By Kenneth Wyatt
Student, UB Law
“There is no such thing as good writing, only rewriting.” A significant portion of lawyers’ work involves some form of writing, be that in emails, memorandums, litigation documents or transactional documents. As such, lawyers need to be cognizant of their word choice while giving special attention to composition and editing.
Most would agree that editing is the key to good legal writing. However, self-editing is one of the most difficult skills to develop. After spending hours drafting a document, it is often difficult for the author to view their writing objectively. Self-editing takes time, an asset that is ever fleeting in the legal practice. As a result, time is often stolen from self-editing to focus on the next pressing matter that requires attention. Often, the author does not recognize the issue on their own, and even if they do, they may not know how to address it. Addressing a writing issue is even more difficult when it is not grammatical, but instead an issue of word choice.
Generally, it is best to either have another person review the document or to self-review the document after taking a day or so away from it. However, these are not always practical options. Fortunately, with developments in technology, there are several tools that most lawyers have at their disposal that can assist them in the editing process. Recently, some legal practitioners have begun to turn their attention to generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT. However, most, if not all, modern practitioners have access to powerful self-editing tools in programs they use almost every day.
The introduction of word processors and word processing software dramatically improved the quality and efficiency of legal writing and the self-editing process. Most lawyers are familiar with word processing software, and some cannot remember a time without it. Generally, word processing software helps catch common spelling, grammar, and writing issues. But in addition to catching those mistakes, Microsoft Word can assist authors with correcting biased language and other less commonly recognized issues through the “Grammar and Refinements” tool.
As the legal profession takes steps to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, practitioners must take steps to craft their writing accordingly. Word choice that may seem harmless can have a negative effect on the reader before the lawyer’s message is even conveyed. An often overlooked example of biased language is when language focuses on an individual’s characteristics instead of the individual themself. Even words such as “ex-offender” or “addict” may seem commonplace, but they can produce an undesired effect on a lawyer’s audience. While lawyers may not always detect bias in their own writing, others can and will, sometimes to the detriment of the lawyer and more importantly, their client.
Whether drafting a contract, a brief, or even an email, lawyers should use all the tools at their disposal. As the world changes, so does the legal practice. It is more important than ever for lawyers to tailor their writing to their audience, and these built in, but often ignored editing features, can help.
 Joe Fassler, There’s No Such Thing as Good Writing: Craig Nova’s Radical Revising Process, The Atlantic (June 11, 2013), https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-good-writing-craig-novas-radical-revising-process/276754/.