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7 things every law student must know about writing quality legal essays

Sumeet Kachwaha, Senior Partner
Sumeet Kachwaha, Senior Partner

Legal papers might not have the glamour of moot courts but writing is arguably a much more important skill to master as a budding lawyer.

However, most students need orientation. Read our master class of tips on how to write essays that get published and win prizes.

1. Be realistically creative

Think carefully about a subject that has enough depth to let you get your teeth into it, but that is not so overwhelming and ambitious that you'll need to write a book to answer it all.

Maybe you are lucky and have great teachers at law school, and it'll just come to you as you are listening to them or your lectures, but there is no substitute for reading and researching.

And even a somewhat straightforward topic such as analysing all recent Supreme Court judgments relating to an area of law can work, if you do this really well, says Sumeet Kachwaha, whose firm Kachwaha & Partners organises arb Excel, an annual essay writing competition on arbitration law.

Having read and judged hundreds of law student essays and submissions for journals in his time, he has a very practical perspective.

[Click here on how to take part in arb Excel]

2. Prepare your ingredients

Some pointers to good writing:

(by Sumeet Kachwaha)

Drafting is a creative exercise and there are very few rules: the objective is to convey a thought and therefore what is of supreme importance is clarity of thought.

How to get clarity?
- Know your subject: a confused mind can never produce a clear thought.
- Make your point as directly and as simply as possible (do not confuse flowery or verbose prose with good drafting).
- Follow a logical sequence (flow).
- Avoid cluttered or long winded sentences; jumping from point to point; repetition or superfluous words.

Good writing is a skill which needs working on.

Just be aware that you wish to write well and it will happen!

“Before you start writing you have to be clear in your mind,” advises Kachwaha. “The problem is that people start writing without the necessary clarity. They read and make notes, and read and make notes, and blur over the difficult points. If the work is cobbled together from various internet sources, it'll show in the final copy" he says.

3. Take out time

“You need to spend a lot of time to come out with a high quality academic product.” Kachwaha says, but acknowledges that it a big problem nowadays, with students having high work, exam and internship workloads. Usually students are only able to take out 2-3 days – but that is not enough.

Ideally the time commitment a top class article requires is several weeks and if you do that, the Product will probably even surprise you.

4. Attention: detail

"I wish people were more careful in writing. Last time there was one person who could have made it to the top prize but got a much lower prize because of careless mistakes.” recounts Kachwaha.

It could be as simple as a sentence left dangling; a word missing or a simple spelling or grammar mistake, but often that is enough to scupper your chances of serious publications or winning prizes.

“It is a pity a person has understood the whole thing, has a great point, loses out for reasons like this. ” he says. All it usually takes is a few more hours of cleaning, proofing and polishing the copy.

5. A strong start

“The reality is that when you're judging so many articles, you get impatient if the person you're looking at doesn't make sense in the first two pages.” admits Kachwaha about the realities of judging essay competitions or submissions to journals. “Unfortunately you get judgmental very quickly.”

“If there is a false start, a clumsy sentence or a silly mistake in the beginning, your brilliance on page eight will not get noticed.”

“You have to keep the interest of reader in the first two pages; if you lose the reader - that's it”

6. Clearly presentable

Formatting, font-sizes and the rest have a role in making your piece visually attractive and easy to read. “It's important not to clutter the page making the reader struggle. Other than that, it doesn't really matter.”

7. Keep It Simple!

If you know your subject, there is no reason to use obscure words, and more often than not writers using big words end up using inappropriate or incorrect words, which is “just another form of sloppiness”, says Kachwaha.

"Of course, sometimes a technical or uncommon word or phrase might actually be spot on and appropriate and enhance the writing with its precision."

Same goes for your sentence structure. "If you can, keep your sentences short and precise." The greatest legal writers, such as Lord Denning, says Kachwaha, "were a joy to read because they didn't jumble their sentences all over the place."

Flex your writing muscle in arb Excel

Kachwaha & Partners organise arb Excel, an annual essay competition on arbitration, which is now in its third edition, in order to promote Indian students' knowledge and interest of arbitration.

While much arbitration work is being lost to foreign counsel and arbitration venues, Kachwaha believes that there is enough legal talent in India to be able to improve matters in future.

Third, fourth and fifth year undergraduates (but not LLM students) can write on any subject or theme of their choice around arbitration. At stake are Rs 1 lakh as first prize out of a total corpus of more than Rs 2.5 lakh of prizes for eight other runners-up. On top of that, Kachwaha does not ask for any copyright on your submissions, so many previous winners have gone on to publish their work in highly prestigious international journals.

You can find more details on how to take part here.

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