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Drafting with clarity – a vital skill for lawyers

The latest edition of Adler’s and Perry’s book entitled ‘Clarity for Lawyers’ was an interesting read for me as I have been training solicitors for almost 20 years. The book makes it clear that by simplifying and clarifying drafting, you avoid mistakes and become more effective.

Trainee solicitors inevitably come into their period of training after a long spell in academia. Perhaps legal academic training is changing but, in my experience students mainly write for the audience of their academic tutors. That audience is perhaps the only one which is likely to be able to readily comprehend complex sentence structure, and will be undaunted by it.

On entering legal practice however, a new mind set is required.

We cannot have our lay clients baffled by rambling sentence structure. We must avoid the potential for confusion in the documents we draft. Our work should be a delight to read, not an agonising and frustrating exercise to discern meaning and intention, where this is poorly expressed

I regularly spend time in reading drafts and offering a constructive appraisal of the written words from trainees.

If I could ask new trainees to do one thing before starting their seat with me, I would always ask them to carefully read and learn from the Clarity for Lawyers book. It is one of those legal books every lawyer should have read.

When I was starting out on my legal career, I read the first edition and it really had an impact on me. It radically changed the way I approached the task of drafting: be it an attendance note, a letter of advice, a letter of claim, witness statement, statement of case, instructions to Counsel or any of the many documents which lawyers draft. Lawyers often spend a large proportion of their day in drafting and therefore this book can make a significant contribution to improving the quality and effectiveness of their output. Witness statements gain probative weight as the key evidence drives home the case with power. Letters of advice are concise, precise and are understood.

A skilful lawyer is not one who knows every technical detail – as it would be impossible to be across every detail, and effective research can quickly lead you to the technical point you need to know. In my view, the important skills of a lawyer are whether you can communicate effectively, to persuade, advocate, negotiate and explain. This book is a notable contribution to this.

The latest edition, recently published has a new co-editor, Ms Perry, who is a commercial barrister and legal trainer. Training materials are included which would be a useful basis for in-house legal training. This edition also updates the work in the light of current law and practice.