So how do lawyers write? Popular opinion probably has it that the longer the words and the more complex the sentence the better. Really? Would this be designed to confuse and bamboozle clients? Does producing advice which is close to incomprehensible justify a higher fee from a client? Possibly not. If a client doesn’t understand advice it’s at best useless. At worst it exposes the hapless solicitor to a negligence claim – when the client goes and does exactly what the solicitor did not intend!
Perhaps you think that as a student looking for a legal professional career, this is something you can worry about at a more advanced stage of your training. Think again. If you’re planning to be offered that coveted first year scheme, vacation scheme, training contract or pupillage you’re going to need to show that you can write like a lawyer. It’s a good idea to start practising right now.
Concise and business-like
This is what you’re aiming for. It’s particularly important if you’re completing application questions with a strict word count, or if you’re cramming as much information as possible into a one page cover letter and a two page CV. Now is the time to ditch everything you learnt for GCSE English. Why would you put in fillers which do not advance your case for employment? You need to lose all those howevers, furthermores, notwithstandings and additionallys. You can also dispense with most adjectives and adverbs. If you must have adjectives then restrict yourself to one per noun, calling an experience “energising, entertaining and elevating” might be great alliteration but it isn’t how lawyers write and shouldn’t be in an application for a law job.
Getting your spelling and grammar right is a must. If this is something you know you find difficult then you should make a conscious effort to improve. I see lots of students who struggle to write correctly or to proof read. Even if friends and family can help you get your application right they’re not going to be there at an assessment centre. At that stage you’ll be judged on your own writing and / or on your ability to spot mistakes in something someone else has drafted. You can’t rely on spellcheck to sort things for you. Mine definitely doesn’t know the difference between practise and practice or license and licence and sometimes seems to delight in slipping in an American spelling. I think if you’re applying for a UK job (even with a US law firm) it’s good to go with standard UK spelling.
Cut out the hyperbole and blatant flattery. “I would be honoured to work for this prestigious and internationally acclaimed firm” might be ideal if you are applying to law firms in some parts of the world. It isn’t right for the UK. I would go with “I want to work for you because….” The second suggestion is absolutely clear and uses the minimum number of words.
If you’re a Warwick student look at the applications section of the Law Moodle course for more detail and support.