Description

Legal writing is a type of technical writing used by professionals in the legal field. Judges, attorneys, paralegals, and clerks are some of the most common titles held by those in this area. Most of the time, legal writing deals with analyzing and understanding intensely legalistic language and deciphering it for a non-legally-educated audience. It also deals with assessing legal doctrines to either provide aggregating or mitigating arguments for a case. These arguments are found by picking out facts from the specific case(s) at hand and comparing them with decisions made by courts in the pasta process known as stare decisis.

Legal writing is also a means of communicating intentions, arguments, facts, conclusions and correlating cases or documents that help prove an argument to others in the legal profession.

Due to its broad nature, the term legal writer is very rarely posted as an open position. While job-hunters may locate a position in this specific form, it is more typical to find jobs that require legal writing within them, not as a defined role, but as a defined skill. The basics for three more specific and common job titles are outlined below.

Paralegal Responsibilities and Experience Required

According to the National Center for State Courts, a database which offers legal job descriptions from real positions around the country, a paralegal has many legal writing responsibilities. Under the supervision of an attorney, a paralegal reviews legal files for accuracy. He or she may also prepare cases for final disposition and prepare written reports for attorneys. An individual will also prepare writs, orders, and other court documents depending on the day or court schedule.

Due to the nature of their work, paralegals do not need a Juris Doctorate. However, most firms require an Associate’s degree or graduation from a specific paralegal program. Paralegals should not only be prepared to read, interpret, and write legal documents, but also to handle the case load of their superior lawyers.

Many paralegal jobs require a paralegal certificate from an American Bar Association accredited institution. Other job listings, especially those in small counties or for small private firms, may list a certificate as preferred but not required or not mention it at all. Many jobs also require a four-year college degree.

Most paralegal job listings require previous experience as a paralegal or working in a law firm. Required experience tends to be listed at anywhere from one to three years to a minimum of six years. Some job listings allow for education to replace some or all of the experience requirements.

In addition to education and experience, paralegal positions also tend to ask for proficiency with Microsoft Word and other computer programs. Other common skills asked for include the ability to work under pressure, strong written and communication skills, and the ability to meet deadlines.

Law Clerk Responsibilities and Experience Required

The NCSC also listed several law clerk positions and responsibilities. Again, the type of firm will vary the daily tasks of law clerks, but most function quite similarly. Many must draft legal memoranda, opinions, and orders. This requires deep understanding of legal terminology and technical writing. Writers must be clear, concise, and use proper terms to portray the correct message and tone to their audience.

Law clerks also analyze statutes, regulations, and substantive issues in the areas of habeas corpus, civil rights, discovery, social security, and other civil matters. They should have critical reading and writing skills, in order to thoroughly analyze and interpret dense legal documents with the utmost detail. Law clerks may also review briefs, trial records, and existing laws in order to draft clear memoranda and proposals.

Reading and writing long, possibly antiquated documents will be a daily task, so clerks must have a keen eye and a meticulous sense of detail.

Law clerks are usually current law students or recent graduates. Positions almost always specifically ask for at least one completed year of law school, though some require the completed Juris Doctorate degree. Some employers require or prefer previous experience in a law firm or experience working in the type of law the position is related to. Experience is not a requirement for most law clerk positions, as current law students or recent graduates dominate the field.

Law clerk job listings require proficiency with computer programs like Microsoft Word. The ability to do legal research is also a typical job requirement. Many list strong organization and communication skills as requirements for the position.

Staff Attorney Responsibilities and Experience Required

The NCSC website lists a Staff Attorney position in Family Administration for the Administrative Office of Courts in Annapolis, MD. The ad states, “Position will be responsible for writing/editing articles and other resource materials for litigants in domestic and juvenile case types.” Interestingly, this job requires mostly editing and writing, combined with a law degree and legal experience.

