As strange as things may seem in the world right now due to COVID-19, summer is still on the horizon. Although we may not be enjoying the beach, traveling around or enjoying music festivals like we’ve done in summers past, you will still be required to execute nothing less than excellence for your summer job. Depending on the extent of state social distancing guidelines, it’s very likely that teleworking will be the reality of your summer experience. Considering this constraint, you may need to be prepared for minimal oversight of your writing assignments but high expectations for your work product. So, here are six legal writing tips to help you prepare and truly stand out in an unusual summer experience.
1. Understand the difference between law school legal writing and legal writing for your job
An important step, especially if you’re a 1L embarking on your first summer job, is to recognize the differences between law school legal writing and legal writing for your job.
Law school legal writing usually requires that students maintain a strict writing structure. In your first legal writing class, you may have been introduced to IRAC, or some similar writing standard that requires you to pinpoint an issue, state the rule, analyze how the rule applies to the issue and then conclude. Although understanding this structure is important and beneficial towards being a great legal writer, you must prepare to be flexible about this writing standard for your summer job. Being adequately flexible requires that you understand the call of your assignment and apply the structure that is most fitting. The call may simply ask you to find the rule and complete a quick analysis because the issue may have already been spelled out in your assignment and the assigning attorney may be less concerned about the conclusion and more so about how the rule applies. Therefore, don’t waste your time drafting a perfectly structured IRAC assignment when all these details were not requested.
Another important difference is the limited oversight you will likely receive at your summer job. Although the attorneys will probably provide feedback on your work and perhaps even fulfill a mentorship role, they are not your professors and thus they may provide very little guidance and will for sure not hold your hand through an assignment. Working remotely will also likely increase this difference, as you may not have the ease of access to your supervising attorney that being in an office would provide.
2. Prepare for the summer
Another important tip is to avidly prepare for your summer writing assignments ahead of time. Some summer jobs have already been pushed out to later in the summer due to COVID-19. Therefore, use any time you may have to read up on writing guidelines that will help you to effectively draft: legal memos, briefs, discovery pleadings and even legal blogging. Yes, you may have already learned some of these writing styles in law school, but you may have just learned one variation of these styles. Use this time to diversify your knowledge.
Also use this time to think about the writing style you would either like to learn or improve on during the summer. Understanding this gives you the opportunity to affirmatively let your supervising attorney know how you want to use your summer.
3. Understand the assignment
Understanding the assignment is perhaps the most important tip for good legal writing. If you don’t understand the assignment properly and turn in the incorrect work product, your assigning attorney may simply disqualify you for future assignments and provide no feedback on what you handed in. So, after you’ve received an assignment, ask as many questions as you can to confirm that you clearly understand. I recommend summarizing the request and restating it to the attorney to receive their confirmation. Within this summary, ensure that you affirmatively state what you believe the call of the question is and allow them to confirm or deny this understanding. Don’t allow your fear of the attorney or your fear of seeming stupid or unprepared, prevent you from asking questions. Your assigning attorney may understandably not be available to answer all of your questions, but be sure to speak to other associates and staff members such as the attorney’s paralegal or assistant for help. These individuals may have additional insight that the attorney may not have the time to offer.
4. Use your time efficiently
Ensure that you ask your assigning attorney for the due date of each assignment and use your time efficiently to prepare it. Unlike law school, you will not have an entire semester to draft one document. Instead, you may just have a couple of hours or just a couple of days to complete your research and writing for your assignment. This is why it will be important to understand the call of the assignment so that you don’t spend hours going down a rabbit hole or putting together an unnecessary IRAC writing structure.
Be sure to utilize templates so that you have a better understanding of a good structure to follow and if you can, use templates from the assigning attorney’s work product or from other associates who have completed successful assignments for that attorney.
Research the call of the question carefully. Never jump into writing before completing adequate research and hitting your loop. Don’t understand a topic? Begin your research with secondary sources to educate yourself, then jump into the primary sources once you have a firm understanding.
6. Ask for Feedback
Finally, ask for feedback. Don’t assume that attorneys will offer this automatically, especially if you’re not working from the office. After completing each assignment, make a point to ask your assigning attorney for just fifteen minutes of their time to offer feedback on your work product. If you’re working remotely you could even offer to schedule a quick call on their calendar which takes the onus off them to put something together.
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