Principles of Legal Writing

This article is intended for an overview on legal drafting and difference of legal English and general English. The principles are based on personal practical experience and observation of legal writing of Justices, Judges, eminent lawyers, senior colleagues and  book of known legal authors. The information shared in this article would definitely helpful to develop understating with legal English and drafting fundamentals.

1. Difference between Legal English & General English for communication.

Before to begin with legal English, we need to understand the difference between Legal English and plain English. Plain or general English writing  is used for communicating thoughts, observation, stories, description etc. but legal writing is slightly different. Legal writing defines the rights and liabilities. It is defines the statutory position, legal obligation, legal provisions, statue, factual description etc. Legal writing is intended for interpretation. Interpretation by the court will effect overall result. That’s why legal writing should be in such manner that no other interpretation can be taken out of a sentences other then the intended by the writer.

2. Understand the objective of writing


Objective of writing set the language of the document. When you are writing a formal letter, response to a letter, business mail then your language could  be  a common English. But when you know that writing a letter could  hamper your legal rights then the wordings should be carefully chosen.

First see, what it the objective?  Does the objective is to reply a complaint where customer is annoyed by  default ? No, the objective is to save the actually handle an annoyed customer. 

3. To whom you are addressing ?

‘Addressing’ indicates  the person for whom the document is written for.  It is ‘know your audience’ rule.  Legal document is used before judges, judicial staff, other lawyers, clients, parties to the agreement, common public information and so on.

If  a document is written for a judge then certainly legalese would be easily understood. It is written for lawyer or some other authority then even the legal jargon can be understood. But, if it is written for a common public or client then the tough legal language would annoyed the reader.


4. Use of reference Material & Document Design

Every Legal documents have a unique design.  These designs are evolved in the past 200 year of the legal history. A design of a agreement would be different from a plaint or design of legal notice to an individual would be different from public notice. One should refer the prevailing practice of design a  document.

5. Introduction of Context

The introduction of a document is very important in legal writing. In the introduction, the writer should mention what is coming up. Introduction gives a clear understanding what is the whole is matter is all about. Keep following basic rules in mind for introduction.

Put the significant facts upfront : Ask yourself, whether a reader would understand the matter by the introductory material.

The facts should be presented in a way that even an average person can understand by bare reading. Use short, simple and easily understandable language so that  reader go thorough it quickly and ask you- ‘okey …what is particular about the event that happened after this.?

6. Description of facts in  Chronological order

Ideally, the facts should be presented in chronological order. The first incident should come first to be followed by second incident and so on. It is give clarity to reader about the sequence of the event.

7. Understanding with Legal terminology

Have basic understanding with the legal terminology and its meaning.

Understand the impact of the  legal terms so used in document.

Check what any other legal professional would interpret the term.

The legal terms should be used very carefully with an understanding the interpretation before court.

8. Use of Legal Jargons and Latin

Legal Jargons and Latin. Legal jargons are the word which only a legal professional can understand. It is often seen that legal professional feel pride using legal jargons and latin.  Words like ‘thereon’ ‘therewith’ ‘whereas’ ‘hereinafter’ are not commonly used in general English but these words are heavily used by legal professionals. We have described these words in separate chapter in this book. It is commonly known as legalese.

It can be acceptable when you are writing for consideration of court of legal fraternity who are accustomed to read and understand. But it may scared a lay man. Specially, Latin is very difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to understand.

9. Short sentence,  paragraphs and heading

Short sentences gives space to the reader to have pause and understand what is written. A paragraph containg  3 to5 short sentence in a sequence then it is enough.  The new paragraph should be in line with the last paragraph. It should have some linkage with the previously told facts. Continuity is important.

10. Grammatical Corrections

Like general English, a legal document should be grammatically correct. Legal document once written shall ever remain as piece of evidence and shall be examined by several people. Specially by judges, lawyers and well –knowledgeable client. There should not be any mistake in grammar.

11. Mare sure by re-reading and edit  five times

Edit the document five time at least. Don’t hesitate to edit once more. Rule out every possibility of mistakes in grammar, spellings, commas, parenthesis, chronology etc. Every time you will find scope of improvement in the sentence construction, paragraph length and even sequence.

12. Beginning of the sentences

Beginning of the sentence can be by ‘But’ and ‘And’. However, the general English don’t allow to use ‘But’ and ‘And’ at the begning but in legal English it is almost universally accepted  in legal faternity. Beginning of facts can also be state by ‘That’ or ‘Whereas’ whichever suits the most.  There is no any hard and fast rule but the beginning should directly jump to the core message that writer wish to communicate.

13. Check suitable substitute words or one word expression

Legal English is all about the expression by the parties. The expression largely depends of choice of word. Be careful in choice of word.


Ambrish Tiwari



on 05 November 2011
Published in Legal Documents
Views : 23102
Other Articles by - ambrish
Report Abuse


  LAWyersclubindia Menu