Legal drafting is a well-defined and structured system of documentation that is used to craft legal documents. While litigators draft complaints and pleadings, business lawyers draft articles of incorporation, and employment contracts and criminal lawyers have to draft plea agreements and writs of habeas corpus when representing clients. Hence, drafting skills are essential for every practising lawyer. Most law firms lose valuable time engaging in non-core legal activities like legal drafting, legal documentation and other legal & paralegal. The efficiency they rob has become so significant that many law firms now opt to outsource such legal works to save time and effort and to invest it in better things that enhance efficiency.
Technology has shifted since the days of pen and paper drafting. Today, drafting attorneys are expected to use technical tools to draft legislation so that they spend less time formatting and more time making sure the information on them is good enough for downstream processing.
Some of the areas that require legal drafting include motions, deposition questions, stipulations, subpoenas, drafting legal complaints and summons and pleadings. We all know they take up time but why exactly is it the most dreaded legal work? Here’s a look at why legal drafting takes up so much time.
Requires legal research
This is the first step towards making any legal draft and is also the step that takes the longest to complete. The subject of the draft has to be studied in-depth to ensure that you have a proper understanding of what the subject matter is and also how to handle it. This requires a thorough grip of the law, and it’s more exceptional nuances as some instances may need drafts pertaining to very niche fields. You might also need to reference a lot of academic work to gain insight into specific topics which further slows down the process.
In more recent times, desktop applications such as OpenOffice, MS Word, and WordPerfect have become a staple for legal drafting and are now regularly used by lawyers to create, amend, and update legislation. Though they have helped make research more accessible, they have also added to the work that drafting attorneys have to do to stay updated and relevant.
Over the last few years, bill drafting tools have been designed based on the needs of the technology involved and not based on what the lawyers need. The technical challenges regarding page and line number referencing and strict auditing of changes still exist and have not been solved. A lot of young lawyers use voice-recording tools to help in the process of drafting. Human errors are an important hurdle while using these tools as a misinterpretation of words or notions can lead to severe penalties in this trade.
Editing and proofreading
With legal writing, it is critical to making sure that the documents you draft reflect professionalism and your firm’s work ethics. This is why some of the most crucial legal drafting skills include organising the text to make it reader-friendly, maintaining clear and concise writing, avoiding grammatical errors and typos and finally, editing and correcting the document systematically and thoroughly. Hence it is mandatory you understand the purpose of the document so that you can plan for it accordingly. Know whether the letter is to advise, remind, complain or justify something so that you can word it professionally and correctly. Based on the requirement, prepare a well-structured, logical, and legally effective draft covering all relevant issues making sure your language is clear and concise. Each word you use should contribute to your message. Make sure you use action words that make your legal prose powerful and dynamic.
Requires a lot of communication
Drafting a legal document requires you to know your audience in and out as each record has to be prepared to keep their needs and requirements in mind. Content in a report varies depending on the intended audience, and hence you can never know them enough. This, without a doubt, takes up a large portion of your time. Correspondence, whether it be over the phone, text or email takes a lot of time, and the worst part about this step is that you cannot rush it or move it along fast as it does not depend on you. Many a draft has been held back in the back-end of the office due to a demanding client who was hard to reach or did not know what they wanted precisely.
Maintaining and Indexing legal files
Being able to draft a good document is just one side of the process. Carefully organising the data is necessary if you are to be able to use it later as and when required. Not only do you have to index the files, but you must also organise your firm’s collection of legal dictionaries and legal writing manuals provided by scholars so that you have something to rely on while preparing your draft.
Creation of legal documents is an integral part of the practice of law whether it be individual or corporate. Irrespective of the type of the document, drafting skills are most essential and time-consuming for every practising lawyer as they lay the foundation for successful performance while in court. While contract drafting is no easy task and requires diligence, practice and hard work it is something that can be mastered and when dealt with accordingly is an important skill that will help any lawyer in his trade.