Legal Briefs Get (a Little) Shorter

Legal briefLegal writing isn't business writing. Judges have argued for briefer briefs, but not everyone agrees. Currently, these documents, which detail arguments in a legal case, max out at 14,000 words or about 57 pages of double-spaced text. Lawyers contend that they need more space but have agreed to reduce the number of words by 1,000, which is 1,500 fewer words than the original proposal.

Before lawyers had a word limit for briefs, they had a page limit. But the 50-page limit frustrated judges because lawyers would simply reduce the font size and page margins, making reading difficult.

According to a Wall Street Journal report last year, judges (no surprise) prefer reading shorter briefs: 

"It's hard to persuade lawyers on this point, says Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary. "They don't like to own up to their own diffuseness and verbosity," he said. "The way judges rebel at aimless verbose writing is they simply stop reading. The scarcest resource in any judge chamber is a judge's attention." 

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas confirmed the sentiment: "When you see one that's 50, and you see this guy has crammed every square centimeter or millimeter he could find on the page, that's when you say, my goodness!"

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What are the value and downsides of having word limits for legal briefs?
  • Do you buy lawyers' arguments that they need more words to present their case? Why or why not?
  • What types of business documents (other than writing for classes) have page or word limits?