When I started law school, I considered myself a good writer. So I figured that Legal Research and Writing was going to be a breeze, because I had always excelled at writing classes.
Know what? My first semester Legal Research and Writing grade was the lowest grade I got that semester.
I will be honest — I had a mini breakdown over this. I was devastated. I questioned my ability to be a lawyer. I wondered whether I had made the right decision to leave my job and go back to school. I had a serious crisis of faith. And I was embarrassed. All in all, it wasn’t a great afternoon when that grade was posted.
But I didn’t drop out and I went back to school in the spring. I was determined to better my LRW grade. I met with my professor to go over my last final exam. I did all of the practice writing assignments and got as much feedback as possible. And while I was doing all of this, I had an epiphany: No one cared what I thought was the best way to write a Legal Research and Writing assignment. What mattered was that I learned how to do it the right way (or at least the way the professor wanted it)!
Legal writing has its own style. You will learn about IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion), which is the basis for most legal writing. It can feel awkward and foreign at first, but it is the foundation for most legal writing (including many judicial opinions).
Organization in legal writing is not something to get creative with. Typically, organization comes from the law itself. The law will tell you what to write about first, then second, and how to complete the analysis. Leave your creativity at the door. You need to lay out the assignment in the legal way, not according to whatever you think best.
The change for me came when I realized that I needed to make my legal writing sound like the cases I had read in class and less like myself.
I needed to adhere to the formula to make sure I got the maximum points possible. Oh, and I needed to make sure my citations were correct (they should not be ignored in a legal paper). Once I abandoned my own writing style, I started getting much higher scores. In fact, second semester I high-scored my Legal Research and Writing class. That’s right, baby! A+! I had redeemed myself as a writer in my own eyes.
Does this mean that my writing is still boring and formulaic? What is interesting about legal writing is that the longer you do it, the more it becomes your own. Your own voice starts to shine through the IRAC formula. You start to sound like yourself again even though you are writing in a different style. It happens organically and with practice. But without learning the formula first (and at times forcing yourself to write in the formula) your voice will not be able to come through, while still adhering to legal writing norms.
Think about how you learn a foreign language. When you are learning it, you typically sound a bit awkward and speak in a very formal way. You don’t really sound like yourself (well, at least I don’t). But after a while, your voice comes through. Legal writing is no different.
I wish that I had paid more attention to the legal writing I was reading every day to prepare for class, in order to better absorb the legal writing style that was going to be required of me. But once I started learning from the cases I read and emulating the writing, my own writing became stronger and in the end received high scores on exams.
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Here are some other helpful posts:
- Secrets to Starting Law School Right — Hey, Do You Know How to Memorize Stuff?
- 5 Tips for a Great Legal Writing Assignment
- Lessons from My 1L Year
- The Shock of Being Back in Law School
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