Many first-year students find their legal writing assignments hard to tackle. They often cause concern and nervousness for students because legal writing does not sound like the English that they are used to speaking and writing and initially can feel like an alien language. Even if you consider yourself a good writer, legal writing can be perplexing and mystifying. But rest assured that just as you get used to a new electronic appliance after using it for some time - over a few assignments it will come naturally to you.
Your assignments will be almost exclusively from "case books," which are somber-looking tomes that include actual court decisions (or excerpts from them), each one representing a rule of law.
It is these cases that you will "brief," or synopsize, to aid in your recitation in class and in your comprehension of the rule of law each case represents. In addition to cases, you will usually be expected to read short discussions of the cases which are normally written after each case written by the author or editor of the casebook. These blurbs, or "notes" as they are called, are quite helpful in understanding recalcitrant cases and for summarizing and reconciling several seemingly inconsistent decisions.
You can expect assignments to be long: 100 pages per week in a single class is not unheard of. The average per class is usually between 40 and 60 pages per week. Don't fall behind in the reading. It is extremely difficult to catch up once you fail to complete assignments; even if you sincerely intend to get to the unread portion of the assignment later in the semester, you probably won't have time to do so.
A word of warning: Assignments will usually be posted before your first class session; ferret them out and do them. Professors have been known to call on students on the first day, even before they have cracked open their brand-new notebooks.
Here's how you can tackle your assignments.
1) Seek Your Professors Advice And Follow It:
Your professors whilst giving you the assignments must have also told you how to approach it and what the overall format of the assignments should be. Just follow his instructions - remember that you are writing for him and he is the one who is going to grade you. So irrespective of what his instructions are just follow them. It is better to write the way your professor wants rather than in the way you would prefer to write. Many find legal writing long winded and way too formal, but that's the way it is and you will have to set personal preferences aside and follow the norm. When you will eventually become a working attorney, you will have to write the way your boss wants you to. Many a time courts dictate the format that should be adopted. Hence it is best that you get used to it at this stage.
2) Even With Legalese You Can Make Your writing Simple And Less Mystifying:
Don't fall into the trap of making your writing sound very legal and use legal terms freely. When you speak you have to sound like a lawyer, but when you write you don't necessarily have to even read like one. Legal writing that is most effective is one that is clear, concise and one that uses legalese only where it is absolutely essential and unavoidable. But that does not mean that you totally obliterate the legal terms, then there would be no difference in normal prose and legal writing. Just ensure that all points that the professor wants you to cover are covered. Filling reams and reams of pages will not impress the professor nor will it give you extra grades. Your grasp of the case in your assignment and how succinctly, crisply, adeptly and above all completely you describe it in your writing is what matters, not how many legal terms it contains. Moreover, being obsessed with using legal terms may make you veer of the main track and repeat and contradict yourself in the assignment.
3) Your Assignments Are Full Of Questions: Simply Answer Them And Your Assignment Is Complete:
Don't be so obsessed with your assignment that you lose focus of the questions that the assignment is posing. Before you start the assignment, read the assignment sheet at least twice and if need be again and again, until you really understand and comprehend what it is seeking from you. If you don't follow the questions asked, there are chances you will go off track and all your efforts will be in vain.
4) Before You Commence Know Clearly What You Are Going To Write:
A truly wonderfully done assignment, one that will appeal to the professor is one that is well-organized and well-structured and this can only happen if you plan it well in advance and then approach it in a well-thought-out way. After reading the assignment sheet make points and write out the questions and then do some research on them. Then sit with your research and further develop and advance your assignment. However, it is important that you build the extra time that you will taking in planning and research into the total time that you are going to take in competing your assignment.
5) Proof-read Your Assignment For Spelling And Typo Mistakes
Your assignment should look very professional and as an attorney in training and one in the making it is important that you present yourself in a professional way at all times, be it in your writing, your demeanor or your approach in class. If your assignment is full of typing mistakes, or spelling mistakes the professor will be distracted and will mark you as a person who is lax and negligent, someone with a relaxed and laidback approach to life. One common mistake that students make is that they are often careless when it comes to citations but you must understand that you are graded on the strength of the correctness and precision of your citations and they must be full of details and for that you will have to make the extra-effort. Many assignments, otherwise brilliantly written, have got poor grades, because students were not to caring about the veracity of their citations and did not spend enough time on them - ensure that this does not happen to you.
6) Keep At It, Perseverance Is The Key:
Legal writing, like everything else in life, be it cycling or operating a computer, will become easier and less complicated the more that you do it. Don't skip any assignment and do all that are assigned to you. Read other colleague's assignments and judge yours in comparison with him or her. Seek feedback and don't be uncomfortable with critical appraisal of your assignment. It is a learning process and the more you seek counsel and advice the better you will become.