This month, we wanted to talk about legal writing in the workplace. Sure, this is mid-school year, but many students are thinking about upcoming internships, externships and even summer associate positions. It is time to start thinking about legal writing outside the context of your legal writing class. And start to find your legal writing voice to be used in the workplace.
You have likely done some practical legal writing as part of your school’s legal writing requirement. This may have gone well or it may have not. I will be honest, my first semester of legal writing did not go well.
My grade first semester was a huge disappointment. I got this information while staying with my great aunt and grandmother in rural Ohio and logging in on my aunt’s very large desktop computer (because this was a while ago, and I didn’t carry a laptop everywhere and … gasp … there were not even iPhones!). The news hit me pretty hard. I had considered myself a good writer. I mean, I had jobs where people had paid me to write. But what was clear from that grade is that I had yet to learn how to write in a legal voice and shift my writing style to what was expected of me.
So that was my focus second semester — changing my writing to match what I read in cases, briefs and other legal documents. I looked at different styles that I liked, found easy to read and were clear and concise. I studied how legal writers made counter-arguments and used cases to make their argument (or dismiss authority that went against their arguments). It wasn’t easy, but I started to see that I could do this, it was just going to take some time, some effort and a willingness to let go of the way I had written before.
When I entered the workplace, first as an extern and later as a summer associate, I really tried to observe how those around me worked. Sure, I made some mistakes (some glaring, hey – it happens to the best of us), but I also tried to be thoughtful about presenting myself in a professional way. I had the benefit of having worked before law school, so this was not my first office job. I took the corporate skills I had before law school and applied them to the legal workplace. I was careful with emails, I proofread everything (sometimes twice), asked questions, took notes, and looked for examples to base my work on. And little by little, legal writing became more familiar to me. It started to flow like it was coming from me and not a legal writing robot (that is sort of what it felt like in the beginning).
When you are in the workplace, you need to keep in mind how to be a professional and how to be an excellent legal writer. This month we are going to share some tips for how to approach your writing assignments in the workplace, building on what you have already done at school. We are also going to talk about how to appropriately ask questions and clarify assignments. And some best practices for working with email.
Remember, when you enter any workplace you are building your professional reputation. That doesn’t mean that you won’t make some mistakes (Yikes, I did!), but you want to avoid the avoidable mistakes and present the best professional version of yourself.
We know you are studying for finals and working on getting everything done for the end of the semester. We hope you can save some of this content to review during your winter break as you re-focus for next semester and beyond.
Good luck with your final exams and have a wonderful holiday season!
I wanted to share what I have been reading this month:
- Living Well and Raising Hell (Please look for her podcast interview on the Law School Toolbox Podcast this month!)
- Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture
- This is so Awkward: Modern Puberty Explained
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