Legal writing is a type of technical writing used by lawyers, judges, legislators, and others in law to express legal analysis and legal rights and duties.
Legal writing in practice is used to advocate for or to express the resolution of a client's legal matter. In most legal writing, the writer must back up assertions and statements with citations to authority.
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A 150-page merger agreement between two large corporations, in which both sides are represented by counsel, will be highly formal—and should also be accurate, precise, and airtight (features not always compatible with high formality). law schools teach legal writing in a way that acknowledges the technical complexity inherent in law and the justified formality that complexity often requires, but with an emphasis on clarity, simplicity, and directness.
A commercial lease for a small company using a small office space will likely be much shorter and will require less complexity, but may still be somewhat formal. Yet many practicing lawyers, busy as they are with deadlines and heavy workloads, often resort to a template-based, outdated, hyperformal writing style in both analytical and transactional documents.
Legal writing is of two, broad categories: (i) legal analysis and (ii) legal drafting.
Legal analysis is two-fold: (1) predictive analysis, and (2) persuasive analysis.
To the extent that formality produces opacity and imprecision, it is undesirable.
To the extent that formality hinders reader comprehension, it is less desirable.
This is accomplished by a unique and complicated citation system, unlike that used in any other genre of writing.
The standard methods for American legal citation are defined by two competing rule books: the ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation and The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Legal writing values precedent, as distinct from authority.
Or a lawyer who has filed a successful motion to dismiss a lawsuit may use the same or a very similar form of motion again in another case, and so on.
Many lawyers use and re-use written documents in this way and call these re-usable documents templates or, less commonly, forms.
Some of this formality in legal writing is necessary and desirable, given the importance of some legal documents and the seriousness of the circumstances in which some legal documents are used.