Writing

La Trobe University

Writing

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Writing

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University

Writing

Achieve@Uni

Law

In this section, you will learn some strategies for writing well in Law subjects.

What does a successful written assignment in Law look like?

Good legal writing at uni (for example in an essay, a Court Report or a short answer question) is similar to good legal writing in Law practices. Very long sentences and long words are not necessary; modern legal writing is:

 

  • Concise (it uses a minimum number of words but expresses the idea fully).
  • Logical (the thinking behind each step can be followed clearly by the reader)
  • Coherent (the parts of the argument or assignment fit together and have a logical flow).

 

Here is a sample introduction from a Law essay, with annotations to indicate why the writer has included each section:

Now consider the following paragraphs from the body of the same essay:

The following  paragraph concludes the essay by summing up the key arguments:

 

Australian legal writing:

  • Acknowledges sources
  • Is explicit about positioning within a particular perspective
  • Uses many citations
  • Discusses those citations, pointing to developments, limiting, and comparing/ contrasting
  • Incorporates accurate use of AGLC (Australian Guide to Legal Citation)
  • Is supported by evidence
  • Aims to be rational and objective
  • Is cautious
  • Uses language precisely and is unambiguous
  • Demonstrates good knowledge of the law

 

To make your writing authoritative and credible:

  • If you formulate a proposition, it needs to be supported by an authoritative reference.
  • If it is your opinion, you need to justify it (for example, using a reference to another authority)

 

Elements of good writing:

  • Paragraph clarity (one idea per paragraph; best indicated in a topic sentence).
  • Structural logic (ideas are ordered logically and linked together).
  • Cohesion (the whole text reads smoothly).
  • Concision (expressing the idea fully but with minimum words)
  • Credible evidence supporting claims (your statements or claims are backed up with authoritative, relevant literature sources)
  • Incisive critical analysis (the writing demonstrates a broad understanding of the topic as well as an ability to comment on and evaluate issues).
  • Here you can demonstrate to your lecturer that you are aware of the different points of view in the issue and the legal rules that apply to the issue.
  • You need to show that you also have a point of view on the issue – this shows your engagement and ability to critically analyse.
  • "Often, the logic of your own argument will play an important role in persuading the reader".
  • La Trobe Law School, La Trobe Law Short Guide to Citing the Law, 3rd ed (2011).

 

  • painted mural depicting agents listening in on a phone box

    Banksy (2014). Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/apr/14/new-banksy-mural-near-gchq-depicts-agents-listening-in-on-phone-box

 

Example:

In the following paragraph, two authoritative points of view on privacy laws are described, followed by the writer’s own opinion in the final comment. Although it needs a little more detail to be a fully ‘engaged and critical discussion’, the necessary elements are here: contrasting points of view and the (student) writer’s considered opinion.

According to the Australian Federal Police (2012), a surveillance device warrant permits appointees to install and use surveillance devices, including the breaking open of “anything” to install or retrieve a device. However, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) finds that surveillance of public places – even telephone booths – can be considered a breach of Australian privacy law.  Accordingly, the VLRC recommended introducing two statutory causes of action for serious invasions of privacy. Clearly, there is a discord between police perceptions of their jurisdiction and the views expressed in the Law Reform Commission paper.

Adapted from: Australian Federal Police AFP (2011). Practical Guide (ACT Policing) on surveillance devices. Retrieved from  https://www.afp.gov.au/sites/default/files/PDF/IPS/PRA10120 AFP Practical Guide ACT Policing on surveillance devices.pdf

Adapted from: Victorian Law Reform Commission (2011).  Keeping private lives private. Retrieved from http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au/publications-and-media/journal-articles/keeping-private-lives-private#.dpuf

Law assignments, like assignments in other subjects, are graded using specific criteria. You can improve your chances of doing well in your writing if you refer to these criteria BEFORE you submit your paper.  Use this as a checklist before you submit the assignment.

