DRAFTING LEGAL DOCUMENTS:
A RESOURCE GUIDE

Prepared by Kelly Kunsch, Seattle University Law Library
for Bridge the Gap, June 27, 2001

 

LEGAL DRAFTING GENERALLY

The creation of legal documents is integral to the practice of law. Litigators draft complaints and other pleadings, interrogatories, and jury instructions. Business lawyers draft articles of incorporation, and contracts ranging from employment of individuals to security of goods. Even criminal lawyers rely on plea agreements, motions in limine, appellate briefs, and writs of habeas corpus in representing their clients. Because of this, drafting skills are essential for every practicing lawyer.

According to a learned treatise (okay, the Nutshell): "Drafting is one of the most intellectually demanding of all lawyering skills. It requires a knowledge of the law, the ability to deal with abstract concepts, investigative instincts, an extraordinary degree of prescience, and organizational skills." This research guide is designed to identify and explain some of the most useful resources for lawyers in drafting legal documents.

SCOPE NOTE: The call numbers listed on this page are those used by the Seattle University Law Library or Marian Gould Gallagher Library, University of Washington School of Law. At many law libraries, these sets will have similar call numbers. sets of formbooks will often be kept in a Reference or Reserve area. Check the catalog or ask for assistance at the library you are using.

 

BOOKS ON LEGAL DRAFTING

The following books have been recommended by professors who teach legal drafting:

Drafting Legal Documents: Principles and Practices, by Barbara Child (West Group), KF250.C47

Legal Drafting, by Susan L. Brody et al. (Little Brown, now Aspen), KF250.L392.

Beyond the Basics: A Text for Advanced Legal Writing, by Mary Barnard Ray (West Group), KF250.R38.

Drafting Contracts: A Guide to the Practical Application of the Principles of Contract Law, by Scott J. Burnham (Michie), KF807.B87.

 

FORMBOOKS

Formbooks collect sample legal forms, providing often-used and court-tested language to lawyers so that they need not begin anew on each drafting project. Formbooks usually include alternative forms (such as a longer, more detailed form as well as a short form). They also include optional clauses that can be added to the basic form when appropriate. Formbooks often included checklists that lawyers use to assure they gather all the necessary information from the client during the interview. These multi-volume sets are typically arranged by topic in encyclopedic fashion. Traditionally, the forms are accessed by using the index volume or volumes which point to the applicable topic and section. Some of the formbooks have been added to online databases. These can be full-text searched as well.

Although this research guide identifies certain formbooks and explains how to find forms generally, there is no simple method of determining the quality of the formbooks and forms provided. Often the best method of doing that is asking somebody with experience in using such forms.

General Forms

Some formbooks encompass almost the entire gamut of legal topics: from "Abandoned Property" to "Zoning." These formbooks are not jurisdiction specific although occasionally they may contain a comment or clause that focuses on particular jurisdictions. When working with such forms, the careful lawyer will compare the language with applicable statutes, regulations, and decisions to be certain it complies with the requirements of the jurisdiction it is drafted for.

The major sets of general forms include:

American Jurisprudence Legal Forms (usually called "AmJur Legal Forms") (currently published by West Group), KF170.A542. This set is complementary to AmJur Pleading and Practice Forms (see below). The "Legal Forms" set contains transactional forms such as contracts rather than court forms. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: AMJUR-LF).

Current Legal Forms, With Tax Analysis (published by Matthew Bender), KF170.R3. This set is also available on Lexis (MATBEN;CLFTA).

Nichols Cyclopedia of Legal Forms (currently published by West Group), KF170.N5. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: NICHOLS-LF).

West's Legal Forms (published by West Group), KF170.W47. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: WEST-LF).

American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms (usually called "AmJur Pleading and Practice Forms") (currently published by West Group), KF8836.A45. This set is complementary to AmJur Legal Forms (listed above). It contains forms used in legal actions as opposed to transactional forms. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: AMJUR-PP).

Subject Specific Forms

There are many formbooks that collect forms for legal documents specific to a particular subject or type of practice. These formbooks contain not only the essential documents themselves, but also a multitude of optional clauses that may be included in the basic document depending on a client's needs. Some well-known examples include:

Fletcher Corporation Forms, Annotated (published by Callaghan), KF1411.F55.

Collier Forms Manual [Bankruptcy] (published by Matthew Bender), KF1521.C6.

To see if there are any formbooks on a topic that you are interested in, use the library's catalog. Usually there will be a keyword option. Combining the subject (e.g., "bankruptcy") with the word "forms" should provide a list.

Jurisdiction Specific Forms

Similar to formbooks that cover a particular topic, certain formbooks focus on legal documents used in a particular jurisdiction. The most prominent "jurisdiction" is that of federal courts. There are several major sets of FEDERAL forms. They include:

Bender's Federal Practice Forms (published by Matthew Bender), KF8836.F78.

Federal Procedural Forms, Lawyers Edition (published by Lawyers Co-operative), KF8836.F4.

West's Federal Forms (published by West Group), KF8836.W4.

