As a paralegal, you’re going to do a lot of writing. It may be your responsibility to write demand letters. It may be your responsibility to draft motions. It may be your responsibility to draft answers from scratch or to customize answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, or requests for admission. Regardless of the type of writing that you may be tasked with, there are 3 things that you absolutely must know (and should take advantage of) when it comes to completing your task.
Your Audience Is Important
Consider who will read your work. The words you use in a motion or a letter to an attorney will be different than the language that you use with an average person. When you’re writing to an individual who is not part of your law firm, another law firm, or a member of the court, use normal words. If you must use legal jargon, make sure that you give a definition. It is extremely important that your audience understand what it is that you’re writing about.
If you’re writing to someone in another legal office, your terminology can include legal terms, but it is incredibly important that it is still well put together, professional, and easy to follow. Relational aspects and tone are extremely important. Even though you’re on opposite sides of a case, you want to remain professional and friendly.
If you’re writing to someone who is a member of the court, be professional. Make sure that you include all of your contact information. Your letter should be as succinct as possible to respect the time of the court.
If you’re still in school, write all of your projects as if you are talking with another legal professional. You may want to define terms to show that you understand the information that you’re mentioning. Always make sure that you respect any page or word count maximums imposed by your instructor.
Know When to Use Active and Passive Voices
In most of your writing, you should focus on active voice. An active voice engages your reader and strongly makes your points. When you are writing about allegations that involve the other party, such as their negligence or possible involvement in the legal issue at hand, make sure that you write in active voice. These are the items that you want your readers to focus on.
Passive voice shouldn’t be ignored. It definitely has its place. You can use passive voice when you write about your client’s possible involvement in the issue at hand. Passive voice directs less focus toward what you’ve written. Since you can’t leave out pertinent information related to a case, it is best to lessen the impact of your writing. Law Practice, a magazine by the American Bar Association, has a great online article regarding the use of active and passive voice in legal writing. Make sure that you read it and implement the tips in that article.
Use the Sandwich Technique
When you’re writing, you can use the sandwich technique to minimize the involvement of your client. You would start your written work by writing in an active voice to explain what the other side did or didn’t do. In the middle of your work, you would write in passive voice to minimize the involvement of your client. Then, you write in active voice again to re-emphasize the liability of the other party. Using this technique, you’re providing all of the facts, but you’re putting the focus of the audience on the other party at the beginning of your writing and then refocusing them back to that point at the end.
Use these writing techniques and leave a comment for us here about how they worked for you and let us know about any writing tips that you have for paralegals or paralegal students!