Legal writing is a type of technical writing that professionals in the legal field use. The basis for any kind of legal writing is legal authority, and lawyers, judges, and paralegal construct court opinions, statutes, and administrative regulations to back up or support his or her ideas. A legal writer always includes appropriately formatted citations to the legal authority on which he or she is relying, but the format can vary according to the jurisdiction and the writer’s audience. As technology has evolved, lawyers have increasingly relied on legal authority in electronic formats, which has changed the prevalent citation formats substantially in many jurisdictions.
Legal writing is technical in the sense that it often utilizes technical terms that a person who is not a legal professional is unlikely to understand. Some of the terms are unique to the legal profession, such as tort, or come from another language, such as voir dire, which is as French term. It may be necessary for lawyers to somewhat adjust their writing so that it contains fewer technical terms when addressing clients or other non-lawyers.
The main goal of any legal document is to express the writer’s legal opinion on a particular issue. Writers also use some forms of legal writing to persuade the reader of a certain position or opinion. For instance, a lawyer might submit a legal memorandum in support of a motion that he or she has filed in a court case, which gives the legal authority underlying the motion and sets forth his or her argument in detail. In other cases, the writer simply intends to inform the reader or just give a legal opinion and the legal analysis underlying that opinion. For example, a lawyer might write a letter to a client giving a legal opinion about an issue or problem that he or she is facing.
Legal writing also applies to the drafting of legal documents, such as motions, petitions, and orders for filing with the court system. Lawyers typically draft and file these documents or pleadings with the court to request a court order about a particular issue. Many times, judges will write their own orders after making a decision or ruling on a case that lawyers have argued in court. Both lawyers and judges may use templates or forms for frequently used motions and orders, such as real estate contracts, which helps simplify the legal drafting process.