Law School Essays: How to Plan Your Writing

If you're writing a paper for a law school class (or for admission to a competitive law program), you should not fly blind. No matter how accomplished and effortless a writer you are, writing without a plan will lead to a shoddily organized paper that fails to fulfill its potential. Instead of drafting a paper without any initial pre-writing, engage in the following planning steps.

Consider the Scope

No matter what country you are in, the legal history your are studying is rich and voluminous. Legal history is too detailed, in fact, for any student to be expected to write about the entire legacy of any particular legal topic. Your essay probably has a length limit, and your research should itself have a limited scope. Choose a highly specific research area; you can always branch out if it proves too limiting.

After selecting a topic, confine yourself to a particular time period. Do not try to read everything about tort law from the present to the beginning of your country's legal system. Choose a few key time points and go no further. If you delve too deeply into your topic, you will be left with more research than you can ever hope to write about in a single paper, which will waste both research time and drafting time.

Consider the Length

Do not waste words. Pay close attention to the writing guidelines provided by your instructor or by the legal program to which you are applying, especially the word length. Do not exceed this limit when creating your paper. Plan the word usage of your paper carefully -- select a subtopic and decide exactly how many words you will devote to it. Structuring your paper in this fashion will keep you from wasting length or becoming too rambling in your prose.

Use Clear Language

Many legal students fall into the habit of writing in lengthy, confusing legalese, which tends to waste words, create passive, uninteresting sentences, and bore the reader to tears. If you cannot write about a topic in easy, conversational language, you need to devote more time to understanding the topic before you write.

Try explaining your research topic to friends and family who are not in law school and do not have a legal background. Use everyday language that anyone educated can understand. Once you have practiced explaining your paper in this informal way, you are ready to begin writing. If you cannot form an adequately simple description of the topic, it's time to conduct more research or choose a new research area.