What Is Legal Drafting?
Legal drafting is a structured method of writing legal documents, whether court pleadings or employment contracts, that abides by the law and includes legal language that's appropriate for the document and the situation in which it will be used. Those in the field may refer to legal drafting in the following contexts:
- Writing legal text in a binding contract. The words you write will describe the rights and responsibilities of the involved parties.
- Preparing any legal document, such as a legal letter or court motion.
- Getting involved in a legal transaction, which can include legal documents but also negotiation, representation of clients, and more.
Why Is Legal Drafting Important?
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Legal drafting is important because the process helps to make sure that legal documents are formatted correctly, that all parties who are involved in the document are happy with the details of it, that jargon is explained, and that everything you'll be presenting to the court or another presiding body is laid out as it should be. A legal document should explain its purpose, be amenable to all parties, and be drafted in such a way that it's legally binding and acceptable in the eyes of a court.
An error in a legal draft, however small, can severely affect the meaning of that document and have long-term consequences, especially if it's a legal document that is signed and executed and that all parties must abide by moving forward. A well-constructed document can make a big difference by helping an attorney win cases in court or preventing lengthy mediations in the workplace over an employment contract dispute.
How to Draft Legal Documents
When performing any legal drafting, an attorney should:
- Write with the recipient in mind. The language and amount of legalese in the document could differ depending on if the document is ultimately intended for a judge or for a layperson with no knowledge of the law who is signing a contract. The individual writing the legal document should be able to present a finished product that doesn't cause any confusion and allows the recipient to understand what they are reading.
- Use straightforward language. Even in the case of a legal document that contains negative issues by nature, a legal draft can still veer away from using offensive or negative language that can come across poorly to the end user. Instead, use straightforward language that educates, informs, and addresses the issue at hand directly without exerting too much bias or trying to appear confrontational to the document recipient.
- Avoid templates if possible. While some templates can be useful, it's essential to draft a document from scratch when able so that you aren't setting yourself up for potential plagiarism or for having items in the document that are incorrect or unverifiable. When you avoid templates altogether or only use them as a guide for your own document, you are enabling yourself to actually look up laws and other specific language that must be used in your document to make it as authentic and true as possible.
- Conduct legal research. Even if you think you're well aware of a particular law or very familiar with the outcome of a similar case that you're referencing in your document, conduct the research anyway. You don't want to have any erroneous information in your document, and you don't want to rely on your memory to get it right. Legal research will also help make sure that your document includes important and relevant background information that can set the stage for the rest of it.
- Structure the document appropriately. Depending on what the document is and who will ultimately need to see or use it can dictate how it's structured. All legal documents should be structured in a way that makes sense, but certain rules apply for different recipients. For example, a federal court may require that a pleading be written using specific language and in a particular structure, while a contract lawyer may have the ability to structure their contracts in a way that only needs to make sense to the named parties in the contract.
- Ask for and be open to receiving feedback. Especially if legal drafting is new to you, it can be a game-changer to receive feedback from the courts, your clients, a peer, or a mentor who has more experience with writing legal documents. Some of these individuals you can ask for feedback from before submitting your document while the court, for example, may provide feedback that you didn't even know you needed. If they have feedback for you on a document that has been submitted, take it in and remember it for next time. It's all a learning opportunity.
Legal Drafting Resources
Even highly experienced attorneys who have been drafting legal documents for a countless number of years could benefit from taking advantage of resources to help them draft up legal documents. Here are just some of the resources out there:
- Legal dictionaries: You'll feel a lot more comfortable legal drafting when you're able to understand legal language a little more. This is where a legal dictionary can help. In it, you can learn more about the language that's used in the field by attorneys, judges, legal scholars, and anyone who may be a part of court proceedings. Without the basic knowledge of how those in the legal field speak, you probably won't be able to form as effective of a legal draft as you otherwise may have.
- Form books: Form books house legal forms and example documents that you may find beneficial as you're structuring your own legal papers. Some form books are more generic, while others focus on a specific topic.
- Writing manuals: With legal writing, everyone has to start somewhere. Scholars and other experts in the field have created writing manuals that you can use as a guide for your own documents. These writing manuals go over things like legal style and plenty of how to's, including how to analyze your sources and perform research before writing, how to structure your documents, how to write effective briefs, and steps on editing your work. Those who are new to the legal field can use these as an important resource, while more experienced writers may use them to refine their work.
- Federal and state rules of procedure: Law, by nature, can be fairly structured, so it may not be a surprise to learn that there are certain ways to format your legal documents and record legal citations in your writing when you're writing to the court. There are rules of procedure on the federal, state, and even local levels, and familiarizing yourself with them can help your legal drafting process go a lot smoother.
- Citation style manuals: There are style manuals that focus solely on this. The world of legal citations and the different ways to write them makes citation style manuals a much-needed part of drafting court documents. There are different citation preferences based on the court that will be receiving the document. Citation manuals can guide you appropriately, so you are following specific rules for this part of your document.
Doing legal drafting correctly is a tricky process that often takes many years of experience to perfect. Consider hiring a contract lawyer through Contracts Counsel where all lawyers are vetted and handpicked to ensure you get everything done right.
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