As an attorney, your most fundamental tool — the one you use to advocate, persuade, and inform — is language. In a system where most civil cases settle before trial, your ability to write effectively is one of your most important legal tools. The results you get for your clients can often depend on the clarity and persuasiveness of your writing.
How to Write More Effectively
As with any skill, there is always room to improve your writing. To that end, there is a wide range of tools available to build writing skills, both general and legal. Some of these tools are free; others charge subscriptions or one-time fees.
Tools for Avoiding Common Mistakes
- Grammarly: in addition to highlighting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, Grammarly spots plagiarism, missing words, and incorrect use of soundalikes such as you’re/your and affect/effect. It can also tell you what tone it perceives in your writing (formal, friendly, etc.). Several plans are available, from a basic free version to monthly plans that check for more improvement areas and offer more advanced suggestions.
- Cliché Finder: This free app spots cliches, spelling mistakes, and some commonly overused words. Paste your text into the browser window and click for the result.
- Word Counter: This free tool gives you a ranked list of the most frequently used words in your text so you can spot repetitions. It also indicates your text’s reading level (e.g., “college student”) and how long it would take the average person to read it or speak it aloud.
Tools to Improve Your Writing Style
- Hemingway App: This tool helps you edit to achieve bold, clear writing like that of the novelist for which it was named. It highlights sentences in yellow or red depending on how convoluted they are. It also points out passive voice usage, marks words that weaken your writing, and suggests alternatives. The Hemingway App requires no internet connection, can export to Word or publish directly to WordPress or Medium, and costs $19.99.
- Brief Catch: This tool reviews your written documents to fix errors and improve the concision and “punchiness” of your writing. It offers multiple alternatives for improving each issue it spots. To make the process more fun, it works like a game, awarding points for each improvement you make. Brief Catch is a $20/month subscription service that offers a two-week free trial.
Tools to Engage Your Audience
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Craft more powerful headlines make the section headers in your brief command attention. Input your headline, and it suggests ways to improve it. The app is free but requires you to fill out forms and provide some details to get your results.
- Readable: This tool spots spelling and grammatical mistakes, but its main feature is analyzing your text’s readability to determine whether it is appropriate for your target audience. Readable can also analyze your entire website, providing a report that “grades” each page of your site for readability and gives pointers for improving problem areas. If you subscribe, it automatically works, monitoring your site over time as you add content and alerting you when your content needs improvement.
A Final Word
Not only will improving your writing benefit your clients, but it will also protect your professional reputation. Penn State Law School compiled a list of cases that include these painful comments:
- “By submitting a poorly written brief, the attorney fails the Court and the client.”
- Plaintiffs must amend their complaint because its “incoherence, … circular and convoluted sentence structure” and “needlessly verbose, tangled, fractured, and repetitive” sentences failed to meet the “short and plain statement” requirement of F.R. Civ.P. 8(a).
- Defense counsel’s writing “was more like a stream of consciousness than an articulated legal argument…. The Attorneys should give serious consideration to not practicing in the United State District Court until such time as they have demonstrably enhanced their practice skills.”
Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of criticism like this. Even if you’re already a competent writer, enhancing your skills can only help your clients and career.