Five Helpful Legal Editing Tips
After all your hard work researching and writing, the last, and most important, step before submission is to edit your legal document. Here are a few general legal editing tips to look out for to make the piece clean and precise before submission to a court, boss, professor, or client.
Five Helpful Legal Editing Tips
These tips are applicable to formal legal documents, but can be helpful for all legal editing, including an email to a client or a memo to a boss.
The Bluebook is commonly used nationally for legal editing. You will also want to use the Bluebook while you are in law school. Legal professionals in certain states should consult their own guides or manuals. For example those who are practicing in Michigan should consult the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual (“Manual”) for editing help.
1. Avoid using the first person when possible.
“I,” “you,” “our,” “we,” “my” are all examples of first person language. Yet, sometimes, legal writing cannot avoid first person, but editing should eliminate excessive use.
2. Avoid using contractions.
Contractions can make your writing appear sloppy rather than formal. Watch out for the contraction “it’s,” which should be “it is.” Other examples include “can’t,” which should be “cannot,” “haven’t,” which should be “have not,” and “wouldn’t,” which should be “would not.”
3. Avoid unnecessary words.
During the editing process, certain words and phrases can be cut from a legal document, while still keeping the same meaning. In fact, deleting some words can help clear up your writing.
Some examples include:
- appeal (from);
- in order to.
But, there are instances where these words and phrases are necessary to keep the sentence’s meaning or flow.
4. Spell out numbers.
According to Bluebook Bluepage Rule 6, spell out numbers zero to ninety-nine. Then, use numerals for numbers over ninety-nine, unless the number begins a sentence.
Some states are different. For example, in Michigan, the Manual requires spelling out numbers zero to nine (with some exceptions (see Manual Rule 3:21)), unless the number begins a sentence.
5. Check all spelling.
There is no guarantee that the spell check function on the computer will catch all spelling mistakes, especially if the document contains legal jargon or medical terms. Therefore, it is important to double check all spelling during the editing process.
The Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual contains the proper spelling for a list of common words and phrases (Appendix 2). Additionally, the Manual suggests using Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) and Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed or later) for help with capitalization, spelling, and italicization.
These five editing tips will be a great start to cleaning up and correcting your writing before submission.
Watch out for more tips and strategies from JD Advising on legal writing, research, and editing; resume and interviewing tips; working for a firm; and, starting a law firm.
Looking for Law School Assistance?
- Free! Download our free guide on how to succeed in law school here!
- Free! Access our free law school prep course here!
- Looking for law school tutoring? Our law school tutors provide personalized, one-on-one tutoring!
- We also have NEW and very highly regarded law school study aids, which you can try for free here!