Law Assignment Writing Format

There are countless ways to stylistically complete an academic essay.  Here are some examples of how students have successfully done so, while maintaining proper academic structure.

Introduction

A proper introduction should:

  • Introduce main arguments
  • Have an attention grabbing first sentence 
  • Provide concise information about broader significance of topic
  • Lead in to the body of the essay
 

Here are three examples of introduction paragraphs.  They have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers. For a close reading of the examples, click the images below.

 

Example 1Example 2Example 3

 

The Body

The body of your essay should:

  • Address one idea per paragraph
  • Support arguments with scholarly references or evidence
  • Contextualise any case studies or examples 

Style

  • Use correct punctuation and proofread your work
  • Keep writing impersonal (do not use 'I', 'we', 'me')
  • Be concise and simple 
  • Be confident ("The evidence suggests..." rather than "this could be because...")
  • Connect paragraphs so they flow and are logical
  • Introduce primary and secondary sources appropriately
  • Avoid using too many quotations or using quotes that are too long
  • Do not use contractions (you’re, they’d)
  • Do not use emotive language ("the horrific and extremely sad scene is evidence of...")

This example illustrates how to keep an essay succinct and focused, by taking the time to define the topic:

Defining a topic

The following paragraphs demonstrate how to engage with a variety of scholarly material including primary sources, scholarly theories and formal statistics:

Introducing sources

Lastly, this paragraph illustrates how to engage with opposing arguments and refute them:

Conclusion

A proper conclusion should:
  • Sum up arguments
  • Provide relevance to overall topic and unit themes
  • Not introduce new ideas 
Here are two examples of conclusion paragraphs which have been re-written several times to illustrate the difference between excellent, good and poor answers.

Example 1                                                           Example 2

 

Many first-year students are struggling with their legal writing assignments. Whether graded or not, these assignments often cause anxiety for students because legal writing can, at first, feel like a foreign language. Even if you consider yourself a good writer, legal writing can be baffling. As you continue to work on legal writing assignments, these are some tips to keep in mind.

  1. Follow the format outlined by your professor. It is likely your legal writing professor has given you instructions for the overall format of your legal writing assignment. In addition, your professor may have given you formatting instructions for the body of your assignment, such as that you need to follow IRAC. Whatever the instructions, follow them. Sure, you may think it is an overly formal or a frustrating way to write—but to be honest, no one cares. You need to write for your professor. It is more important to write in the way your professor has outlined, than as you personally prefer. And it is not going to be the last time your writing will need to conform to someone else’s rules. As a working attorney you often need to write in the format requested by your boss or even by the court. So get used to it!
  2. Remember, your writing doesn’t need to be full of legalese—the best legal writing is often simple! So many law students make the mistake of thinking that to “sound like a lawyer” they must use every possible legal term out there. This is just not the case. Often the most effective legal writing is very clear and concise and only uses legal terms or “legalese” when appropriate (say, when you are using a term of art). It is also important to work on writing in a clear, concise way because your assignments may have maximum word count. So using extra words to sound “more professional” won’t really help your grade in the end.
  3. Answer the question asked by your assignment. Often students get so caught up in writing their assignment that they forget to focus on the question that was asked of them. It is important to read and re-read (and even read again) the assignment sheet. You don’t want to make a mistake and write something off topic. Remember, answering the question is key to getting a good grade!
  4. Plan before you write. A great legal writing assignment is organized. And for most of us this means that you need to plan your paper just as you would plan an essay or any other project. Organization is key and it takes time to sit with the research and develop your answer. Make sure you build this time into your plan of how you are going to get your assignment done.
  5. Proofread and double-check citations. As an attorney-in-training, it is very important to present yourself in a professional way. That means that you need to proofread your assignments to present yourself in a professional way to your professor as well. If your assignment is riddled with typos, it is distracting for the professor and likely will cause your grade to drop. Also, students often are lax when handling citations. You are typically graded on the accuracy of your citations. Citations are not hard, but you must be detail oriented and look things up! I have seen many a legal writing grade go down because students didn’t spend adequate time or energy on citations. Don’t let this happen to you.

Legal writing, like most things, gets easier the more that you do it. So do every practice assignment assigned and get as much feedback as you can. This will help you become an excellent legal writer, which is a critical skill in our profession.

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