Written by: Leigh Perkins // Nov 7, 2019
Last updated: Nov 13, 2019
Almost all legal work depends upon the written word, so paralegals must know how to draft flawless and persuasive submissions to the court, emails to clients, internal memorandums, wills, resolutions, contracts, and other legal filings. Your writing tasks will be varied, but each document will be critical to the success of your cases and to your firm's communications. If you’re considering a career as a paralegal, you should know the top 5 reasons strong legal writing is important for paralegals.
No. 5: It Makes Your Case More Credible
To make your case convincing, you must present your argument with precise legal writing. Paralegals draft and edit a range of documents: motions, briefs, promissory notes, loan agreements, trust indentures, wills, plea agreements, etc. According to the paralegal association, NALA, more than 69 percent of respondents to its 2018 survey of paralegals work in private law firms, where they are involved in civil litigation, family law, personal injury, criminal law, and mass tort litigation, among others. Without question, the complex legal responsibilities of a certified paralegal demand the highest quality editorial skills.
Because errors, misspellings, and improper usage can undermine even the most thoughtfully reasoned argument, your paralegal training will help you master punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Even skilled legal writers can be guilty of common mistakes, such as these 15 words and phrases you may be using the wrong way. Paralegal training and practice will minimize such mistakes and maximize the credibility of your documents.
No. 4: It Makes Your Argument More Persuasive
Paralegals must write logically and concisely for a purpose: You are trying to convince the reader or in some cases the audience. According to Paralegal Alliance, in the opening paragraphs of any legal document, you should present the reader with the specifics of the applicable law, the legal question, and the key facts to reveal a path so the reader will arrive at the conclusion you desire. Writing to persuade includes:
- A clear argument
- Presentation of evidence and facts
- Anticipating counterarguments
- A request for action or resolution
No. 3: It Gives Clarity to Your Argument
Remember the last time you read a riveting novel and you came upon the words insofar and aforementioned? Of course you don’t, because heavy, extraneous vocabulary kills the narrative. But legal documents are famous for archaic transitions, jargon, run-on sentences, and verbosity. None will do your case any favors. What’s more, nothing muddies your argument more than disorganized structure. Know your audience (a judge is a different reader than a new client), begin with a topic sentence, avoid redundancies, and use headings and subheadings to break up blocks of text. Readability goes hand in hand with the clarity of your argument. In other words, disorganized documents do not help you make your case.
The ABA Journal offers attorneys tips for better legal writing. Paralegals will benefit from these pointers, too:
- Include your summary’s conclusions on page one.
- Keep sentences comprehensible and short (fewer than 75 words).
- Strike a balance between stiff contract-speak and overly familiar conversational language.
- Follow the approved citation form.
- Delete everything that’s unnecessary, down to the comma.
- Don’t shortcut the proofreading stage.
No. 2: It Affects Your Firm’s Reputation
Imagine an opposing lawyer receiving a brief you composed that is riddled with passive construction, legalese, misspellings, and factual errors. What would that lawyer assume about the professionalism of your firm or agency? What would it do to the reputation of your team? Your written work as a paralegal represents your attorneys and your clients, so you must always draft top-notch documents, free of errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar, with proper citations and in the appropriate format.
Although many people inaccurately believe writers are born, not made, precision in writing is a learned skill like any other. USF’s four-month intensive Paralegal Certificate Program provides detailed instruction so you will be able to expertly craft memos of law, discovery documents, interrogatories, and more. Taught exclusively by active, sitting judges, the program trains you to create legal documents and support materials that enhance your firm’s reputation.
“When you take this program, you will draft more documents than a first-year law student,” said attorney Richard B. Herman, one of the leading defense attorneys in the United States, a CNN contributor, and proponent of USF’s approach to training certified paralegals.
No. 1: It Can Be the Difference Between Winning and Losing a Case
Integral to your role as a paralegal is writing in preparation for court proceedings. Courtroom interactions and presentations are handled by attorneys, but they’re dependent upon your written communication skills, from first correspondence through plea agreements and resolutions. The focus of your writing will likely vary from week to week, day to day. You may be called upon to interview clients. The content of those interviews must be conveyed concisely and accurately. You might draft settlement agreements or prepare internal documents in preparation for trial.
It almost goes without saying: In circumstances of such important legal consequence, it is imperative that you draft logical, brief, error-free, and properly formatted documents. Your firm’s case – winning it or losing it – could depend upon the accuracy and clarity of your legal writing.
One more important point: As a paralegal, you often serve as final proofreader for documents drafted by your firm’s attorneys. You have to know your stuff, so it pays to be detail-oriented, precise, and expertly trained.
Are you ready to launch or advance your paralegal career? USF’s Corporate Training and Professional Education’s flexible Paralegal Certificate Program will prepare you to go to work as a certified paralegal in just 13 weeks, learning on campus in the evenings or online.