As attorneys, we are trained to pay close attention to the letter of the law. We must analyze wording thoroughly and choose our own words meticulously when writing legal documents. While this practice helps make us better lawyers in general, if we’re not careful, it can also cause us to develop some bad writing habits that bleed over into other areas of our practice. Let’s discuss a few common bad writing habits lawyers may struggle with, and what to do to compensate for them.
Writing as Though Everyone Is an Attorney
As with many professions, attorneys tend to develop a form of shorthand when communicating with one another. There’s nothing wrong with this practice, of course, but when you carry that shorthand outside the attorney circles, it can become problematic. Many lawyers end up talking or writing over their clients’ heads because they’re so accustomed to using terminology or abbreviations that not everyone has a background for. When communicating to clients and prospective clients, take a minute and edit yourself, making sure you explain terms that may otherwise be unclear.
Writing for Precision over Readability
Lawyers know the right words matter, especially in legal settings, so we’re conditioned to look for exactly the right word. Unfortunately, that practice can make your writing drab, technical and downright boring—which is fine if you’re drafting a law, but terrible if you’re writing a blog, a book or a marketing piece. Your audience should inform your writing. If you’re writing for a judge or a member of Congress, be as technical and precise as you like. If you’re trying to get new clients for your law firm or educating your current ones, you must tone down the technical jargon and look for more interesting ways to express yourself.
Sloppy Writing Habits
Another bad practice attorneys develop, ironically, is simply sloppy writing, filled with typos and grammatical errors. There’s a simple reason for this: We’re overworked and charging by the hour, and we don’t always have time to clean up whatever it is we’re putting down. When this habit bleeds over into our marketing content or client communiques, it can make you appear unprofessional.
Tips for Improving Your Writing Habits
Knowing these common bad writing habits, what can you as a lawyer do about them? Some tips that may help:
- Remember your audience. Before writing anything, stop and ask yourself, Who am I writing this for? Answering that question will help you write more purposefully and carefully.
- Be mindful of your purpose. The next question to ask is, Why am I writing this piece? Are you crafting a legally binding contract, marketing to new prospective clients or explaining legal procedures to the uninitiated? Each of these purposes requires a different writing style.
- Hire a writer and/or editor. If you find yourself struggling with your writing due to the nature of your work, consider hiring someone to edit your pieces, or even a third-party copywriter to handle your outbound content. This strategy may be especially useful when marketing your firm.
Our firm specializes in helping lawyers keep their messaging clear and well-presented, especially from a business and marketing perspective. To learn more, call our offices today at 888-207-2869.