This particular employee might also be responsible for improving the readability of legal forms and documents to improve public knowledge and comprehension of a particular case or document. A staff attorney is responsible for planning conferences and workshops for the public, so that they may become more aware of the specifics of family law. In this aspect, a staff attorney must become a translator.

Employees in similar positions may also be responsible for creating and updating a law branch’s website. This would make case law available not only to judges and attorneys, but to the general public as well. Thus, the writer must have good editing skills, write clearly, and have the ability to transform complex legalities into comprehensible common English. (Legal job descriptions, 1992).

Staff attorney jobs require a Juris Doctorate degree from an ABA-accredited law school and most require completion of the local BAR exam. Many require post-degree work in a law firm. Others require unspecified legal experience.

In addition to degrees and experience, job listings for staff attorney tend to require certain skills. Some ask for proficiency in Lexis, Westlaw, or other legal research services. Proficiency with Microsoft Suite programs is also a common requirement in job listings.

Resources for Legal Writers

Bouchoux, D. E. (2005). The Aspen handbook for legal writers: A practical reference. New York: Aspen Publishers.

Good for: An interactive guide that breaks down legal writing at the sentence level, with examples for each of the topics it outlines.

Ellinport, J. M. (1997). Tools of the trade: Practical legal writing for the 21st century. San Francisco: Austin & Winfield.

Good for: Examples of different types of legal writing, with practice and answer sections at the end of each topic.

Faulk, M., & Mehler, I. M. (1994). The elements of legal writing. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co

Good for: A thorough breakdown of the strategies behind good legal writing, moving from tone and audience to syntax and transitions. Also provides 135 “take-home” points.

Pryal, K. R. G. (2011). A short guide to writing about law. Boston: Pearson Longman.

Good for: A higher-level analysis of the steps that go into producing legal writing, including information on research and formatting sources. Also includes a large glossary of legal terms.

Legal job descriptions. In (1992). National Center for State Courts Retrieved from http://www.ncsconline.org/d_kis/jobdeda/jobs_legal.htm

Good for: An in-depth list of nationwide legal positions, offering vivid job descriptions, daily duties, qualifications, and expected salaries. This site is a government database, so it includes actual legal positions in many different states.

(2001). The resource page: focus on legal writing. The Court Review, Retrieved from http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/courtrv/cr38-2/cr38-2resource.pdf

Good for: Gives multiple resources in books, websites, and articles on legal writing, with provided abstracts on each resource.

Painter, J. M. P. (1993). Legal writing 201: 30 ways to improve readability. In Plain Language Association International (pp. 1-28). Cincinnati, OH: Taft Law Center. Retrieved from http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/legal/legalwriting.pdf

Good for: Provides an Ohio Court of Appeals Judge’s opinions and expertise on how to write clearly and concisely in the field of law. He breaks down several rules, and includes the dos and don’ts of legal writing.

The Plain Language Action and Information Network Website: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/

Good for: Understanding why the Plain Language Movement came about, and accessing resources helpful to understanding how to synthesize legalese into an entirely more understandable language.

Froomkin’s Legal Writing Tips from Osaka Law: http://osaka.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/writingtips.html

Good for: Assessing the style and mechanics that should be used in producing effective legal documents.

Bibliography

Bouchoux, D. E. (2005). The Aspen handbook for legal writers: A practical reference. New York: Aspen Publishers.

Ellinport, J. M. (1997). Tools of the trade: Practical legal writing for the 21st century. San Francisco: Austin & Winfield.

Faulk, M., & Mehler, I. M. (1994). The elements of legal writing. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co

Jobs and recruitment. (2011, March 24). Retrieved from http://www.jobsrecruitmentonline.com/job/view/id/64706540

Legal job descriptions. In (1992). National Center for State Courts. Retrieved from http://www.ncsconline.org/d_kis/jobdeda/jobs_legal.htm

Legal writer job. (2012, April 18). Retrieved from http://jobs.thomsonreuters.com/

Neumann, R. K., & Simon, S. (2011). Legal writing. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Aspen Publishers.