How much do you write in a day? What is it that you produce, and how do you go about planning it? Today I wanted to extol the virtues of having a constant stream of expression, primarily (but not exclusively) through writing.
Again with the communication (this time about legal writing)….
Yes. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Legal practice is about effective communication.
Communication is a complex topic, so if I come back to it fairly often then you’ll just have to bear with me. Don’t believe me? Check out Mitch Jackson’s excellent website which is entirely devoted to communication. Then come back and try tell me that it’s not important to legal practice, if you think you can.
Recently I wrote about the virtue of reading widely and often, but really that’s only a small piece of the communication and knowledge picture. Absorbing information is wonderful and beneficial, but there comes a time where you need to get it out there, and legal writing is the most common form of getting information out the door.
As with many legal skills, however, it can be a case of practice makes perfect. For that reason I encourage all lawyers to turn their hand to active communication. Primarily through legal writing at first, because that is the most common format you are going to communicate with when you’re in a legal career. Every day will be hundreds of emails, letters, faxes, Court documents and the like. If, on top of that, you are on social media then you’ll need to be adept with #hashtags (not exactly my strong suit…), tweets, comments, sharing, engagement and other forms of written communication that rarely find their way into formal legal communications.
I find commonly that young lawyers have learned to write in a particular fashion, primarily as a result of doing university assignments. This has taught them (and me, and everyone else) a structured approach to legal writing that isn’t necessarily helpful or beneficial in every situation. For that reason I encourage all lawyers to write more broadly and expand their abilities to write different types of work, use different styles and genres, and to expand their written language to allow them to communicate with clients on more levels.
Mix up your Genre – It’s Not All Legal Writing
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when your legal writing involves churning out formal correspondence all day. Despite the fact that the formalities are starting to blur around the edges with greater engagement through email and social media, legal writing is still pretty much an exclusive domain for lawyers. It always makes me cringe a little when I get a “draft” document from a client who tried to make it look like a lawyer wrote it. The curious thing about this principle is, of course, that modern legal writing skills suggest that legal drafting should look as little like a lawyer wrote it as possible.
With that in mind, what do you produce each week that ISN’T legal in nature? Do you write informal emails, stories, blog posts?
If everything you produce is “Dear Sir, We are instructed that [something happened] and [insert a vague threat here]” then you’re stagnating. And if you’ve read this site for any length of time you’ll know that I’m really not a fan of standing still when it comes to personal development.
Practice makes Perfect – so Practice!
I would like to encourage you all to take on a slightly more substantial, but non-legal topic (in the sense that it’s not for a particular matter or work related project – it can be on a legal topic if, like me, you just love law so much that you can’t stop writing about it!) and write about it once a week.
It doesn’t even need to be original. Find a good topic on Google+ (I say this because Google+ allows for longer posts which give greater scope for communication, unlike most other social media) and comment on it. I’m not talking about hours, but nor am I talking about 140 characters. I’m talking about 10 to 15 minutes of your time, to develop a habit of exercising your writing in a non-legal forum of some kind.
Got a blog that you started and never went back to after a couple of months? Dust it off, find your login details, and put something there. Maybe you can do a newsletter, a guest post somewhere, an entry in your church bulletin?
Why? Surely that’s a waste of precious time, right? I say not.
The reason I say this is because when we get caught up in our own little world of legal jargon we start to forget how to express complex thoughts in anything but legal-ese. Exercising our creative mind outside the legal genre helps to keep our perspective on the real world, and assists us to communicate it. Clients like real people who speak and write normally, remember.
Just do something!
Plan what you Do
Don’t just leap into this task, however. I strongly recommend that you spend five minutes (this isn’t designed to be a mammoth exercise) planning what you want to say. That way you can gather your thoughts better, do a little ad-hoc planning in your head, and learn to communicate an effective message on the fly. Don’t spend more than 5 minutes, or we’re getting away from the point of the exercise, which is more about habit-forming than it is about perfection.
Publish What you Produce
This is the one that will probably make you sweat. After producing your exercise, how about you publish it? Don’t edit it, review it, scrutinize it. Just get it out there, and see what kind of response you get.
Afraid? If you are, stop to ask this: why? Unless you’ve written something more explicit or controversial than the general public would accept (and frankly with a readership mostly of risk-averse lawyers and law students on this site, that seems pretty unlikely) the only thing you have to lose is a bit of pride. Honestly the most likely outcome is that nothing will happen at all.
Why would I suggest you publish it? Because that will force you in the planning and writing stage to craft a proper message, deliver it well, and will keep an appropriate amount of pressure on you to produce quality work. I know that you’re capable of it, but sometimes we just need that little bit of incentive.
Implement into your Legal Writing
Of course all this is only useful to your career if you actually then take what you learn and implement it into your legal writing. When you find nice phrases, techniques for efficient expression, and other ways generally to improve your writing, then start to implement them into your own practice. Use what you learn to the benefit of your firm and your client.
Already an Excellent Writer?
If so – that’s great! How about you post below some of your work or a link so the rest of us mere mortals can check it out.
Anybody want a small critique on their writing? If you put a link to a short piece in the comments I’d be happy to offer any tips that spring to mind, and would encourage any other readers to offer any helpful hints.