As many attorneys know from personal experience, many courts have word or page restrictions to discourage attorneys from presenting extremely lengthy filings to a judge. Judiciary resources are limited, and court officials must impose size limits to ensure they have adequate time to read and carefully digest materials. Although attorneys sometimes try to cleverly circumvent length restrictions and may have difficulty adapting their filings to the requirements of court rules, attorneys should try to keep their arguments short and simple, as this increases the chances that the court will properly review their legal arguments digest.
Once when I was at Biglaw we were assigned to write an objection and the page limit for the objection was either 30 or 40 pages. Our office has tried everything to limit our arguments. We eliminated the controversial second point after sentences to save space on each page. Additionally, we’ve deleted unnecessary string citations and turned to key authorities to back up our points. Throughout the process I thought how stupid it was that we bent over backwards to narrow our argument down to the exact page limit. Certainly the court could see what they were doing, and the court would probably just appreciate it if we made the pleading significantly shorter.
There are a variety of reasons why it pays to keep legal texts short and sweet. For one, it makes it far more likely that people will actually read and digest the materials. Nobody likes to read long, voluminous papers. When confronted with a long legal text, someone is much more likely to skim the pages and not read everything very carefully. This is because individuals are likely to have a set amount of time to review the materials, no matter how long the legal writing is.
As a result, shorter legal texts may be preferable as it increases the likelihood that court officials and others will read these materials. Also, when court officials have less information to digest, they are more likely to be able to keep the details of a matter in mind as matters are discussed and decided. Judges and court officials typically have dozens or more cases to consider in any given week, and when attorneys keep their paperwork to a minimum, a court is more likely to have a better grasp of the issues involved in a case.
Good legal texts tend to be shorter as well, as this can help focus the court’s attention. When someone has good arguments, it pays to focus on those arguments concisely. This ensures that the arguments are properly processed by the court, as the court’s attention is solely on these arguments and they can have the greatest impact on a judge. When a party is writing lengthy legal texts based on a series of arguments, it is possible for the court to be distracted by less strong arguments.
Of course there are sometimes reasons why lawyers have to add numerous arguments and accordingly have longer papers. For example, the need to preserve arguments for an appeal may require an attorney to make room for an argument that may not have the best chance of success. Still, by and large, it pays to focus on a few solid arguments and keep posts short to support those arguments.
Short and concise legal texts are also more cost-effective in many cases and can help protect a client’s bottom line. When I was in Biglaw, the law firm sometimes billed tens of thousands of dollars writing lengthy briefs on every simple matter in a lawsuit. I distinctly remember that the firm spent an inordinate amount of time working on a deficiency letter and a discovery motion on an issue that was not as critical to the lawsuit.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be the customer reviewing invoices for writing lengthy paperwork that includes a simple discovery request. Of course, some lawsuits are extremely high stakes, and each matter must be fully litigated. In such cases, law firms must work through each issue, and clients are likely to understand the importance of preparing comprehensive legal documents, even when an issue is relatively minor. However, clients are likely to appreciate shorter legal texts in many cases, as shorter legal texts are often less expensive and can help preserve a client’s war chest for other matters in a court proceeding.
All in all, lawyers tend to be a talkative group of people and I’m sure most lawyers have struggled with space limitations or know a colleague who has. However, short legal texts tend to be better legal texts, and judges and clients can appreciate it when a lawyer keeps his papers short and to the point, especially when dealing with a relatively minor subject.
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 that discusses how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan via email at email@example.com.