There are also formbooks whose focus is one particular state. Typically, law libraries in the Pacific Northwest only collect formbooks for their home state. In Washington, there is no current set that compiles general WASHINGTON forms on all topics. Instead, the various practice books compile forms that are often included as appendices to the chapters discussing the issues addressed in the text of the chapter. That being said, there are a few volumes that merit mention:

Civil Procedure Forms and Commentary (vols. 9-10A of Washington Practice), KFW80.W32. These four volumes are arranged by Civil Rule number. They have a few variations of many forms (e.g., Summary Judgment motions and orders). If a procedural form is not rule based, however, it may not be included in the set.

Domestic Relations Pattern Forms (published by Office of the Administrator for the Courts, State of Washington), KFW94.A65. These forms are also reprinted in volume 22 of the Washington Practice series, KFW80.W32. Both of the above contain disks.

Washington has created family law forms that allow litigants to merely check boxes and fill in blanks in order to simplify procedure in family courts. Although they are often referred to as "Mandatory Domestic Relations Forms," failure to use them is not grounds for dismissal, default or discipline. They (and other legal forms produced by the State of Washington) are available on the Office of Administrator for the Courts web site at:

http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/.

Trial Lawyers Form Books [Personal Injury Litigation Forms] (published by the Washington Trial Lawyers Association (WSTLA)), KFW539.P4D38.

Washington Corporate Forms, by David d. Hoff et al. (published by Lexis Law Publishing), KFW213.A65H64.

A discussion of local forms and their online availability is included in A Guide to Using the Gallagher Law Library for Members of the Public: http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/pro-se.htm#sample forms.

NOTE: Many traditional formbooks include accompanying disks. This obviates the sometimes arduous task of retyping the entire document into the word processor.

 

ONLINE FORMS

The above discussion has made reference to "formbooks." However, in today's digitized world a more appropriate reference might be "collections of forms." The traditional collection was bound and distributed in print. With the advent of Lexis, Westlaw and other legal databases on the Internet, legal forms are available online. Sometimes these legal forms are online versions of print sources. For those resources, the database and file names have been included above with the listing of those formbooks. Increasingly, however, online forms have no mass-produced print counterpart. Listed below are some of the most popular websites for legal forms:

Lexisone Forms (forms are free but users must register to access them): http://www.lexisone.com/store/catalog?action=main.

Findlaw Forms (mostly links to forms produced by governmental entities): http://forms.lp.findlaw.com/.

'Lectric Law Library Legal Forms: http://www.lectlaw.com/form.html.

WashLaw Web Legal Forms (contains links to various websites containing legal forms): http://www.washlaw.edu/legalforms/legalforms.html.

FedForms.gov (forms for "the top 500 government services used by the public"): http://www.fedforms.gov/.

Washington State Courts, Court Forms and Instructions (issued by the Office of Administrator for the Courts): http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/.

IRS Tax Forms and Publications: http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/forms_pubs/index.html.

 

RESOURCES FOR SPECIFIC TYPES OF DRAFTING

Legislation

Bill Drafting Guide [for Washington State] (published by Statute Law Committee), KFW421.5.B5B55. Also available online at: http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/other_agencies/slc/bill_drafting_guide_internet.txt.

Legislative Research Homepage on Legislative Drafting at: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/8625/lrhp14.html.

Complaints

Many formbooks provide the skeletal framework for a complaint. But complaints are fact specific so those formbooks provide little more than a general outline of format. Shepard's Causes of Action (currently published by West Group [confusing since Lexis Publishing took over most of Shepards/McGraw Hill]), KF8863.S53, is a multi-volume set discussing issues surrounding various causes of action. Near the end of each annotation, there is a "Sample Complaint" for that type of lawsuit. These sample complaints help a lawyer ascertain that all of the elements of the complaint are in compliance with the legal theory. Causes of Action is not jurisdiction specific. It is also available online from Westlaw (database: COA).

Interrogatories

Like complaints, interrogatories vary depending on the charge (criminal) or cause of action (civil). There are a few resources that provide pattern interrogatories. Two sets are general, providing interrogatories that span the legal spectrum. They are:

Benders Forms of Discovery (published by Matthew Bender), KF8900.A3B4. Volumes 1-10 contain pattern interrogatories arranged topically. These are available online through Lexis (MATBEN;BFDISC).

American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts (better known as AmJur Proof of Facts) (published by ), KF8933.A4. The interrogatories follow other discussion and aids in proving elements pursuant to a legal action. This set is also available on Westlaw (database: AMJUR-POF).

In addition to the above, certain authors produce pattern interrogatories and release them as independent publications.

Douglas Danner (do an author search under his name) has several volumes of pattern discovery. They include sets on "Automobiles," "Medical Malpractice," "Premises Liability," and "Tort Actions" among others.

Bibliographies on Legal Drafting in Trial Practice

A bibliography housed at William Mitchell Law Library lists many topics surrounding law practice (and most specifically, trial practice). Citations are to book chapters that discuss drafting in those areas: http://www.wmitchell.edu/library/reference/draftdocs.htm.

Reference Sources on General and Legal Writing in the Gallagher Law Library is a bibliography of resources available at that library. The page also contains useful links to other legal writing websites: http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/writing.htm.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

"There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content." Fred Rodell

"Everytime a lawyer writes something, he is not writing for posterity, he is writing so that endless others of his craft can make a living out of trying to figure out what he said, course perhaps he hadent really said anything, that's what makes it hard to explain." Will Rogers

"Legal writing is one of those rare creatures, like the rat and the cockroach, that would attract little sympathy even as an endangered species." Richard Hyland