venerdì 25 novembre 2011

Seven Ways To Improve Your Legal Writing Skills

The written word is one of the most important tools of the legal profession. Words are used to advocate, inform, persuade and instruct. Although mastering legal writing skills takes time and practice, superior writing skills are essential to success. Polish your legal writing skills through the simple tips below.

1. Remember Your Audience

Every word you write should be tailored to the needs of the reader. Documents that embody the same research and message may vary greatly in content and tone based on the document’s intended audience. For example, a brief submitted to the court must advocate and persuade. A memorandum to a client must analyze the issues, report the state of the law and recommend an appropriate course of action. Always keep your audience in mind when crafting any piece of writing.

2. Organize Your Writing

Organization is the key to successful legal writing. Create a roadmap for your writing by using visual clues to guide the reader. Introduce your subject in an introductory paragraph, use transitional phrases (“moreover, “furthermore,” “however,” “in addition,” etc.) between each paragraph, introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence and use headings and subheadings to break up blocks of text. Limit each paragraph to one topic and sum up your message with a concluding sentence or paragraph. Organizational structure guides the reader through your text and promotes readability.

3. Ditch The Legalese

Legalese - specialized legal phrases and jargon - can make your writing abstract, stilted and archaic. Examples of legalese include words such as aforementioned, herewith, heretofore and wherein. Ditch unnecessary legalese and other jargon in favor of the clear and simple. To avoid legalese and promote clarity, try reading your sentence to a colleague or substituting abstract words with simple, concrete terms. For example, instead of “I am in receipt of your correspondence,” “I received your letter” is clearer and more succinct.

4. Be Concise

Every word you write should contribute to your message. Omit extraneous words, shorten complex sentences, eliminate redundancies and keep it simple.
Consider the following sentence:
“Due to the fact that the defendant has not attempted to pay back the money owed to our client in the amount of $3,000 it has become absolutely essential that we take appropriate legal action in order to obtain payment of the aforesaid amount.”
A more concise version reads: “Since the defendant has not paid the $3,000 owed our client, we will file a lawsuit seeking reimbursement.” The latter sentence conveys the same information in 18 words versus 44. Omitting unnecessary words helps clarify the meaning of the sentence and adds impact.

5. Use Action Words

Action words make your legal prose more powerful, dynamic and vivid. Add punch to your writing with verbs that bring your prose to life. Here are a few examples:
Weak: The defendant was not truthful. Better: The defendant lied.
Weak: The witness quickly came into the courtroom. Better: The witness bolted into the courtroom.
Weak: The judge was very angry. Better: The judge was enraged.

6. Avoid Passive Voice

Passive voice disguises responsibility for an act by eliminating the subject of the verb. Active voice, on the other hand, tells the reader who is doing the acting and clarifies your message. For example, instead of “the filing deadline was missed,” say “plaintiff’s counsel missed the filing deadline.” Instead of “a crime was committed,” say “the defendant committed the crime.”

7. Edit Ruthlessly

Edit your writing ruthlessly, omitting unnecessary words and rewriting for clarity. Careful proofreading is particularly important in legal writing. Spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors in a document submitted to the court, opposing counsel or a client can undermine your credibility as a legal professional.

by S. Kane

venerdì 4 novembre 2011

The collapse of the trial of two footballers has renewed debate about England's contempt of court laws

This is not the first time that a judge has halted a trial in England because of prejudicial publicity. But it's unusual for the case to be stopped so late in the legal process. The case centred on allegations that four men, including two well-known English footballers, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, attacked an Asian student in Leeds city centre -- inflicting grievous bodily harm. All the defendants have denied being involved.

As the jury was deliberating its verdicts in the original trial, the judge called the proceedings to a halt, after deciding that a newspaper article about the case was potentially prejudicial. This area of law, known as contempt of court, is familiar to all properly trained journalists in England. They must avoid publishing or broadcasting any material that poses a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing a fair trial. Although the stipulations are laid out in law, the question of what constitutes a substantial risk is open to debate.

prejudicial publicity: information about a case which is not given in court but which could change the jurors' opinion

allegations: an allegation is a statement suggesting that someone has done something wrong

grievous bodily harm: very serious physical injury

denied being involved: said it was not true that they took part

verdicts: a verdict is the decision given at the end of a trial

contempt of court: the criminal offence of disobeying instructions from the judge or a court of law

stipulations: conditions: if you stipulate that something must be done, you state clearly that it must be done

constitutes: if something constitutes a particular thing, you can regard it as being that thing