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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: Stick to a Law Firm Style Guide

By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor

Professionalism dictates that all briefs, motions, internal memos, client letters and web content generated by a law firm should uniformly follow the same conventions. But choosing among various correct but different rules of grammar and punctuation can be complicated. That’s where a law firm style manual – or style guide – comes in.

Documenting preferred rules and conventions, a style manual provides consistency in all firm communications. Not only does this convey professionalism, it sets forth an authoritative editorial style for associates who may have trouble keeping straight the personal drafting preferences of several partners.

Offering definitive guidance when rules are open to interpretation, a house style can cover writing mechanics and formatting (such as spacing and fonts). In particular, some squirrely rules that can be addressed include serial commas, capitalization, the number of spaces after a period, cyber style (Internet or internet) and even the precise name of the firm (LLP or L.L.P.)?

For a down and dirty style manual, firms could officially adopt an existing style guide such as The Associated Press Stylebook. If your firm devises a unique style manual (which I recommend), make it easy to read by including a thorough index and providing examples for clarity. Be sure to factor in local court requirements and be aware that certain firm templates may need re-drafting to adhere to the new style guide.

Formally present the guide and train all lawyers to use it. Put it on the firm’s internal website and designate a point person to decide the inevitable follow-up judgment calls. Understand, too, that the manual will change over time, just like language usage itself.

While creating a style manual is an investment of staff hours, it goes a long way towards professionalism. It’ll also streamline the writing process because lawyers can focus solely on the substance of documents.


A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. She is the author of Cheer: A Novel, which is available on Amazon. She can be reached at

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