As many lawyers know from experience, many courts have word or page limits to prevent lawyers from submitting extremely large documents to a judge. Judicial resources are limited and paralegals must impose size restrictions to ensure they have enough time to carefully read and digest the documents. Although lawyers sometimes try to be tricky to circumvent length limits and may find it difficult to conform their documents to the requirements of the court rules, lawyers should try to keep their arguments short and simple, as this will increase the chances that the court examines and corrects correctly digest the legal arguments.
When I was at Biglaw, we were once tasked with writing an appeal, and the page limit for the appeal was 30 or 40 pages. Our office has done everything possible to keep our arguments within bounds. We have removed the controversial second period after the sentences so that we can save spaces on each page. Additionally, we removed unnecessary string citations and held to the most important authorities to back up our arguments. Throughout the process, I thought about how foolish it was to bend over backwards to reduce our argument to the page limit. Surely the court could see what they’re doing, and the court would probably appreciate it if we cut the brief down considerably.
There are a variety of reasons why it is beneficial to keep legal writing short and sweet. On the one hand, it makes it much more likely that people will actually read and digest the materials. No one likes to read long, bulky newspapers. When someone is faced with a long legal text, they are much more likely to skim through the pages and not read everything so closely. This is because individuals are likely to have a set amount of time to review documents, regardless of how long the legal drafting takes.
Therefore, shorter legal writing may be preferable, as it makes it more likely that court officials and others will read these documents. Additionally, if court officers have less information to digest, it is more likely that they will be able to keep the details of a case in their heads as cases are argued and decided. Judges and court officers typically have to deal with dozens or more cases in any given week, and if lawyers keep their paperwork to a minimum, it’s more likely that a court will be able to better grasp cases. case-related issues.
Good legal writing is also usually shorter, as this can help focus the court’s attention. If someone has good arguments, it pays to focus on those arguments succinctly. This ensures that the arguments are properly digested by the court since the court’s attention will only be on those arguments and they can have the most impact on a judge. If a party has long legal writings that rely on a number of arguments, the court may be distracted by weaker arguments.
Of course, there are sometimes reasons why lawyers need to include many arguments and, therefore, have longer documents. For example, preserving arguments on appeal may require a lawyer to devote space to an argument that may not have the best chance of winning. Still, overall, it pays to focus on a few strong arguments and keep articles short to amplify those arguments.
Short, concise legal writing is also more cost effective in many cases and can help protect a client’s bottom line. When I was at Biglaw, the firm sometimes charged tens of thousands of dollars writing voluminous briefs on every single point of litigation. I vividly remember that the firm spent an awful lot of time working on a letter of insufficiency and a discovery motion on an issue that was not so critical to the trial.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the client reviewing invoices for writing large documents involving a simple discovery query. Of course, some lawsuits are extremely important issues, and each issue must be debated at length. In such cases, law firms must resolve each issue, and clients likely understand the importance of drafting thorough legal documents, even if an issue is relatively minor. However, clients will also likely appreciate shorter legal writing in many cases, as shorter legal writing is often less expensive and can help preserve a client’s war chest for further issues in a lawsuit.
All told, lawyers tend to be a verbose bunch of people, and I’m sure most lawyers have struggled with space limitations or know a colleague who has. However, short legal writing is generally better legal writing, and judges and clients alike can appreciate it if a lawyer keeps their papers short and sweet, especially if they’re reporting on a relatively minor issue.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website detailing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by email at [email protected].