So you think you can… become a legal writer?

by Kenneth Boyd
21 August 2020

Two types of people get into legal writing: those who have started-out as legal professionals and crossed over into legal copywriting. Or, you may have started your career as a content writer or copywriter and edged into writing about legal topics.

If you’re in the first camp, you probably have the necessary legal expertise backing you up, but you could be lacking in writing skills. Second camp? You may be a first-rate writer with little legal knowledge. Whichever avenue you take, legal writing isn’t an area in which you can ‘wing it’ – so to be a legal writer who gets work consistently, you’re definitely going to need an equal balance of writing skills and legal knowledge.

The exact skillset you need depends on the type of legal writing you pursue – so let’s take a closer look into that.

What is legal writing?

Legal writing is a pretty broad field, but involves basically producing any type of content required by those in the legal industry. For example, legal analysis writers summarise case law and prepare reports for attorneys, while brief writers produce legal documents like memorandums and motions. And legal correspondents report and analyse news within the legal industry. Legal writers are also needed for less technical content. Those positions include:

  • Feature writers, who write online or offline articles related to law
  • Web content writers and copywriters, who provide law firms with web copy, content marketing or thought leadership pieces
  • Corporate writers, who write on a broad range of subjects for the legal industry. Content can include everything from presentations to press releases.

Qualifications you need

If you’re more interested in less technical legal writing, you can become a legal content writer, copywriter, feature writer or corporate writer without needing to have a law degree. But you’ll still need to have a good knowledge of legal terms. It can be helpful to have studied law at uni. However, you can work as a legal writer for a licensed lawyer, who took the LSAT and attended law school, even if you don’t have any law-related degree.

The types of legal writing positions like legal analysis writer, brief writer, and legal correspondent fall under the category of technical writing. If you want to work within those realms, you’ll need to have some knowledge of legal terms. But you will preferably have attended classes in law or have a law degree. The more expert knowledge you have, the more specific technical jobs you can get. Because technical legal writers must meet high standards and have excellent legal knowledge, they can demand higher rates of pay.

Skills you’ll need

To become a legal writer, you must be a fantastic writer who’s able to turn complex legal ideas into easily understandable content. A knack for expressing ideas clearly, concisely, and logically is essential (no fluff allowed!). You’ll also need to have knowledge of the legal industry and legal terms, and possess superb research skills. Knowing how to cite sources correctly is also key. If you decide to work as a legal web writer, you’ll also need to have skills in things like SEO, keywords, and meta-strategy development.

Where to land clients

You won’t find as many technical legal writing positions as much as other kinds of writing work due to the niche of the industry, and that’s a good thing. Because the list of potential clients is narrower, you will be able to find work – and hopefully charge more, too. However, web-based, less-technical legal writing is growing in demand, so you’ll be able to find more of those types of lower-paying positions.

You may be able to get a permanent position as a writer for a law firm, or another organisation in the legal industry. But most legal writers work as freelancers. Rachel’s List has listed positions for legal writers and reporters in the past so jobs boards can sometimes be a good bet – or you could use LinkedIn to research potential clients and send letters of introduction to see if they have content needs – such as law firms or digital agencies with legal clients. Good luck!

Kenneth Boyd
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