Writing seems to come naturally to some law students and lawyers, but it isn’t easy for all of us. You may have gone through a school system as a child that didn’t emphasize grammar as much, and your grasp of the grammar rules is not as strong as a result. Maybe your undergraduate major is in a field that didn’t require much writing, and you’ve had less opportunity to practice that skill. You could have a learning disability that makes writing more challenging. Perhaps English is not your first language – you may have excellent grammar skills in another language, but those rules don’t transfer to English. Or maybe you are like me – a first-generation college student and law student who didn’t always hear grammatically-correct language growing up, and you have to work past that initial instinct to write how you learned to talk.
Whatever the reasons for those grammar deficiencies, it can be hard to develop the grammar skills needed for effective legal writing. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Becoming a better writer requires significant practice, and the more you write the better you get. We also have a tendency to expect our first draft to be perfect. But much of what makes writing good happens in the editing process, and that is where you have an opportunity to work on your grammar as well.
It can be helpful to have some grammar resources as you edit, and there are a number of good online resources available. Here are some that would be particularly good for law students and lawyers:
- Core Grammar for Lawyers: It’s possible your law school may require this resource for legal writing classes, but you can purchase it individually if it hasn’t been assigned. This resource presents grammar rules in a legal context and gives you the opportunity to practice what you are learning.
- Common Errors in English Usage, by Professor Paul Brians: Although this website is not focused on legal writing, it provides a broad range of information about many common grammar and word usage errors in the English language.
- Grammar Girl, by Mignon Fogarty: This website offers regular tips for improving your writing. It is not focused on legal writing.
- Law Prose Blog, by Brian Garner: Brian Garner is one of the foremost experts on legal writing and grammar, and his blog provides daily tips for legal writing.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Purdue University’s online writing lab has some great grammar resources, located under the “General Writing” tab. This website is not focused on legal writing though, and you should avoid tabs that are clearly directed to other fields of study (such as the “Research and Citation” tab).
- University of Denver Sturm College of Law Writing Tips: This website has some great grammar resources, and it is specifically for law students.
- University of North Carolina Writing Center: Although not targeted to legal writing centers, this website also has some good grammar resources.
Remember, great writing really happens during the editing process. The only way for your writing to improve is to do as much of it as possible, reserving plenty of time for editing!