Legal Writing Tips

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These past two weeks, I have been grading my Year Two Legal Analysis take-home examinations. The exam is a legal writing exercise testing persuasive writing ability.  The students wrote a stakeholder report for Amnesty International in the Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America. Students drafted a section of the report arguing that the US violates its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Eighth Amendment and the US Code when it detains immigrants without offering medical care. Based on some common errors I noticed in their reports, I’ve developed legal writing tips to address two fatal flaws in persuasive legal writing.

Two Fatal Legal Writing Flaws

Each time students begin persuasive legal writing, they struggle to leave description and summary behind to leap forward to logical argumentation. Two weaknesses have emerged:

  • conclusory arguments, where intervening logic is missing; and
  • broken links, where standards and concepts are not properly connected.

Therefore, I have developed a way to help students identify these two flaws of legal argumentation. By placing a visual reminder in student’s drafts, they will be able to edit their work using two legal writing tips and tricks called “bridging the gap” and “linking.”

Bridge the gap in legal writing tips
Bridge icon

The videos in this blog explain each of the tricks. Bridging the gap is a way to help students stop making conclusory statements and walk the reader, step by step, through the logic. Linking is the way to connect case law

fixing the link in legal writing tips
Broken link icon

and statutes to the student’s own scenario or fact pattern.  Both can be visualized by placing an icon of a bridge or a broken link into the student’s draft to remind him/her that the argument could be better articulated by bridging the gap or fixing the broken link.


Summary of the Two Legal Writing Tips

Legal writing is really an exercise in taking what is in your mind and putting it on paper. At times, we ask the reader to take a leap of faith when we don’t put the step by step logic of how we arrived at our conclusion. In such a case, we need to bridge the gap by stating the standard, giving the application, the meaning of terms and phrases as well as the obligations of the parties. We can also list the key elements. At other times, we fail to get our reader from Point A to Point B because we don’t link our concepts, we simply describe and summarize. In such cases, we need to analyze the connections and make a link by comparing and contrasting or interpreting important provisions.

Watch the videos at the beginning and end of this blog page to see a step-by-step transformation of a legal argument through the use of bridging and linking.

Tip for teaching this:  Choose one paragraph in your student’s assignment or other written activity where you see a conclusory statement or summaries without connections. Mark the paragraph with a visual (bridge or broken link). Ask students to review the paragraph where you identified one of these writing flaws. Show them the related video. Then allow them to edit their own text to remedy the problem.  Discuss with the student the ways (s)he changed the paragraph to make the connection or bridge the gap.

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Legal Skills Lecturer in The Netherlands. (J.D. Columbia University; PhD Maastricht University International Human Rights Law.)

One thought to “Legal Writing Tips”

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