Legal Drafting: Rules of Drafting for Legal Practitioners

In every profession, there is the need for drafting, and in no profession is this need elucidated more than in the legal profession. Lawyers spend a lot of their time in their practice of the law drafting a lot of documents to wit:

Letters for/on behalf of their clients

Internal correspondence between departments

Legal documents crossing a plethora of subject matter

Laws etc.

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Legal drafting is communication in permanent form which must be clear, unambiguous because it is not spoken. Legal drafting is the art of legal writing, thus a skill that needs to be learned. It is not enough for the lawyer to pick up the pen or set fingers to the keyboard and start drafting. As a skill, the art of drafting is something that needs to be learned by every legal practitioner in order not to make a lot of blunders in the practice of the profession.

One of the reasons why every lawyer must learn legal drafting is because of the saying that “lawyers have two failings; first is that they do not write well and the second is that they think they do.” Some legal practitioners are so pompous and arrogant, thinking that they represent the best of the profession whereas their writing skill is enough to send a judge scurrying for cover because of perhaps, the unnecessary verbosity, repetition, use of archaic words/phrases which the common man will have extreme difficulty understanding just because the lawyer is writing in “legalese”.

“lawyers have two failings; first is that they do not write well and the second is that they think they do.”

A legal draftsman’s aim includes the following:

Conciseness: A lawyer should always aim to be concise in his writing. It would be wrong for the legal practitioner to think that he has to “flesh whatever he is writing out so as to impress the client”. All these verbose, heavy writing is absolutely unnecessary and should be avoided at all costs where necessary. The fact that drafting should be concise does not mean that material facts should be left out.

Comprehensibility: This would involve the draftsman putting his thoughts together before drafting.

This should also reflect in whatever the draftsman is drafting. It should be comprehensible, not loaded with legalese that is aimed at sending lay readers through hoops as they try to decipher the meaning behind what the lawyer has written down.

Clarity: It involves one point leading to the other. Draft should be logical and chronological. It would run against the tenets of reasonability for a legal practitioner to arrange his writing in a way which the client or the end reader of the document will find extremely difficult to comprehend.

Great command of the English Language.

It is no trade secret that the English Language forms the mode of communication and the letters of the law. A lawyer who has a bad command of the language will find it taxing to do well in drafting because he is bound to make blunders like using terms with double meaning etc. If a lawyer knows he lacks a good command of the English Language, then he should endeavour to invest in a good dictionary and thesaurus because these two will serve as an invaluable aid to that lawyer.

It should be noted that if there is a long word and there is a shorter one, choose the shorter one. There is no need for a lawyer to convey a message in three lines of a sentence which can be conveniently be conveyed in one line. Save yourself the time of writing long sentences and also try to save the reader the time of reading them. Frankly, it takes too much time and effort.

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Lawyers are wordsmiths, but unless they are writing an Anne Rice-style novel for an international audience, they should endeavour to tone down the legalese and verbosity in what they write. They might think it makes them sophisticated; it only makes you sound unintelligible.

Lawyers, the law is interesting to practice, but only if you make it so.

Thank you.

Ani Kingsley Ugochukwu LLB., BL

Lagos, Nigeria.
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Disclaimer Notice:

The information contained in this post, and appearing any and everywhere else In this blog, or any other blog post posted by the author in this blog and published on same, was done so for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice in any way or any form WHATSOEVER, neither does it create any legal relations between the legal Practitioner who is the owner of this blog and the reader. If you are looking for legal representation or advice (as the case may be), you can seek for free legal consultation with him using the Contact Form page, or consult any legal practitioner of your choice. Thank you.


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