DRAFTING LEGAL DOCUMENTS:

A RESOURCE GUIDE
 

Prepared by Kelly Kunsch, Seattle University Law Library
Updated by Jonathan Franklin, University of Washington Gallagher Law Library

Updated for Bridge the Gap, June 23, 2004

Legal Drafting Generally
Books on Legal Drafting
Formbooks
Online Forms
Sources for Forms
    General Forms
    Subject Specific Forms
    Jurisdiction Specific Forms
        Federal Forms
        Washington Specific Forms
Resources for Specific Types of Drafting
    Legislation
    Complaints
    Interrogatories
    Other Bibliography on Legal Drafting in Trial Practice
Final Thoughts
   

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." Legal Drafting in a Nutshell, by Thomas R. Haggard (West Group) KF250.H3.

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:

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

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

Drafting Effective Contracts: A Practitioner’s Guide, by Robert A. Feldman & Raymond T. Nimmer (Aspen) KF807.F452.

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

Guidelines for Drafting, Editing, and Interpreting, by Robert E. Keeton (LexisNexis) KF250.K44.

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

Legal Writing in Plain English: a Text with Exercises, by Bryan A. Garner (University of Chicago Press) KF250.G373.

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 include checklists that lawyers use to assure they gather all the necessary informaton from the client during the interview. These multivolume 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.

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 below 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.

SOURCES FOR FORMS

The groupings of sources for forms below include both print and electronic resources. Many traditional formbooks include
accompanying disks. This obviates the sometimes arduous task of retyping the entire document into the word processor.

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).

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).

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).

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/.

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

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. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: FLTR-FRM).

Collier Forms Manual [Bankruptcy] (published by Matthew Bender), KF1521.C6. The set is also available on Lexis (MATBEN;COLFMA).

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.

Some of the general online form websites listed above include available forms organized by subject.

Jurisdiction Specific Forms

Similar to formbooks that cover a particular topic, certain formbooks focus on legal documents used in a particular jurisdiction.

    Federal Forms

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. The set is also available on Lexis (MATBEN;FDPRAC).

Federal Procedural Forms, Lawyers Edition (published by Lawyers Co-operative), KF8836.F4. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: FEDPROF).

West's Federal Forms (published by West Group), KF8836.W4. The set is also available on Westlaw (database: FEDFORMS).

FedForms.gov (forms for "the top 500 government services used by the public"): http://www.fedforms.gov/. Similar to Washington, federal agencies often provide forms relevant to their regulated area. Using FedForms is a quick way to access those forms.

IRS Tax forms and publications are available at: http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/formspubs/index.html.

    Washington Specific Forms

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 specific 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), by David E. Breskin (published by West Group), 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. The Washington Practice series is also available on Westlaw (database: WAPRAC).

Domestic Relations Forms, developed by the Washington Pattern Forms Committee (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. These are family law forms created by the state 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/

The Washington courts website, http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/, also has online forms in a few other areas, including some criminal procedure forms, garnishment forms, other family law forms (such as parentage and emancipation forms), and a few real estate and personal property forms, listed under Limited Practice Board forms. All these forms are also available on Lexis, Westlaw, and at other legal research sites.

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. Also available online via Lexis (WASH;WAFORM).

Other Washington forms may also be available from state government websites. For example, the Secretary of State’s website has
registration forms for business entities available at: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/corps/registration_forms.aspx. The State’s
Department of Licensing also has numerous forms available at: http://www.dol.wa.gov/forms/forms.htm.

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

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://slc.leg.wa.gov/BillDraftingGuide/RCWBDG.htm.

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. Causes of Action (currently published by West Group), KF8863.S53, is a multivolume 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).  American Jurisprudence Trials (usually called "AmJur Trials") (currently published by West Group) , KF8915.A74 is a similar resource
containing sample pleadings (Westlaw database: AMJUR-TRIALS).

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:

American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts (usually known as AmJur Proof of Facts) (currently published by West Group), 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).

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).

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 currently published by West Group, formerly published by Clark Boardman Callaghan. They include sets on "Motor Vehicles," "Medical Malpractice," "Premises Liability," and "Tort Actions" among others. These volumes are also available on Westlaw (each with its own database).

Other Bibliography on Legal Drafting in Trial Practice

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.