How These 3 Legal Skills Can Help You in Your Writing
From legal to literary, how lawyers operate can help you with writing more effectively.
After 3 arduous years of late-night trips to the library and pouring over case law until I went cross-eyed, I graduated from law school in 2019. Despite the immense pride that I have of my socially admired law degree, the year that I have spent as a freelance writer since graduation has brought me more personal and professional accomplishment than I could have ever predicted. After many formulated theories of why this is, I have now concluded that the legal skills of learning how to isolate issues effectively, scrutinize in-depth and predict problems before they crop up have also benefitted me greatly as a writer. Law schools across the world possess a gleaming list of alumni who are world-famous for their success, influence, and prosperity. From U.S. Presidents to CEOs, many successful individuals from across the board have all come from a legal background. However, it’s not just captains of industry and bankers that benefit from a law-school education. From John Grisham to John Cleese, the way lawyers think can also be incredibly beneficial from a literary and art perspective.
To spice up your writing, here are a few legal skills that are as useful in your writing office, as they are in a courtroom.
1. Put yourself in the shoes of the opposing counsel
In this case, the counsel is your audience. Although fellow attorneys may know obscure terms of legalese and jargon, it may seem unfamiliar to the ears of a jury member. If you’re writing for a mass publication, write for the masses. If you’re writing for a niche, keep your writing niche. Knowing your audience is as key for writing as it is in a legal capacity.
2. Collate your information and define your case
A beginning, a middle, and an end are both relevant in a legal argument and a fairy tale. However, unless your writing is for a bedtime story, your language needs to be relevant, and every word needs to have content. Lawyers place importance on collecting their evidence, collating their information, and building their case effectively and logically. In the same way of writing, writers need to ensure that every paragraph boils down to the main one-sentence thread of the message they are trying to communicate. The first sentence of every paragraph should set the stage for the play, and every substantiated sentence is one of substance. In the process of editing, you should progress with the mindset of “If I deleted that word, would it change anything?” If the answer is no, then it has to go! Filler is for bricks, leave it there.
3. Take a S.I.P
Who gulps down any new drink without tasting it first? Whether you’re in a bar, an attorney’s office, or your comfy writing spot, you need to take a S.I.P first.
Scrutinize the issue
Every word needs to be examined, analyzed, and questioned on what it means. Is there any word that is obscure and unclear in its meaning? In a legal capacity, any ambiguity can point to misinterpretation, and thus running the risk of losing your case. Armed with attention to detail and the “clear-cut” approach of the legal world, writers need to ensure that their writing is not blocky, convoluted, and running the risk of being miscommunicated. If there is anything that diverts from your message and what you are trying to say when writing, you need to ensure to steer it back on track.
Identify the problems
When examining their cases, attorneys put themselves in the place of the opposing counsel to identify and isolate any holes, problems, or issues that can be picked apart in a counter-argument from the opposition. It is no different when it comes to an author and their audience. If there is any ambiguity in the message you are trying to get across, you are isolating your audience. Your writing should be clear-cut with no room for arguments, legal or otherwise.
Rock-solid arguments with no room for ambiguity and plenty of relevance is the key to success in the legal world. Arguments need to be convincing with no discernible questions being asked on its purpose or applicability. If there any holes in your writing, close them. If there are any questions that your audience may pose, answer them. You only have one chance to communicate with the audience — you need to make it as convincing, relevant, and informative as possible.
From following these 3 very useful legal skills, one could observe that the law is a lot more useful in the literary world than just ironclad contracts and copyright agreements.