For many lawyers, including yours truly, drafting is 95% of the job. I’m not a litigator anymore. I’m not a divorce lawyer or mediator anymore. I’m a drafter. Transactional, transactional, transactional. It’s quick and clean (mostly) and gets the parties’ problems solved with less expense and headache than litigation.
This is the case for most lawyers, whether in-house, business lawyers, patent attorneys, or even trial lawyers. Drafting is almost the whole job. So how do we become even better at it?
Here are a few tips, tools, and resources to help you draft legal documents cleaner, better, and faster:
WordRake is a brilliant little platform that will help all of us long-winded lawyers write with more brevity. Which is something I struggle with immensely, which you may have noticed if you’ve read any of my voluminous blog posts here or elsewhere on the Internet.
In fact, once I’m done writing 10,000 words on this post, I’m going to reach out to these folks about a trial, as they have been around for a while and have pretty stellar reviews.
As an interesting alternative, check out Grammarly - the leading grammar tool, which will guide you on using active voice and other common mistakes that I totally never make myself. (Wait, is that grammatically correct?) In addition, it’ll highlight mistakes, suggest edits, and even reorder your sentences to make your overall writing clearer.
You may know him as the editor of Black’s Law dictionary, which you never actually opened back in law school. But Mr. G hangs out on Twitter and is a constant source of insight on legal writing and style.
He was one of the first to chime in on the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s “argle-bargle” and you’ll learn a lot from just following him on Twitter, if not reading his many books.
This is a hot concept in law right now: productizing your legal services.
The concept is about distilling as much of your legal practice into repeatable deliverable parts as possible.
Which minimizes rework. Instead of drafting the same thing five times or for five different clients, you can build a library of documents and clauses that you can reuse over and over again. Eliminating a lot of the wasted time that — while translating to more billable hours – is a waste for everyone involved.
It’s not just about document production either: adding repeatable procedures, such as client intake forms, task lists for each type of case or each issue that is common between cases, and even filing procedures with the court will save you a lot of headaches and time and will minimize mistakes, especially if you have a rotating cast of support staff.
One of the biggest game-changers in my practice was using digital forms.
By emailing out an intake form to my clients, I let them do 95% of the data entry work on a case. They also can upload all of the relevant past documents on that form, giving me most of what I need in every case just to jump in and start producing work product.
Beware lazy clients, though: I have had someone misspell their own sister’s name, leading to thousands of pages of automated documents with the wrong names on them.
And I regularly have people type incorrect dates of birth or Social Security numbers, which could happen just as well on an ink form but is something to double-check with the client.
We recently compared the pros and cons of the most popular intake tools for lawyers.
You didn’t think you would get through a Rally blog post without mentioning our favorite feature of ourselves, did you?
Most lawyering is document production.
If you can produce a large volume of documents in a short amount of time, you can help more people and scale your business faster. The automation pieces also help with reducing errors.
Our core is document automation, but we also include features that we feel are vital to the lawyer and client experience and workflows, such as client forms, scheduling, and billing integrated with LawPay.
We even allow you to drop your document automation features into your website, turning yourself into your own little legal document platform.
We compared every major legal document automation tool in a software round-up post. See which tool is right for your practice.
Something I regularly do in the real world, which I never did back in school, is to write a rough draft, walk away for a few days, and then come back to it.
In school, I was constantly drafting the night or hour before something was due. As a professional, I tried to avoid that whenever possible.
When I take a few days away from the document and come back to it later, the second draft is exponentially better, more concise, and clearer. I also catch the most embarrassing mistakes that way.
Dictation can be a help or a hindrance. I use it every single day in my practice and in my writing. I have found that it takes me a quarter of the time to dictate something with proper software and a high-quality microphone than it takes to draft manually.
However, I am a little more long-winded when it comes to dictating, and I do have to take some time to go through and edit whenever I dictate, including this article.
I can (and will) write a whole article on the many alternatives for dictation later, but suffice it to say that Dragon is best for heavy usage, Microsoft and Google’s own dictate features are decent for quick notes, and Siri is terrible for everything. Rally’s own growth manager, Kurt uses Rev, and a few other colleagues have recommended Otter.ai.
A professional model form is available for almost everything you will do in this world.
The laws have been around for centuries; we don’t need to reinvent everything every time. However, that doesn’t mean relying upon the free forms you find on the Internet.
If you dive into a quality practice guide from one of the major publishers, you will find stellar examples of almost everything you will ever need to draft, or at least solid starting points.
I like to start with one of these forms, review it paragraph by paragraph until I understand why every clause was inserted into the contract, and then customize as necessary.
I have tried many paraphrasers over the years, and this one is the best.
It has features to expand your word count, shrink your word count, or just add weird creative flair. It may seem odd to recommend a paraphraser here, but sometimes we all hit writer's block and don’t like the awkward way we phrase something.
This site has a free version that is great for eliminating writer's block and premium versions for all those other weird variants like making things more florid.
This may seem counterintuitive and contradictory to some of the above advice, but just because you review others’ work before diving into your own doesn’t mean you can’t be original with your drafting.
It is perfectly okay to start ditching conventions like “whereas” or other legalese that very few people understand, especially consumer-facing documents. Instead, consider starting with a model document and removing as much unnecessary jargon as possible.
The best writers also tend to be the most voluminous readers.
Every writer has a different talent, a different way to turn a phrase, and the best way to learn is to read as many of them as possible.
Some of them babble forever, like Hemingway, and some of them speak in utter drunken stream-of-consciousness nonsense like William Faulkner. Again, if you’re looking for something specific to legal writing, check out Bryan Garner.
Stuck on trying to phrase the perfect force majeure clause? Did your opposing counsel send over a reservation of jurisdiction clause that is three pages long?
Hot swap that clause for one that was drafted by someone else by searching through LawInsider’s contract clause library.
Just for fun, I searched for something truly obscure (“QDRO”) and found plenty of clauses relevant to my niche – they might have you covered as well.
I’m my own worst editor. While I can catch mistakes in others’ writing relatively quickly, when it comes to my own bugaboos, I have blinders. (Taking a break - mentioned above – does help greatly with this.)
If you can, get a second set of eyes on everything you draft - especially the model clauses you build out for your document automation. (How embarrassing would it be to reproduce the same typo in dozens of documents?)
You can find freelance legal editors or paralegals on Upwork and other freelance sites, or you can hire a law student or summer intern to help with the big document automation projects. You may also want to take notes when your clients and other attorneys provide feedback on your drafts – if enough people are confused or objecting to your language, that’s a solid sign to revise.
Have any tips for us or our readers? Give us a shoutout on Twitter or LinkedIn with your favorite legal drafting tips and tools. And if you’re ready to get started automating documents and productizing your services, set up a free demo with our team and see what Rally can do for your practice.