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Legal Drafting: A Beginner’s Guide

This post was co-authored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, Legal Reference Librarians.

Legal drafting is a very structured method of writing that can prove intimidating to the uninitiated. In this Beginner’s Guide, we will recommend some sources that will help you excel in the legal drafting process.

Legal Dictionaries

The first step in drafting any legal or law-related document is to fully understand its context, which includes studying the language used by the courts, attorneys, and/or legal scholars regarding the issue.  For those new to legal drafting, or unfamiliar with an area of the law, a legal dictionary can be invaluable.  Some of the most popular legal dictionaries are:

Legal Writing Manuals

The Index to A CollectioThe Index to A Collection of Practical Forms in Suits at Law by Charles Humphrey (1845). n of Practical Forms in Suits at Law by Charles Humphrey (1845).

The Index from A Collection of Practical Forms in Suits at Law, by Charles Humphrey (1845).

Legal writing can be challenging for both novice and experienced writers. Fortunately, scholars produce legal writing guides to help new legal writers know where to begin and help advanced legal writers polish their work.  The Law Library of Congress has several of these manuals in its collection, including:

Form Books

Form books are another excellent way to get started with the legal drafting process. These books range in both size and scope–they can be a single paperback volume that contains a few general legal forms or a large multi-volume set with a separate index volume. The Law Library has several form books that focus on federal law and practice, such as:

In addition to the federal forms listed above, you can also find state specific forms by browsing our catalog subject headings. To do this, click here to access our catalog, click on “basic search,” highlight “subject browse,” and then search for a subject heading using the following syntax as an example:  Forms (Law)–Kentucky. Click on the subject heading and you can browse the resources included under that heading. Finally, state-specific forms, particularly family law forms, are often found on state court websites. Click on our Guide to Law Online, click on a state, and look under the “judiciary” heading for links to state court websites.

Citation Style Manuals

Putting forth the substance of your argument is only part of the process of legal writing. You also have to use a legal citation style guide to cite authority in support of your arguments. Two popular legal citation manuals are listed below. Be sure to consult the applicable court’s rules of procedure to see which citation style is preferred by your court of concern.

Rules of Procedure

Finally, if you are submitting a pleading to a court, be sure to check the Federal or State Rules of Procedure, as well as the local court rules to ensure you have complied with their rules governing formatting and legal citation.  For more information about state and local court rules, and to find links to pertinent online legal information, be sure to visit each state’s Guide to Law Online page.

We hope you found this guide helpful. Do you have a favorite resource related to legal drafting? Please let us know in the comments section. If you have any questions, please contact the Law Library of Congress.

 

2 Comments

  1. Rose
    July 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I would like to say that “you guys are awesome.” Thank you for all the info….more please!!

  2. Lou Milrad
    July 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you for this excellent resource. Today’s legal practitioner is most fortunate given the availability of online precedent forms – a great springboard to document creation and sharing – but still requiring grammatical and compliance review coupled with some possible redrafting.

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