How to Write Better Legal Essays by Steven Vaughan

How to write good law essays by Steven Vaughan

Steven Vaughan is a senior law lecturer at University College London who definitely knows how to write the best law essays.

When he asked his students to give a mark for a paper of a fresher, the feedback was ruthless. The essay, which was deemed to be really bad, appeared to be a work written by Vaughan himself when he was an Oxford undergraduate.

The lecturer tried to demonstrate to his students that essays don’t have to be ideal from the very first day. Practice makes perfect is the point that he tried to make.

In the interview with Guardian News, Steven Vaughan talks on how to write a winning law essay. Here are some of his guidelines that are more than likely to be useful for those who want to improve essay writing skills.

How law essay should look like

All essays are meant to have logic, structure, and narrative in order to effectively convey a message to the reader. In the case of law essays, it is all about a thorough inspection of the argument aimed at uncovering ground uncertainties and complexities within the law. Whatever was disclosed after the deep substantial digging needs to be used for arguing a certain position.

Freshers always question how the perfect law essay should look like. In fact, the answer is simple. Teachers provide students with many academic essays to read and they are the papers, which should be taken as examples.

Common mistakes

1. Students don’t answer the set question. Why? Reasons may vary but mainly that’s because they are stressed and can’t read the task properly or they just don’t fully understand the question. As Steven Vaughan put it, “don’t just vomit on the page.” Take your time to make sure that you fully understand what exactly you were asked.

2. Vaughan warns that a law essay shouldn’t be a murder mystery. When you read a piece of writing having no idea what the conclusion will be, all you want to ask is, “What’s the argument and what are you really talking about?”

3. An argument in a legal essay shouldn’t lack authority. A student may put forward valid, intelligent and well-reasoned propositions but if they don’t do well on a connection back to the law, the essay won’t be good. If you make a claim, you must support it with pieces of evidence based on the legal academic, case law or a statute section.

Introduction of law essay

An introduction that is too long is unacceptable for any paper, especially for a legal essay. Rambling in the very beginning never makes a reader want to read further so setting the right tone in the first paragraph is essential. Vaughan shares that he advises his students to do three important things when writing a law essay introduction. Giving a context to the argument is the first thing that should be followed by the second important step such as setting out an argument. After that, some signposting should take place in order to let the reader know what is supposed to happen over the next paragraphs or pages.

Doing the research

Students tend to avoid asking tutors for guidance on how to do research for their essay. Typically, the supplied reading list has two parts. It is expected that one part is the stuff that a student is supposed to know already while the second one is the additional reading, which is provided for exploring when there is extra time available. 

Law students tend to complain that they have too much work to do. Vaughan thinks that forming study groups can make student life easier because sharing reading between classmates can significantly help everyone prep. It is impressive when students create groups in social media such as WhatsApp or Facebook to share their knowledge with each other.

Time management

“Do as I say, not as I did.” This is a piece of advice, which Steven Vaughan always gives to his students. When the lecturer was a student himself, he used to stay awake all night in order to finish his essay at 6 am for 9 am tutorial. Vaughan thinks that studying should be treated as a typical nine-to-five job. Working at night or at the weekend is not something that will help you reach your goals. What you need is the discipline and a timetable sticking to which might make your student life much easier.

When you finished writing, leave your essay for a while. Come back to it some time later and proofread it. Looking at the text with fresh eyes will help you see the imperfections and errors that were not obvious to you previously.

It would be ideal if you have a trusted person or two who could give you feedback on whether you managed to convey the message in your essay effectively enough. Choose the person who is capable to be completely honest with you.