Top of page

Legal Drafting: A Beginner’s Guide

Share this post:

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 page of "a Collection of Practical Forms in Suits at Law" by Charles Humphrey.
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.


Comments (7)

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

  2. 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.

  3. Thank you guys so much for all of the resources that you provide. Lately I have had a hard time finding a good attorney for my legal issues or not able to afford an attorney. So I decided to do it myself. With the resources that you provide, I feel a lot better about my decision to do it myself. Thanks again and again!

  4. Thanks, guys! I appreciate so very much the advice above! I am a VERY NEW Paraleagal Assistant! Needed this help

  5. I need help on where to start with representing self

    • Hello. Please submit your question to our Ask A Librarian Service and it will be assigned to a librarian. You may want to mention the type of case you are involved in when you submit your question.

  6. Thank you.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.