You're In-House, but You Don't Have to Write Like a Corporate Drone

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 04, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sure, legal writing isn't poetry. Those rare "Law as Literature" texts have some moving pieces, but so would a "Best Automotive Technical Manuals" anthology. But for all its faults, legal composition is Shakespeare compared to the formless, meaningless muck that often passes as writing in the corporate world.

Thankfully, that J.D. or Esq. behind your name can help you stave off the pressure to shift paradigms, buy-in to corporate writing core competencies, and synergize your base touching. As a lawyer in the corporate world, remember: there's no need to sound like a corporate drone.

Learning to write like a lawyer means developing writing skills that should stick with you throughout your career. Chief among the virtues of good legal writing is clarity. Legal writing, done well, teaches attorneys how to organize facts, precedent and argumentation in order to present a clear, explicit argument. (Though, of course, there's always a time and place for some obfuscation.)

Good legal writing is concise. While you may have labored over 40 page briefs on tangential issues as a law student or associate, most lawyers learn quickly that brief, efficient writing is necessary. Court-imposed word limits help. Finally, the best legal writing is well-supported. Lawyers learn quickly that every assertion must have some basis in fact or precedent. You must be able to support what you say.

Of course, lawyers transitioning to the corporate world would be advised to jettison plenty of legal writing habits. Most legal writing -- not just the worst, but most -- is overly technical. Hedging. Complex. Unless you're writing a legal document, avoid the legalese.

Avoiding Corporate Lingo

The writing done by in-house lawyers is often still legal writing. But much of it is not. In communications with your business colleagues, it can be tempting to adopt to writing style they employ. Emails become laden with corporate jargon about "actionable items" (which don't mean the same thing in business as in law), "alignment" (as in, "we need to align our Tuesday schedules"), and "asks" (instead of requests.) And those are just the A's.

The problem with corporate writing isn't that it uses silly words in silly ways. It's that such jargon often becomes meaningless, losing its connection to anything finite. (If you want to see jargon roll off into the realm of absolute incoherence, we suggest this presentation from AOL.) Luckily, in-house lawyers have the privilege of being corporate outsiders, to a certain extent. You don't have to "talk in PowerPoint." Your outsider status means you can avoid sounding like all the rest. You can make sure your writing remains crisp, concise, and comprehensible.

We hope you do.

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