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The guide to legal drafting - 15 rules to follow

Legal drafting is a fundamental legal practice used to ensure that documents are properly formatted and accurately reflect the intent they are meant to convey. It requires a high level of precision and expertise, because even the smallest mistake can have serious consequences.

In this blog post, we provide a comprehensive guide to writing legal documents that outlines its most important rules and principles. We will explain the importance of legal drafting, list key principles of legal drafting, and provide practical tips and rules for anyone looking to improve their legal drafting skills. Finally, we will explore how AI tools like AnyLawyer can help make the entire process more efficient.

What is legal drafting?

Legal document drafting is used to create contracts, wills, estate plans, court orders, pleadings, and similar documents. It requires that lawyers use precise language and carefully consider the implications of each word. When legal drafting is done properly, it ensures that documents are clear enough to be understood by all parties involved. The goal is to create documents that are legally binding and unambiguous while also conveying the desired intent - effective communication is key.

The importance of effective drafting as part of legal writing

Effective legal drafting is essential for a successful legal process. Poorly written documents can lead to costly litigation, financial losses, and reputation damage. On the flipside, skillfully prepared drafts make rights, obligations, and legal consequences clear, helping parties avoid disputes. Legal documents are also a crucial element of legal proceedings - if they contain loopholes or ambiguity, upholding the law becomes difficult.

Key principles of legal drafting

When preparing a document for legal drafting, there are several key principles that should be followed:

  • Accuracy – It is important to be precise and accurate in order to avoid any misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Key terms need to be explicitly defined. Definitions and examples can be helpful in getting more complex ideas across.
  • Clarity – A legal text should be clear enough so that all parties involved understand the terms of the document. This is true especially when the draft involves complex concepts or technical terms - they need to be communicated clearly through easily digestible sentence structure and accessible language.
  • Conciseness – Drafting documents using concise language helps ensure that its content is easily understood by all parties involved.
  • Readability – Documents should be written in a way that is easy to read and comprehend, using standard language for legal terms and avoiding jargon.
  • Consistency – Legal documents should remain consistent throughout, using the same terminology, formating, grammar, punctuation, and style for each document. Descriptions should also be consistent throughout the document - describing the same thing in multiple ways can be a source of confusion.
  • Structure - Legal documents should have a logical structure that follows their legal requirements, making them easier to navigate and understand.
  • Legal citation - It is important to include appropriate legal citations when necessary.

Practical tips and rules for drafting legal documents

Experienced writers have developed a number of practical tips that lead to higher quality legal writing.

1. Read books on legal drafting

Familiarizing oneself with the basics of legal drafting can help improve overall legal drafting skills.

2. Use plain language

Legal documents should be written in easy-to-understand language that is free from jargon and unexplained technical terms. Vague terminology and excessive legalese should also be avoided to make sure the document is easily understood.

3. Use standard language

Using standard language for commonly used legal terms and phrases will help keep documents consistent. This also ensures that the documents can be understood by all parties involved, as standard language is easier to research and more difficult to misunderstand.

4. Understand formatting rules

Different jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to formatting legal documents, so it is important to know each one before drafting a document.

5. Write with clarity

Legal documents should be written in a way that makes them easy to comprehend and unambiguous. Pay attention to the legal terms used, as well as their implications - it is essential to be precise when drafting legal documents. Additionally, a clause should be self-contained and concise, cross-referenced as needed to avoid contradictions.

6. Clearly define key terms

Define any specialized terms or phrases to ensure that everyone involved understands them correctly. This will minimize any disputes based on misunderstandings.

7. Organize the document

Organize the document in a logical manner, using headings and subheadings, numbering paragraphs, and appropriate formatting to create a logical hierarchy within the text. The provisions should be sequenced so that the document will be easy to read and understand without flipping back and forth between pages.

8. Use AI tools

AI-powered documents drafting tools like AnyLawyer can help streamline the process by automating parts of the document creation process. The software also helps reduce errors, as it catches mistakes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

9. Start with thorough research

Before drafting any legal document, it is important to do enough research to understand the relevant laws, regulations, and precedents. In particular, staying up to date with the changing legal landscape is crucial.

