6. Gather resources
Reading writing references and style guides will enhance your skills and help you internalize sophisticated writing advice. To ease into this new resource, try light-hearted language and usage books like Eats Shoots & Leaves. Then work up to reference guides like the Redbook or Garner’s Modern English Language Usage. To learn about combining writing strategies with narrative form, consider Writing to Be Understood.
These resources will help you learn the nuances of the writing rules you thought you’d mastered in middle school. Plus, the guides will be there for you when you have a question.
7. Practice using simple words for complex topics
Read short blogs or listen to interviews and podcasts with lawyers, doctors, and scientists about current events. In these contexts, even experts tend to use more informal language. You’ll learn that effectively communicating about a complex topic doesn’t require jargon or long sentences. Training your eyes and ears to associate legal topics with simplicity will help you do the same.
Over time, legalese will feel complicated, unnatural, and dull to you—just like it does to your audience. To check your writing for natural flow, try reading sentences aloud to a colleague or use the automated reader feature in MS Word.
8. Listen to live sports commentary to remember action words
To make the active voice and action words feel familiar, try listening to live sports commentary. It’s fast-paced, direct, and engaging. You’ll immediately notice the difference when you return to legal content. When you return to writing, put the actor first; don’t use passive voice unless you’re strategically distancing the actor from the action. Like the sports commentator you just heard, choose action verbs to paint a clearer picture of important events in your reader’s mind. With action words, you’ll write a compelling, direct argument with details that persuade.
9. Make a “junk drawer” for extra words
Once you’ve written the words, it can be hard to cut them later. This task is easier if you have somewhere to collect wording that you’re not sure you want to cut. While you’re reviewing your work, try moving what you’ve cut to another document. It will feel less like “throwing away” work and more like saving it for later. Treat it like a junk drawer: no organization needed. In your main document, you can refine and polish what’s left on the page. You may realize that this “junk drawer” document consists of only discarded words and phrases, or beautiful but irrelevant sentences. Try out editing software to help you polish your legal documents more efficiently.
10. Get a writing coach
It’s tough to change your writing style. A writing coach will help you understand when to follow rules and when to break them. Writing coaches can also help you determine the strengths of your writing and what you can improve.
There are two choices: internal or external. A coach outside of your firm can help you work on your writing exercises without signaling to your firm that you’re struggling. But your firm won’t worry about confidentiality issues if you use an internal writing coach. As a bonus, using firm resources signals your commitment to professional growth. Regardless of who you choose, working monthly with a personal coach will help you progress toward your goals.
The Faster Way to Get Started
Becoming a better legal writer will take years. It’s time well spent: a better writer is a better lawyer. There is simply no substitute for honing your craft and pushing your writing to be the best it can be. Artificial intelligence will likely never change that. Writing is a human skill.
While software can’t write for you, it can help you cut bloated prose and focus on clearly and concisely conveying what matters most. It’s immediate, inexpensive, and will pay for itself in the time it saves.
Edit for Clarity and Brevity with WordRake
WordRake helps make your documents shorter and more readable. It improves legal writing by simplifying and clarifying text, cutting legalese, and recommending plain English replacements. WordRake identifies commonly used legal words and phrases, such as “in addition to,” “pursuant to,” and “in accordance with”—and replaces them with simpler words such as “besides” and “under.” WordRake also removes redundancies and fixes cumbersome phrasing.
WordRake is lightning-fast and uses the familiar track changes feature. It shows all recommended edits at once. You may accept or reject each change. By clicking through and reviewing each change, you will be forced to rethink your writing, which helps you grow as a writer and editor in the long term as it improves your writing in the short term.
Built-In Benchmarking Tools
For writers who appreciate aggregated feedback and “scores” to benchmark your writing against, readability statistics are built into MS Word. WordRake has customized the built-in readability feature so it works better for sophisticated writers. The well-known Flesch Reading Ease test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test have been part of MS Word for years; the WordRake software includes a narrative summary and contextual benchmarks for these tests. Once the MS Word built-in feature is turned on, it will automatically run after spell check. You can run WordRake’s Check Complexity tool by launching it from the WordRake ribbon.
It takes time, practice, and effort to become a better writer. Fortunately, you can start producing better legal documents today. Using WordRake means your documents will immediately and noticeably improve.
Better still, by using WordRake regularly, you will start to recognize your own mistakes and self-edit as you work. As you get better, you will expect more from yourself. You’ll see more writing that can be tightened and improved, and you’ll catch inconsistencies before you’re ready for final review. You’ll even start to compete against the software and challenge it to find errors in your work!
By writing frequently and regularly using WordRake, that common writing advice will start to make sense. You’ll find that short and simple is better. You’ll recognize when your draft is as long as it needs to be, but no longer. And with a little prompting from software, you’ll see that good writing comes from rewriting. Get a 7-day free trial of WordRake today.
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Chief Strategy & Growth Officer for WordRake. Prior to joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2020, Ivy was recognized as an Influential Woman in Legal Tech by ILTA. She has also been recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.