find the latest legal job
Banking Associate - 1-6PQE - Allen & Overy
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: United Kingdom
· Banking Associate - 1-6 PQE - Allen & Overy
View details
Academic Dean and Head of School of the TC Beirne School of Law
Category: Other | Location: Brisbane QLD 4000
· An outstanding opportunity · Provide educational, research and organisational leadership
View details
Senior Property Lawyer I Commercial Litigator
Category: Property Law | Location: Arncliffe NSW 2205
· Rapidly growing law firm, working with a highly experienced team in a high growth industry across all areas of property and strata law
View details
Senior Property Lawyer I Commercial Litigator
Category: Property Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Rapidly growing law firm, working with a highly experienced team in a high growth industry across all areas of property and strata law
View details
Senior Property Lawyer I Commercial Litigator
Category: Property Law | Location: Sydney NSW 2000
· Rapidly growing law firm, working with a highly experienced team in a high growth industry across all areas of property and strata law
View details
The power of brevity

The power of brevity

Anthony Wright

Learning to write in a clear, direct style can help lawyers make their point more effectively, writes Anthony Wright.

The art of using as few words as necessary – writing succinctly – is not something lawyers are known for.

Ever read a US contract? If so, I’m sure you’ve been frustrated by how hard it is to decipher. Sentences the size of paragraphs, inadequate headings, confusing language and way too many words – to put it mildly.

Rather than confuse the reader, lawyers would do well to take a little advice from Ernest Hemingway, whose aim was ‘to put down on paper what he saw and felt in the best and simplest way’. As a lawyer, I’ve adapted this a little and always try to put down on paper the correct information in the most digestible and concise way.

No matter the audience – be it another lawyer, a business manager, or a client – you should make the assumption that people are time poor. Law often only plays a minor role in a company’s commercial success, so be concise and get to the point quickly, simply and correctly.

Understandably, communicating complex concepts clearly and concisely can be tricky. Having recently attempted to cut a 1,000-word document down to 500 words myself, I can attest that it’s time consuming to make “25 words do the work of 50”, to quote Wilson Follett. However, being concise is an art that once learnt will serve you and your clients well.

A client must be able to easily understand you to trust and respect your advice. You may be considered an expert in the industry, but if they can’t understand you and the value you bring, it's unlikely they'll ask for your help again.

So let’s get down to business. Below are some useful tips to ensure you always write succinctly.

Write for your audience

Tailor your words to the reader. Are you speaking to another lawyer, a business professional or a client with no legal knowledge? Do they require a short answer, a formal document, or an explanation of your reasoning?

Plan what you are going to say

What are you trying to achieve in this piece of writing? You should know this before you begin. No one wants to read your stream of consciousness, nor do they have time to. Think about what you want to say and write it in a clear, logical order so that readers can scan, understand and act.

Be concise

The fewer words, the better. Omitting unnecessary words helps clarify the meaning and adds impact.

Some examples include:

Used for evidentiary purposes = Used as evidence
In spite of the fact that = Despite
Due to the fact that = Because

Avoid acronyms and legal jargon

Legal phrases can make your writing jarring and may cause the reader to lose interest or relegate it to the ‘too hard’ basket. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, ditch legal jargon in favour of clear, simple words. Likewise, acronyms that may be obvious to you won’t necessarily be familiar to your reader. Even if you’re writing for someone in the same industry, you can’t presume they won’t pass your work on to someone else for a second opinion and that the person will know that XXN means cross examination. For that matter, remember that some clients may not know the meaning of cross-examination either.

Use an active voice

Avoid overusing a passive voice as this diminishes clarity and makes sentences longer. Using an active voice makes your writing more powerful and convincing.

Consider this passive sentence: “It is believed that the jury needs to reach a decision”. An active version reads: “The jury needs to make a decision”.

Using the Flesch readability formula is a helpful way to check how passive your writing is (you want this to sit at zero per cent) and how readable it is. The Flesch readability formula is available through Microsoft Word and there are lots of free online Flesch calculators you can use by simply copying and pasting your text.

Anthony Wright is the managing principal at lexvoco

Like this story? Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive Lawyers Weekly every day straight to your inbox.


Like this story? Read more:

Book commemorates diamond milestone for WA law society

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The power of brevity
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Gavel, legal book, criminal lawyers
Jan 19 2018
Three criminal lawyers named NSW magistrates
The NSW Attorney-General has announced the appointment of three new local court magistrates. ...
Jan 18 2018
Lawyer highlights ‘unintended consequences’ on SSM estate planning
A succession lawyer has warned that the right for same-sex couples to legally marry could have a sub...
drug rehabilitation services available in rural and remote communities
Jan 18 2018
ALS survey shines spotlight on insufficient rehabilitation services
A new survey posted by the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has revealed an alarming insight into ...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...