If you’re a law student or lawyer, you know that writing is a lawyer’s stock-in-trade. This is true whether you work at a law school (as Dean Amar does) or at a law firm (as Julie does). Some legal professionals report that it’s difficult to find newer lawyers with good writing skills. This perception may be unfair, but some see a widening gap between how smart newer lawyers are today and how well they communicate in writing.

As a result, many law schools are working to help junior lawyers write better. The University of Illinois College of Law, for example, is devoting time and energy into beefing up first-year and upper-division writing offerings and integrating writing throughout the curriculum. Legal employers (like Schiff Hardin) are also investing in developing writing skills.

But how can we improve legal writing on a larger scale? That’s a big question, but here’s a starting point. While we know that legal writing draws on the analytical skills lawyers are already developing in other ways, becoming a good writer also requires something else: it requires lawyers to integrate “soft skills” alongside their “hard skills.”

When we were in law school a long (long!) time ago (at Yale and at the University of Chicago), no one discussed soft skills. The term “emotional intelligence,” an essential soft skill that refers in part to good communications skills, was not yet widely known.

Now it is. And lawyers must use their soft skills along with their hard skills in many contexts. Take negotiations, for example. Lawyers must understand the law, know the facts, and assess their client’s interests, to know whether to play hardball or take a gentler approach. But they also must interpret the signals that the other side is sending to understand the emotional and economic issues that may be motivating that party. It takes the soft skill of learning about and gauging an audience to do that.

Legal writing requires a similar blend of hard and soft skills. The hard skills associated with legal writing include the ability to research deeply and widely; to think flexibly and creatively about how the […]

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