Becoming a lawyer means you have to become good at a very specialized type of writing. In law, it’s not so much a matter of how much you write as how you write it. But as the saying goes: “Practice makes perfect,” and with business deals, agreements and even people’s futures on the line, if you miss an important point or choose the wrong words, the ramifications can be huge.
Here’s the main point you need to understand about writing and law school. You probably won’t be writing anything extraordinarily lengthy while at law school, but writing it will take a long time. You might spend hours on a single paragraph, tweaking it to make it just right. For the layman, legal writing might just look like a lot of words strung together, but every one of them is there for a reason and getting them right is crucial.
Your law review papers will be the longest
Most law students agree that the volume of writing isn’t so much of an issue. Your longest pieces will be law review papers, and the footnotes alone can be extensive and time-consuming. But they warn course work grades are often based on essays or papers, and the marks you get on these will make or break your pursuit of a law degree.
In the first year, chances are you’ll have to do a course covering legal research and writing. As you may have guessed, it will involve quite a lot of writing. But thereafter, the volume of written work decreases. The most important thing will be being able to write well and cram a lot of information into a few clear sentences.
So if you’re worried about required writing, the volume isn’t all that huge, but if you want to do well, you will probably need to practice not only your writing but your reading.
At law school, you need to learn how to write like a lawyer, and there’s no better way of doing that than to learn to read like a lawyer. That means being able to grasp the language that is used – and believe me – although it’s English, it’s not the kind of English you’d usually use when you hang out with your buddies.
According to many law professors, reading like a lawyer is the biggest hurdle for most students. You may need hours to read a case that’s only a few pages when you first become a student. The good news is that the more you read, the better you get at understanding all the legal language, and the better equipped you’ll be when the time comes to do your own writing.
It’s a learned skill – and you will use it a lot
If reading the terms and conditions for the app you’re planning to download makes your eyes go blurry, and wading through contracts before you sign them gives you a headache, you’re not alone. Legal writing is a learned skill and uses its own special language and terminology. If you have a genuine eagerness to become a lawyer, you will need to master it.
You shouldn’t be considering a legal career if you don’t like writing. Legal writing is a bit like “blood and guts” and becoming a doctor. You might not see them all the time as a student, but when you do, things aren’t going to work out for you if you’re squeamish. Lawyers deal with words. There’s no such thing as a lawyer who doesn’t write.
Do you want to be a lawyer but not sure you’ll cope?
For a start, be absolutely sure you know what being a lawyer is like. A lot of students don’t. It’s nothing like what you see on TV. The reality of working in the legal field isn’t featured in courtroom dramas. The truth (and nothing but the truth) is that many lawyers will seldom see the inside of a courtroom. If you do end up in court, most of it will be very un-dramatic and quite boring.
Before you apply for law school read up on what being a lawyer would entail and how your career would progress. If law still sounds like just the thing for you, you can get a head start on your fellow students by reading “Thinking Like a Lawyer: A New Introduction to Legal Reasoning” by Frederick Schauer. Hint: It will likely cover a lot of the work you’ll be given in your first year.
If you can grasp that legal reasoning, you’ll likely be able to manage the writing as well. Writing starts with thinking, and once you think like a lawyer, you should have the skills to write like one and get through law school.
(Photo courtesy of Mathieu Marquer)