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The Real Value of Legal Writing

Like beauty in the eye of the beholder, the value of legal writing depends on perspective.

In Los Angeles, for example, an attorney may bill $500 an hour to draft a document that a Dallas lawyer would do for $250 an hour. It's not really about quality; it's more about who's paying the bill.

The irony is that lawyers, as a whole, don't write that well. They just bill that way.

"Most Important Skill"

Lawrence Trautman, a professor of law and business ethics, says effective legal writing is the "most important skill" law students will learn in their career.

However, he writes in the The Value of Legal Writing, Law Review and Publication, lawyers generally write poorly. He offers a long list of reasons, such as:

  • They learn from other poor legal writers
  • They rely on poorly written form documents
  • They think their writing is above average

His observations are not all bad news. His point, he says, is to encourage law students and legal professionals to improve.

Beyond the First Year

Most law schools teach legal writing in the first year, then leave students to figure out the rest. Good legal writing takes a lot more than that.

Like a true academic, Trautman says law students and lawyers should publish. Law review offers more than a credential, such as peer review, real-world research, and contributing to the law.

Law journals -- and increasingly online publications -- also give students and practitioners a way to market their skills. The journals may not pay, but the education is invaluable.

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