Writing is an important part of your job as a member of the legal support staff. To advance your career, dedicate some time to improving your writing skills, so you are seen as someone who can be relied on. This will help you earn the most intriguing and challenging projects and make you a go-to part of the legal support team.
To Begin: Practice
The more you write, the better you get. Spend some time every day to write, even if it’s only a few minutes.
Get Back to Basics
While most of us learned grammar, spelling and punctuation in school, the further you get away from those days, the tougher it is to remember specifics. Consider investing in books such as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or visit websites like Grammar Girl which shares “Quick and Dirty Tips” about grammar. There’s no reason you can’t have a little fun while learning. If you’re still feeling uncertain, sign up for a class, either one of the free ones available online or a course offered at a local community college.
The best way to become more expert at legal writing is to read the work of those who have more experience. Look for the tone, structure and vocabulary used by legal writers. Read broadly both inside and outside your field. Spend time on legal briefs, opinions, pleadings and decisions. The more you see the material, the more comfortable you will become.
Imitate the Best
This is a common trick used by professional writers who copy the work of their favorite authors to learn the patterns, cadence, vocabulary and voice. There is no reason you can’t do the same with the work of more experienced colleagues in your office, or authors of important legal documents.
Outline Before You Start
An outline gives you a framework to build from and ensures you don’t miss any points you want to address. It doesn’t need to be the traditional format with Roman Numerals and letters, just jotting down the main points that are essential to cover is enough to keep you on track. You can later rearrange the points to make sure they flow logically.
Write First, Edit Later
You may have heard the expression “Write drunk, edit sober.” Clearly, as a legal assistant, drinking on the job is not a good idea. But this saying is not meant to be taken literally. The issue being addressed is that writing uses the creative part of your brain, while editing uses the more analytical side. That makes trying to write and edit at the same time frustrating and close to impossible. Accept that your first draft will be rough. Get your thoughts on paper as they flow, then go back and clean them up to turn your diamond in the rough into a polished piece.
Remove extraneous words. Shorten sentences. Replace words that are imprecise.
Swap With a Colleague
If you have a co-worker who is also interested in improving their writing, trade off practice or actual pieces now and then. Chances are you will spot areas to improve upon in each other’s writing more easily than you will in your own.
If you’d like more ideas on how to make yourself more marketable as a legal support professional or to land your next ideal job, contact the legal recruiting professionals at Kent Legal.