Types of legal publications

Journal publications and essays

Academic legal writers can have a direct effect on the law with a well-written article. Courts cite academic articles and use their arguments to interpret the law.

Academic writing may contain interpretive or prescriptive arguments about how the law should be understood and implemented. A fresh approach to an issue or a solution to a problem (eg an idea for a new law, a suggestion for how an existing law should be enforced) can make a useful contribution to the field of law.

The most effective academic legal writing is:

  • well supported – legally sound and well researched (eg tested against a sufficiently large and relevant set of data or cases)
  • balanced – respectfully acknowledges and addresses counterarguments; does not employ rhetoric associated with particular political viewpoints
  • focused on argument, not background – although you need to conduct thorough research to write a good article, the article should contain only the facts that your reader needs to understand your argument
  • practical – a proposal for a modest change in a legal interpretation is more likely to find broad support than a call to scrap an established law
  • concrete – relies on specific examples and ideas, rather than abstractions and vague terms; outlines the real-world steps that would be needed to implement the article’s suggestions.

You should check all sources carefully. Include reference to the primary source, where possible, rather than only relying on secondary sources such as other articles. This is particularly important for contentious claims, statements that are key to your argument, and any statements that may appear to have bias. Check direct quotes with the source and ensure that you do not present any quotes out of context.

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Letters to clients (advice, recommendations)

Legal practitioners typically write letters to clients to answer a question or explain the client’s legal obligations or rights, or to other parties to make a demand on a client’s behalf.

Client letters should be direct and to the point. For example, if the client has asked what their rights are in a situation, they do not need the background of the applicable law. They simply need you to explain to them what they can and cannot do.

As you write, remember that your client is not a legal expert. You are not writing to another lawyer, and your language should reflect this. You should ensure that your response would be understood by the average person, and should take into account any special needs of your client that you are aware of. However, you should not patronise the client with overly simplistic language and explanations.

Some client correspondence may occur using email. See Ensuring that online content is rigorous for some tips on what to consider under these circumstances.

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