Legal writing challenged me. I was already a good writer: I obtained my bachelor's degree in English literature, and I had written more academic papers than the average college student. I thought I’d earned my right to proclaim mastery. However, legal writing was radically the opposite of everything I learned in my B.A. program—so much so, that it leveled the playing field and catapulted me to the starting line again with everyone else. The literary world is all about creative freedom and self-expression through liberal use of writing devices like metaphors, allegory, etc. In contrast, legal writing is technical or business writing where clarity of thought and economy of words is key. To master legal writing, I had to unlearn deeply instilled and contrary habits.
I proudly give credit to where it is due: I attribute my legal writing skill set to an excellent, well-rounded paralegal education, resulting in an associate degree at my state community college. I’ve flourished in my role as a paralegal, not because of any single writing course, but because of my entire two-year curriculum, which has set me head and shoulders apart from my peers. Though I had formal writing courses to teach me legal writing, my entire degree program gave me top-notch training to read, think and write about law.
If you’re choosing a writing program for paralegals, learn from my experience! I’ll share the aspects of my program that prepared me well for my role as a paralegal. I recommend you look for these elements in any writing program you choose.
Elements of a Strong Paralegal Training Program
Instructors with Experience as Legal Practitioners
All my instructors played a crucial role in imparting the legal writing process. The fact that they were all licensed attorneys reinforced my confidence in the quality of my training program. From practitioners, I learned how to read and think about contracts, civil procedure, tort law, etc. Practitioners have themselves been through the required rigors of legal education. By statutory authority, since only they can employ paralegals, it makes perfect sense that practitioners are best suited to prepare paralegals. Getting the full practitioner perspective in my instruction was invaluable to me. Even now, a few jobs later, its impact has not waned, and I remain highly confident that I had the best paralegal education money could buy.
Scaffolded Core Curriculum
The structure of my program's core curriculum helped me develop my legal writing skills. The core curriculum focused on essential legal writing courses for understanding the basics of law, laying the foundation for everything else.
Interestingly, my core legal writing course was a two-part affair: a course called "Legal Research and Writing", followed by a course called "Legal Writing". I remember learning all the basics in the first course using a textbook with the same moniker. The second course was a logical extension to the first course, so it had no textbook and entailed only weekly legal writing assignments leading to a final research project. One semester was ample time to practice reading, thinking and writing in depth about law.
Lessons on Legal Writing Methodology
My two semesters comprised of explicit focus on the IRAC method, which is considered the scientific method of the legal field. IRAC is an acronym: Issue, Rule, Analysis (or Application), and Conclusion. It is the legal convention on how to read, write and think about law. It begins with identifying the legal issue (I) to be resolved. Next is the applicable rule of authority or law (R) to be used in the analysis (A) considering the fact pattern. Finally, the conclusion (C) is the resulting outcome of the analysis. IRAC sets the standard for lawyers to be textual gladiators of the English language and to read and process law. Paralegals are extensions of lawyers and should have the same IRAC-trained powers with which to assist their lawyers effectively.
While logical structure is key to legal writing, we must also leave room for creative processing to put the pieces together. The greatest lesson my training program taught me is that legal writing is not a monolithic process. As with any good writing, it begins with the nebulous mental processing of initial thoughts. From brainstorming to fruition, so much is happening in the synthesis of ideas and conceptual framework behind the scenes in the darkness of our minds. The unseen gears for reading, thinking, and writing about law are simultaneously engaged. Legal writing is rightfully a mindset, although pedagogy necessitates separate processes.
The journey to build a strong foundation in legal writing may vary from person to person, but legal writing education can be highly effective in building your professional writing skills. Education is an investment of time and money, so put thought into choosing which writing program will help you grow. I found success through a paralegal training program taught by instructors with experience in the legal field. The well-thought-out, scaffolded curriculum helped me build my knowledge. Importantly, my writing program also armed me with the methodology and reasoning skills to tackle legal writing, then allowed me to put theory into practice to build my writing experience. Keep these elements in mind as you evaluate a writing program: who is teaching your courses, how the will the information be delivered, and how will they help you practice?
Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice good writing habits. Legal writing skills don’t stop developing after your training program ends—you must continue to improve as you go. There is always more to learn and more to practice. Whether you’re a paralegal starting in the field or an experienced paralegal seeking to hone your skill set and expand your toolkit, there are legal writing courses out there for everyone.
About the Author
Lisa Chung is currently a litigation paralegal in employment law and a pre-law student. She is a Chinese American who immigrated with her family from China to the U.S. for a better life. Lisa's greatest passion is to pay it forward to help others achieve their own American Dream regardless of race, sex, caste or religion.
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