10. Understand the client's goals

Understanding the client's goals and objectives for the document is essential in order to ensure that they are met. This includes having a clear understanding of what rights, obligations, and remedies should be included in the document. Additionally, the intended audience of the document may determine the language used, whether the major goal is to persuade or clarify, and so on.

11. Determine what facts must be addressed in the document

Any facts relevant to the document should be included, as they can help determine the legal consequences of its clauses. Additionally, any facts that are not addressed could have an impact on the validity of the document.

12. Iterate

Legal drafting is a process - it takes time, practice and patience. In order to improve, it is important to iterate on drafts, carefully reviewing and editing them, and seek feedback from others before submitting the final version. Crucially, the editing process itself can lead to inconsistencies through changes that remove the logical support for certain provisions, or result in out-of-place explanations. These issues need to be caught and corrected during the drafting process.

13. Anticipate potential issues

It is important to anticipate potential problems that could arise from the document, such as ambiguities or unintended implications. It can be helpful to imagine scenarios in which the document could be read or used, as well as the types of audiences it might be addressed to.

14. Communicate with the client

Communication between the lawyer and client is essential throughout the drafting process. This helps ensure that any changes, updates, or amendments are effectively identified and addressed.

15. Seek feedback

Having a trusted colleague review a document draft can help legal professionals identify potential issues or areas for improvement.

Grammar tips for legal drafts

  • Use active voice when possible: Active voice is more direct and easy to understand than passive voice. It also usually leaves no ambiguity as to the subject of a sentence.
  • Avoid split infinitives: Splitting an infinitive can lead to confusion and take away from the clarity of the document.
  • Use imperatives with caution: Imperatives are commands, so they should be used carefully, as they imply legal obligations. Additionally, specific imperatives convey a different degree of certainty of obligation - for example, "shall" implies that an action may be optional.
  • Avoid using synonyms: Using the same word or phrase to convey the same idea leaves much less room for misunderstanding.
  • Be consistent in verb tense: Consistent verb tense ensures that the document is easy to understand, as readers will not have to try and decipher a timeline of events.

Using AI tools for legal drafting

With the rise of AI technology, it is now possible to use specialized tools to streamline the legal drafting process. These tools can automatically generate documents, check for errors, and provide recommendations for improvement.

AnyLawyer is one such tool that makes it easier and faster to draft precise and legally binding documents. It uses advanced AI technology to help lawyers create legal documents quickly and efficiently while still maintaining accuracy, clarity, conciseness, readability, and consistency.

Learning from legal drafting books

Reading legal drafting books can help lawyers hone their skills and improve their drafting techniques, giving them access to comprehensive overviews of the principles of legal drafting and practical tips on how to create effective documents. Here is a list of resources that c be a good starting point:

  • Contract Drafting: Powerful Prose in Transactional Practice, 3d ed. by Lenné Eidson Espenschied, published in 2019,
  • Legal Drafting in a Nutshell, 5th ed. by George Kuney; Donna Looper, published in 2020,
  • A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, 4th ed. by Kenneth A. Adams, pubilshed in 2018,
  • A Practical Guide to Drafting Contracts: From Concept to Closure by Cynthia M. Adams; Peter K. Cramer, published in 2020,
  • Plain English for Lawyers, 6th ed. by Richard C. Wydick; Amy E. Sloan, published in 2019,
  • Form books,
  • Citation style manuals,
  • Legal dictionaries.

For even more useful resources, it can be useful to visit the website of any respected law school and take a look at the books recommended by its faculty. This will give lawyers access to the latest thinking on legal drafting and potentially reveal new trends and perspectives.

It is also helpful to stay informed of developments in legal technology, as AI tools are becoming increasingly popular for streamlining document creation, analysis, and review processes. It is important to understand how these tools can be used to create more efficient and accurate legal documents.

Ensuring that every legal document will be drafted accurately and efficiently

By following the key principles outlined above and using AI tools like AnyLawyer, legal practitioners can create high-quality documents that accurately reflect their clients’ intent while also reducing time spent on document drafting. This makes it easier to focus on providing exceptional legal services and ensure successful outcomes for clients.