Here are the marking criteria for two major first-year Law assignments at La Trobe University: Legal Institutions and Methods (LIM) and Dispute Resolution (DR):

 

LEGAL INSTITUTIONS AND METHODS - LAW1LIM

Court report Feedback Sheet

 

N D C B A

                                                              

Description of the case

Criminal or civil, nature of proceeding, material facts, stage of proceeding, bases of litigation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disputed issues

Disputed issues, arguments, burden of proof, evidence presented

 

 

 

 

 

 

Court atmosphere

Formality, architecture, factors affecting the proceeding

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal representation

Analysis of the role of legal representatives, relevance and effects of self-representation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decision-making

Analysis of the role the judiciary and/or jury

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final result

Decisions, orders, fairness of the outcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originality and individual thinking

Analysis of purpose and effectiveness of court hearing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written expression

Grammar, punctuation, spelling and writing style

 

 

 

 

 

 

Referencing of sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compliance with instructions, including word limit

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: LAW1LIM Subject Learning Guide, 2015

 

Dispute Resolution - LAW1DR

Short Essay Criteria Sheet

 

Rating 

Excellent

80-100%

Good

70-79%

Satisfactory

60-69%

Marginal

50-59%

Unacceptable

0-49%

Structure & Development: Fulfillment of overall task intent

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a clear outline which introduces the argument or views presented?

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a logical & well-developed argument – including conclusions?

 

 

 

 

 

Is the structure and sequence logical and easy to follow?

 

 

 

 

 

Research, Analysis & Understanding (including the use of evidence and examples)

 

 

 

 

 

Is there evidence of reflections on course material, other relevant written material & personal and/or professional experience?

 

 

 

 

 

Are the major issues covered in an informed and balanced manner demonstrating accuracy and a depth of understanding of the concepts and principles applicable to the topic area/question?

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a demonstration of clear reasoning and critical analysis?

 

 

 

 

 

Is there appropriate use or integration of reference material into arguments?

 

 

 

 

 

Presentation, Grammar and Citation               

 

 

 

 

 

Proof reading/spelling/grammar/expression

 

 

 

 

 

Accurate citation of sources

 

 

 

 

 

A bibliography in a standard format

 

 

 

 

 

Compliance with presentation instructions

 

 

 

 

 

Source LAW1DR Subject Learning Guide, 2016

Problem questions are common forms of assessment in a number of Law subjects. Although the content differs according to each subject, the format is usually similar: you are given a hypothetical situation that involves a legal problem. Your task is to analyse the scenario and identify legal issues for analysis and discussion. This is often undertaken using the IRAC process:

  • < > What is the Issue? What is the legal issue or problem that you can see as you read the question? What legal question is the Court required to answer? < > What is the legal Rule that applies to this issue? (The issue triggers the rule). You have to know the laws to talk about them. With the relevant legal principles, or Rules, what does the Law say on that issue? What precedent might relate to this issue? You might need to read the question more than once, and you might also see that there is more than one issue. Complete an IRAC process on each issue, one at a time. < > Analysis. This is often the part that students find difficult. Think of it as a matching exercise: The case and the law that relates to it. If you do not apply the principle to the facts that you are given, you cannot answer the question correctly. So, you need to look at legal principles that relate to the facts, in order to answer the question. For example, whose arguments seem stronger, and more likely to succeed? What are the arguments of both parties - the plaintiff and the defendant?

    C: Conclusion. The conclusion section should contain clear evidence of your opinion or judgement using logical analysis based on the rule and the facts. What is the likely outcome of this case, in your opinion? Here you can draw on your knowledge about other similar cases, or precedents, and use your common sense to argue for the most likely outcome of the fact situation. The conclusion should be reasonable, because you have come to it by looking at the rule & the facts.

    For some sample problem question responses at Pass, Credit, Distinction and High Distinction levels, see:

    http://sydney.edu.au/law/learning_teaching/legal_writing/samples_problem_questions.shtml