Court Reporting and Legal Journalism Writing Guide

Judge and gavel in courtroom
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So you've been to court, taken good notes on a trial, done all the necessary interviews and have plenty of background. You're ready to write.

But writing about the courts can be challenging. Trials are often long and almost always complex, and for the beginning court reporter, the learning curve can be steep.

So here are some tips for writing about the courts:

Cut out the Jargon

Lawyers love to spout legal terminology - legalese, for short. But, chances are, your readers won't understand what most of it means. So when writing your story, it's your job to translate legal jargon into plain, simple English that anyone can understand.

Lead With the Drama

Many trials are long periods of relatively boring procedural stuff punctuated by brief moments of intense drama. Examples might include an outburst by the defendant or an argument between an attorney and the judge. Be sure to highlight such moments in your story. And if they're important enough, put them in your lede.


A man on trial for allegedly killing his wife during an argument unexpectedly stood up in court yesterday and shouted, "I did it!"

Get Both Sides

It's important in any news article to get both - or all - sides of the story, but as you can imagine it's especially crucial in a court story. When a defendant is charged with a serious crime, it's your job to get both the defense and the prosecution's arguments into your article. Remember, the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

Find a Fresh Lede Everyday

Many trials go on for days or even weeks, so be sure to follow the recommendations for follow-up stories when you cover a long one. Remember, the key is to take the most important, interesting, and newsworthy testimony of any given day and build your lede around that.

Work on the Background

While the top of your story should be the trial's latest developments, the bottom should include the basic background of the case - who is the accused, what is he accused of, where and when did the alleged crime occur, etc. Even when covering a highly publicized trial, never assume that your readers will know all the background of the case.

Use the Best Quotes

Good quotes can make or break a trial story. Jot down as many direct quotes as you can in your notebook, then use just the best ones in your story.

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Your Citation
Rogers, Tony. "Court Reporting and Legal Journalism Writing Guide." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Rogers, Tony. (2020, August 26). Court Reporting and Legal Journalism Writing Guide. Retrieved from Rogers, Tony. "Court Reporting and Legal Journalism Writing Guide." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).