issues will be addressed, like a map of your paper. Here, you can also give the give the reader a brief overview of the strongest facts, rules, and logic that will be used to reach your conclusion. This will help the reader get a grasp on your analysis beforehand and thus, help them digest the dense material contained within the rest of your paper.

 


        What I like to do is to lightly outline my paper on my laptop, with headings for each issue, along with rules and facts. I would save that outline for later use, and then condense my entire outline into a single paragraph which creates an introductory paragraph almost ready to go, after some fine tuning and additions to make it readable, of course.

 

Logical Order Is Necessary:
        Embedding logic into your writing is necessary enough for any persuasive writing, but is especially critical to legal writing and in particular, minimalistic writing (below). For each and every assignment, there will be a finite number of facts, issues, rules, and applications that your conclusion will depend upon. Let's say there are 5 of these elements labeled as A, B, C, D, and E. If issue A has nothing to do with Rule B, don't mention them together. If issue A involves both Rules B and C, don't make them completely separate entities, blend them to keep cohesiveness to your arguments. If all five elements are loosely bound together but also not the heart of your argument, give them a paragraph each within your paper as their own mini-IRAC. This is pretty simple stuff, but these are things which might be overlooked when struggling through a dense assignment, and which will strengthen your writing skills while simultaneously lowering your word count. Outlining beforehand can really help you with this aspect.

 

Write Minimalistically:
         To write a good legal paper, or to at least get it under the specified word count, you are going to have to think about every paragraph, every sentence, every word, and every punctuation mark with a critical eye. For each one, ask yourself, "does that really need to be there?"  Basically, every sentence you write should regard a necessary element of your paper, and that element should only be addressed once; redundancy is useless. More information on this can be found in Legal Writing-Minimalism (link to be added).

 

Precision :
     There are hundreds of punctuation & citation rules that you will have to use, and which I am not even going to begin typing. Thankfully, the ALWD is a reference book that will serve you faithfully when searching through the hundreds of obscure citation styles used in legal writing, which you will lose points for if omitted or if typed incorrectly. It is a necessary evil, and you have to have it (or else borrow one from the law library every day).

 

In Conclusion, if you start working on these skills early, you should be ahead of the curve. Mastering legal writing is essential to making good grades on papers and exams, and there will be many more detailed articles on the subject coming soon.