If you want to excel in your essay writing abilities, there are a couple of do’s and dont’s that you need to be aware of when it comes to essay writing in law school. Essay writing is every law student’s worst nightmare. And understandably, you’re critiquing the law, offering a new and fresh perspective on an area of law that you may be unfamiliar with. It’s scary – let’s just put that out there!
That’s exactly why you are here today – to find out the top 5 do’s and dont’s of essay writing! Let me indulge you for a second – I made many many mistakes in law school, more importantly when I was writing essays. It took a while before I was able to understand what it was that I needed to do to push past a 2:1 or to confidently and consistently achieve 1:1 grades.
But look no further – I’ve got you. Read below for the top do’s and dont’s of essay writing that all law students need to be aware of in law school.
Table of Contents:
The Do’s of Essay-Writing for Law Students:
#1 Capitalise the name of the court, the Judge, people, places, and source of law
Yes, it seems so small and minor in nature but I assure you that the person marking your paper will take a mental note of this. It is, in and of itself, a small thing to fix anyway. It is in your own best interest to watch what you are capitalising and to re-check your work for the capitalisations of the above. No matter what, when naming a court, ALWAYS capitalise the name of the Court, the name of the ‘Judge’ etc, etc.
#2 Justify ALL of your paragraphs including your footnotes for a clean and polished look
This is something that I learned myself from endless days of writing essays. I was once complimented by my EU Human Rights lecturer for the presentation of my assignment – including justifying my footnotes! Okay yes, there are no significant amount of marks going for the presentation. However, there are SOME marks and what you and I are trying to do is to pick up as many marks as possible and to leave no stone unturned.
Be sure to check out my blog post on 7 Effective Tips To Write a 1st Class Law Essay which explores the most simple yet effective tips to help you consistently achieve high grades in your essays from day 1 of law school to the final days of law school.
#3 Check that the font size, the font itself, and the line spacing are consistent throughout your work
This relates to the mandatory assignment requirements that you will have to do, which your lecturer will request that you comply with. Most legal essays/writing are similar in nature – size 12 font, times new roman, 1.5 line spacing. But just to be absolutely sure, double-check what it is that your lecturer has requested. It is not ideal to lose marks simply because you forgot to line-space your work. Again, we are trying to pick up any stray loose marks as we can!
#4 Ensure that the tense used throughout your main body is consistent
This is something that you may or may not be aware of. Try to be as consistent as you can when writing your essays, in particular when using the present tense. Try to avoid going in between 2 different tenses as this isn’t a good look for your work. Consistency, in anything, is key. Remember that.
#5 Eliminate compound constructions such as ‘in light of this…’ and instead, say ‘because’ to maximize work count and simplify your language
Any and all law students are guilty of this! Here are some classic examples:
- “By means of…”
- “In order to..”
- “in favour of…”
- “in the event that…”
- “with a view to…”
- “for the purpose of…”
A compound construction is a combination of 2 or more independent clauses. The key here is that independent clauses are clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences. So instead of using them, try using simpler phrases/words such as
- instead of “by means of…”, just use “by”
- instead of “in favour of..”, just use “for”
- instead of “for the purpose of…”, just use “to”
- instead of “in connection with..”, just use “concerning”
The Donts of Essay-Writing for Law Students
#1 Re-state the question/title of your essay in the essay – the examiner already knows what you are discussing so don’t waste time/words on this
This is advice that I received a lot throughout my time in first law school – stop paraphrasing the question! The title is already given and the reader knows what it is. No matter how you re-phrase it or paraphrase it… the reader already knows! It’s not helping you to gain marks either so what’s the point? You’d be better off starting your essay going into the substantiveness of it, rather than just paraphrasing a question in your own words to show you understand the topic. There’s just no use to this.
#2 Do not use the 1st person pronoun, ever – use the 3rd person pronoun when writing
You’ll have heard this time and time again but never start a sentence, or end a sentence beginning with “I think” or “I believe that” or “It is my opinion that” – this is just simply not good writing. You need to write from a 3rd person pronoun perspective.
Think of it this way, anything you have written isn’t technically your own work, in the sense that most of your research will be based on what someone else has written but you are simply tidying it up and writing a short, concise, and well-thought-out paper.
#3 Forget to justify your paragraphs otherwise, your work doesn’t look nice and you’ll lose marks for the presentation
You do get marks for the presentation of your essay/paper, albeit small! Yes, it won’t count for a huge amount of your overall mark, but what’s wrong with picking up a few extra marks? Absolutely nothing. The easiest way to do this is to justify everything, including your footnotes. The reader will appreciate it, and this is the feedback that I have received in the past from former lecturers of mine. So you can trust that I know what I am talking about.
#4 Forget to check if each sentence/paragraph actually answers the question/title
This one is a hard one because, at the end of the day, you are being assessed on whether you can actually answer the title/problem question. The way I tend to look at it is like this: imagine that every sentence is related and/or low-key answers the title/problem question. This will require you to look at the question with a fine tooth comb and might add some more time for you to go through your paper but hey, it works and it is worthwhile.
#5 Forget to be honest with yourself and manage your expectations on how you prepared for the question – if you didn’t prepare well enough, don’t be surprised if you didn’t get the result you were expecting.
I have to say this because we are all about healthy productivity and healthy studying too. If you don’t put in the work, don’t expect great results. It has to be said because it is true. You cannot expect to do well on a whim, some get lucky and some don’t but in most cases many won’t do well. Even if that is the case, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, a letter or number is not definitive of who you are as a person nor your work ethic.
And that is the end of our do’s and don’ts of essay writing that every law student should know. I am sure that there are plenty more ideas. If so, leave a comment below so that we can share the knowledge among us all!
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Until the next blog post,