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Academic Legal Writing

Composition of the Note

The Four Parts of a Note

  1. The Introduction: Here you introduce your topic. Create a roadmap for the rest of your paper. Tell your audience what they can expect going forward.
  2. Statement of Facts: This should contain your literature review and the background and context for the law or legal topic you are going to discuss. You may want to briefly survey how this law or topic is handled in other jurisdictions. This is sometimes called the objective portion of the paper.
  3. Your analysis: This is the subjective part of the paper. It should contain your arguments, supported by evidence.
  4. The Conclusion: Here you should briefly summarize your previous points and emphasize whatever conclusions you have made


Read the Question

Know Your Audience

There are different kinds of academic legal writing and as in all writing, it is imperative to know your audience and their expectations.  Some examples include:

Seminar Papers and Writing Competitions: Here you are responding to a specific assignment.  Read the assignment very carefully and respond to all of the required elements.  Consult with your professor.  If he or she is willing to review drafts make sure to take advantage of this.

Law Reviews:  Review the submission guideline of law reviews you are interested in.  You may want to read over the works published in that journal and take note of the stylistic similarities.  You will probably want to choose a topic of current interest and focus primarily on analysis

Policy Papers: These may be written at the request of a client or employer and so again it is very important that your work cover all requirements set forth and that it matches the tone appropriate to the sponsor.

Bar Journals: Writing for bar journals can be much less format than other academic writing and you may not be allowed to use footnotes.  You are also more likely to succeed with a topic with that has a more immediately practical application.

The Outline and the First Draft

The Outline is critical to your scholarly legal writing. 

In your first round of research, you should have generated an outline.  Use the outline to guide your writing.  The introduction should include your thesis and a roadmap of what the reader can expect to see in the rest of the paper. 

The next part of your outline should include the background context for your topic, possibly including a literature review, a statement of the current law, it's background and enforcement. 

The third part will contain you analysis.  Support your thesis and the arguments that back your thesis with evidence.

Finally, your conclusion should summarize your findings.

You may find that you would like to rearrange your outline as you write.  You may find that you would prefer to organize your paper by type of argument or type of evidence or go from the broadest implications of your analysis to narrowest or vice versa.  You can treat your outline as modular and move things around as seems most persuasive to you.

The First Draft . . . . Second Draft . . .  Third . . .

It is not necessary to write your first draft in order.  You can start anywhere in your outline.  If you like, you can begin by rephrasing the notes you made under each topic in your outline.  It can be easier to start from something- even if it is very unpolished than to compose from scratch.

Use your outline to create descriptive section headings for your draft.  This will keep you organized and help your reader follow your thinking.

After your first draft, you will want to revise multiple times.  It may be difficult to pick a point where the first draft becomes the second which becomes the third but it can be useful to create and save explicitly labeled draft numbers in case you need to go back and to better incorporate outside feedback.