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Legal Research Survival Guide – Part 9: Legal Writing Resources

This post focuses on the final stage of the research process – writing. The importance of this stage is self-evident – all of the hard work you’ve put into researching your client’s legal problem will be wasted if you can’t effectively communicate your findings and analysis.

Don’t miss the other Survival Guide posts

Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the writing stage of a research assignment:

Practice time management

Make sure you leave enough time in your research process for writing. Clear writing and thorough editing may take you as much time as researching. Plan according to your deadline. Don’t fall into the trap of dragging out your research to avoid nailing down your analysis and beginning to write.

Edit in stages

Tackle the crucial task of editing and revising your work in stages so that you can focus on one aspect of your document at a time. Start by reviewing the big picture – the overall purpose, structure and flow. Go back and edit for clarity and style. Lastly focus on the details. Proof read for typos, grammar, citations, links, etc. Check out this helpful tutorial on editing your own work using a 5-layered strategy.

Get guidance

Writing well is a career-long pursuit. Achieving the goal of clear, concise, accessible and compelling written work takes time, practice and also guidance. Where possible ask for feedback on your writing and accept constructive criticism.

Other Resources

There is also a plethora of helpful writing about legal writing that you can use to improve your skills in writing research memos, opinion letters, pleadings, contracts and, most importantly in daily practice, client communications. There’s lots to explore, but here’s manageable selection of practical resources to start with:

Neil Guthrie, Guthrie’s Guide to Better Legal Writing (Irwin Law, 2018) KF 250 G88 2018, 2nd Floor, Reference.

  • straightforward, readable advice on fixing legal writing deficiencies. The book’s working title, Please Don’t Write like a Lawyer, says it all.

Justice John I. Laskin, “Forget the Wind-up and Make the Pitch”, Ontario Court of Appeal (originally published in Advocates’ Society Journal, Summer 1999)

  • Justice Laskin’s widely cited article provides enduring advice on effective point-first legal writing.

James C. Raymond, Writing for the Court (Carswell, 2010) KF 250 R39 2010, 2nd Floor, Reference.

  • aimed at both judges and lawyers, this slim text provides practical advice, with examples, on organizing your writing and achieving plain style.

Cheryl Stephens, “Plain Language Legal Writing”, CBA PracticeLink, 2014

Point First Legal Writing Academy

  • University of Ottawa’s Legal Writing Academy offers free, interactive resources for improving legal writing skills.


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Legal Research Survival Guide – Part 7: Organizing Your Research

Being an effective organizer is just as important as being an effective researcher—identifying and locating the law and commentary relevant to your research problem is only as useful as your ability to a) find that information again at a later date when it is needed and b) effectively communicate those findings to your principal, your client, others working on the file and most importantly, yourself.

Trust me – future-you will thank past-you for not having to cipher through pages upon post-its upon scraps of paper for the information you need. Thankfully, there are a handful of free, online note-taking services which can be really handy when trying to keep neat and organized notes. Here are three which the staff at the Library have reviewed (in no particular order):

Microsoft OneNote

  • Available on all devices (Android | iOS | Windows | Mac)
    • Can run into trouble when trying to switch to and from personal and work accounts
  • Flexible digital canvas
    • type, clip or write anywhere on the page
  • Designed to look and function as a digital notebook
    • Separate, colour-coded sections comprised of multiple, cascading pages
  • Insert screen clippings from the web straight into your notebook
  • Notes are searchable with the search function
  • Annotates notes with a decent collection of edit features
  • Integrates with Microsoft Office

Evernote

  • Accessible on all devices (Android | iOS | Windows)
  • Free plan does not have all features available
  • Designed to look and function as a digital notebook
    • Compromised of notes which can be organized with tags
  • Web Clipper web browser extension
    • Take screenshots from the web straight into your notebook
  • Add reminders, checklists and external files to your notes
  • Annotates notes with a decent collection of edit features
  • Does not integrate with Microsoft Office

Google Keep

  • Available for Android, iOS and online
  • More minimal when compared to other apps
  • Notes organized as digital sticky notes which can be colour-coded and labelled
  • Speech-to-text functionality using voice memo feature
  • Add texts, photos, lists and reminders to notes
  • Invite others to collaborate on your notes

And lastly here are some general pointers to help you stay focused, organized and able to back-track when needed:

  • Always record the search terms and search strings you used throughout your research process
  • Make sure to record citations and pinpoint references clearly and accurately
  • Record the sources that you referenced throughout your search, and star those which you had more success using
  • Be concise yet thorough—leave yourself notes as to why you included something in your notes if it’s not obvious
  • Date your pages—this will help you keep track of your progress
  • Don’t be an information hoarder! Having too much or unnecessary information in your notes can be confusing and overwhelming—cut things out as soon as it is clear it is not useful