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Advanced Legal Writing


This seminar addresses the necessary elements of a paper written for publication in a law journal.

This seminar addresses the necessary elements of a paper written for publication in a law journal.

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  • Biggest problem with articles written for publication– implications are unclear or weak.
  • Establish the issuesPresent the rule(s)Apply the rules to your issuesConclude
  • Types may also be thought of as Purposes of establishing Authority Purposes of Attribution To continue the discussion


  • 1. The Dalhousie Writing Centre
    Article WritingAdvanced Legal Research
  • 2. Refine ideas into a thesis
    Find an interesting problem(a gap, an ambiguity, an unresolved issue, something unsettling, a point of tension).
    Present your proposed solution, (new legislation, a particular application, an explanation) in a single sentence.
  • 3. “Such-and such a law is unconstitutional.”
    “The legislature ought to enact the following statute.”
    “Properly interpreted, this statute means such-and-such.”
    “My empirical research shows that this law has unexpectedly led to…”
    “Viewing this law from a [feminist/Asian studies/Catholic/economic] perspective leads us to conclude that the law is flawed and should be changed in such-and-such a way.” (Volokh, p. 248)
  • 4. Why should we care about this idea?
    What effect would the rule you propose have?
    What effect would a contrary rule have?
    Is the effect you seek achievable or worth the cost?
    What consequences are likely to result from the rule you propose?
    Will the reader come away from the paper with something that is professionally valuable?
    Develop the Implications
  • 5. Choose a structure that reflects your purpose and be able to justify why the order works.
    I . Introduction (5-10% of the whole)
    II. Body (25-40% per section)
    A. Background and Legal DoctrinesB. Proof of ClaimC. Proof of Claim
    III. Conclusion (5-10%)
  • 6. I ssues
    R ule
    A pplication
    C onclusion
    Identify the legal issues raised by the problem and resolve these by finding and then applying relevant legal rules.
  • 7. Show that there is a problem.
    Let the reader know the destination (thesis) and emphasize the implications of your claim.
    State your intended route (the elements of your analysis in the order you will develop them).
  • 8. The Body of the Article:Background Facts and Legal Doctrines
    Background information should be relevant.
    Synthesize precedents in the doctrinal line; do not summarize each one.
  • 9. Remember that the point of legal writing is to persuade your reader of your thesis.
    Demonstrate that your claim is correct and the best way of solving the problem.
    Focus on your argument. Acknowledge the other side but do not let it have centre stage.
    The Body of the Article: Proof of Claim
  • 10. Analysis should be in component parts; the structure should reflect the components.
    No more than three main sections.
    Sections should be balanced.
    Adopt a structure that allows you to integrate the facts, court cases, and policies.
    Section titles should orient the reader.
    Section titles should make reference to the aspect of your argument addressed in that section.
    The Body of the Article: Proof of Claim
  • 11. Often remind the reader of your thesis. Tie the details clearly to the purpose.
    Review structure as you write. Reformulate thesis if necessary.
    Connect the discussion to the broader academic debate. Make the importance of your claim clear.
    The Body of the Article: Proof of Claim
  • 12. Restate the claim.
    Summarize key points.
    Tell the reader why your claim is useful and important.
    Emphasize the implications.
  • 13. Find Your Own Voice
    Don’t imitate other styles.
    Discover your natural strengths as a writer.
    Address weaknesses in your writing that undermine your strengths.
    Maintain a tone of measured rationality.
  • 14. Use well-placed, short, simple sentences for strong points.
    Tighten sentences by eliminating passive voice and excess language.
    Think of punctuation marks as units of expression.
  • 15. Follow the forms in the 7th ed. McGill Law Journal Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation:
    A uniform system allows for efficient and reliable recognition of legal sources.
    Proper citations and references give you credibility and present you as someone who can participate in the ongoing academic debate.
    Footnotes and Bibliography
  • 16. Three types of information that require a footnote:
  • 17. Refer to a case, law, book, article, treaty, or other documentation to enable the reader to locate the source of your information.
    Enable readers to retrace your step and to decide for themselves whether the analysis is correct.
    Allow later readers to build from your argument without having to redo the preliminary work.
    Reference Footnotes
  • 18. Provide further information for the reader
    Establish the information within the broader informational context
    Fact Footnotes
  • 19. Establish your claim and analysis within the broader intellectual debate
    Present an alternative line of argument or tangents
    Ideas Footnotes
  • 20. Bradford, C.S. (1994). As I lay writing: How to write law review articles for fun and profit. Journal of Legal Education, 44(1),13-34.
    Mock, W. (2006). When a rose isn’t ‘arose’ isn’t arroz: A guide to footnoting for informational clarity and scholarly discourse. International Journal of Legal Information, 34 (87-97).
    References and Recommended Reading
  • 21. Samuelson, P. (1984). Good legal writing: Of Orwell and window panes. University of Pittsburgh Law Review, 149. Retrieved from http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~pam/papers/goodwriting.html
    Volokh, E. (1998). Writing a student article. Journal of Legal Education, 48(2), 247-272.
    References and Recommended Reading
  • 22. The Legal Writing Teaching Assistant: The Law Student’s Guide to Good Writing
    Useful links