Whether it’s IRAC, CIRAC or CRRACC, we’ve all learned some variation of a standard acronym which has served as the core of our legal writing. While these acronyms are certainly beneficial in putting together a clear cut argument, they aren’t the magical ingredient to improving your legal writing. In fact, using these acronyms as a crutch could actually be hurting your writing style. Now I’m not saying that these acronyms are ineffective or obsolete because they will actually be relevant for the remainder of your legal career. But you need to consider where they will become relevant. Determining this relevance may largely depend on your audience. Your audience should perhaps be one of your most important considerations if you want to improve your legal writing style. I know we all learned to apply these acronyms on auto pilot in our first year writing course but, depending on who you’re writing for, a general IRAC format may not be acceptable. Additionally, if you want to improve your writing you should heavily consider: the type of document you’re drafting, avoiding legalese in an effort to just sound smarter or taking advanced legal writing classes.
1. Consider Your Audience
- Are you Writing for a Professor?
If you’re preparing a document for a law school professor, it’s important to determine exactly what writing style your professor wants. If you’re taking a traditional first year writing course, then it’s probably safe to say that applying IRAC will be acceptable in preparing your legal document. However, it’s important to not assume that every professor will want this format. As you take advanced writing courses such as a seminar or directed research study, it’s important that you check with your professor to determine what style they want from you. Do they want you to just jump right in with a conclusion? Do they want more of a narrative style? Be sure to confirm this with your professor before beginning an assignment.
- Are you Completing an Assignment for an Internship?
Writing for a summer internship may be the first time you realize that the writing style you learned in law school can sometimes be inapplicable to the real world. Many attorneys dislike the IRAC format we learn in law school, and they will not hesitate to let you know that an assignment you worked on all week is unacceptable. So, before delving into a work assignment, find out exactly how it should be drafted. I’ve found that attorneys prefer if you give them the answer to what they’re looking for up front and then support it throughout your document. Also, don’t be afraid to review a document written by your assigning attorney. This will give you a template of the style they may want you to apply.
2. Find Your Writing Voice
If you want to improve your writing style, another point to keep in mind is that your writing should reflect your voice. Not all legal documents are the same, and they will require the right voice if you want your assignment to be acceptable. Finding the right voice is something that I struggled with during my 2L summer. When writing, I would sometimes be too objective when I should have been more argumentative and vice versa. Being a great writer means that you should be able to apply the right voice, whether that may be objective or persuasive to a document.
If you’re writing a memo, it’s important that your voice remains objective in your findings. I know it may be difficult to not just focus on the side you agree with, but it’s more important that you present all sides of the argument and then suggest which argument would probably be best based on your research. Whereas, if writing a brief, your voice should be more argumentative. You want to present all sides of the argument and the flaws in all the sides, but advocate for the side that works best.
This is admittedly something that’s quite tricky to master, but as you continue to get more writing experience and feedback, it should become second nature.
3. Avoid Legalese
Attorneys are very well known for coming across as stuffy know-it-alls who essentially speak their own language. As a first year law student, you may be confused as you see certain words used in complex legal opinions or throughout your case book. However, once you get to learn legal jargon it’s easy to fall into the trap of using legalese in your writing. I will admit that these words do sound pretty fancy and may even make you feel smarter when you’re able to shoot them into an assignment. However, legalese may actually be hurting your writing style.
If you’re preparing an internal document such as a memo for another attorney to review, you can probably get away with using legalese. But what happens when you’re preparing a letter to a client or even a contract? These are documents that will be reviewed by clients and just like you were dumbfounded by legalese during 1L year, they will be just as confused when they see these complex terms bouncing off a page they’re supposed to approve and sign. Keep it simple! A client will thank you for this.
4. Take Advanced Writing Classes
Another great way to improve your writing is to take an advanced writing course during law school. Yes, your first year course will teach you a lot. However, these courses may actually restrict your writing style as they oftentimes fail to teach you how to actually write in the legal profession. These advanced courses will usually delve deeper into the tips I’ve applied above and provide you with more of a realistic writing guide.
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