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3 Ways Lawyers Can Write Better by Writing Simply

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 16, 2016 2:57 PM

Lawyers are writers by trade, but we're not always good writers. At times, legal writing can be so convoluted that it serves more to obfuscate than illuminate. First, we're not against complex, even difficult writing. Complicated thoughts can require complicated sentences. But even the smartest of us can come off looking incomprehensible when we make our writing too complicated.

If you want to write better, try writing more simply. Here are three tips to help you out.

1. Focus on Readability

If you're writing for clients, a general audience, or pretty much anyone besides the court and counsel, you already know that you're not writing for attorneys. But did you know that most Americans read at about an eighth grade level? (That's more USA Today-style writing than The Paris Review.) Yet a lot of legal writing is written at levels that make it too challenging for the typical reader. Most corporate terms of service, for example, have a reading level well above that.

If you want someone to understand or act on your writing, keep readability in the forefront of your mind. That means using short sentences, active verbs, common terms, and even bullet points when necessary.

2. Cut out the Legalese

Save the common man and your fellow attorneys some headaches by dropping the unwieldy "party of the first part" and obscure Latinisms. Brendan Kenny, on Lawyerist, recently put together a lengthy argument as to why attorneys need to drop the legalese, which we recommend checking out. Here's a quick cheat sheet, though: unless it's a term of art, get rid of convoluted phrases. Those include "all and singular," "affiant saith not," and asking people to "please find" anything enclosed.

3. Focus on Concision

"Brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes," Polonius declares in Act 2 of Hamlet. But even that is a bit too wordy for some.

When it comes to writing, keep it quick and short.

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