Cautioning the careless writer: The importance of accurate and ethical legal writing


  • S. van der Merwe Practicing Attorney and Notary Public of the High Court of South Africa & Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Legal professionals are required to write ethically, skilfully and accurately. Growing concerns over the quality of graduated students entering the profession has led to an increased sensitivity about the teaching of writing skills. This article will not consider the how to, but instead focus on the issue of why legal writers should be vigilant in guarding against the proclivity to write in a careless manner. It will be argued that the results of careless legal writing could have devastating consequences for the legal professional’s career as well as his client’s wallet. Legal writing has to be professional and ethical and reflect the writer’s respect for his or her own workmanship as well as for the intended recipient. Careful legal writing aims to avoid misunderstandings and litigation and aids in developing and clarifying legal analysis. It recognises the permanent nature of what is being written and the persuasive potential innate to legal drafting. Responsible legal writers are mindful of the specific legal consequences of their writing and recognise that they have, in their writing, the ability to appeal to the aesthetic sensibilities of the reader.


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