Clear and Concise

A good deal of our paralegal studies program at the University of Mississippi focuses on developing the ability to write clearly and concisely. (I am fortunate enough to have been given an internal grant from the Center for Rhetoric and Writing to improve  our ability to improve students’ writing ability.) It helps to explain why clear and concise writing is important before attempting to teach it. My explanation usually includes references to page, line, and word limitations in rules of procedure, but while the students read those limits, it seems students and many practicing legal professionals often do not believe the limits are enforced. That’s why I am passing on this story from abajournal.com:

Judge scolds BP for squeezing extra lines into brief

Posted Sep 18, 2014 09:50 am CDT

By Debra Cassens Weiss

BP is on notice that a federal judge will be closely scrutinizing its briefs for excess words in litigation over the Gulf oil spill.

In an order (PDF) on Monday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said BP evidently abused a 35-page limit by slightly squeezing the spacing between the lines. The limit was already 10 pages longer than usual, and it called for a double-spaced brief.

As a result of the manipulation, Barbier said, BP exceeded the already enlarged page limit by about six pages. Slate and NPR have stories.

“The court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this,” Barbier wrote. “Counsel are expected to follow the court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here.

“Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck.”

BP is represented by several law firms, and Barbier did not identify the firm at fault. He does, however, reference the Pacer number on the offending brief, which was submitted under the electronic signature of Kirkland & Ellis lawyer J. Andrew Langan. A Kirkland & Ellis spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Langan said he would refer the ABA Journal’s request for comment to the appropriate person.

One comment states:

Instead of word processing tricks, I suggest go ‘old school.’ Consult an early version of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” and learn to write using fewer words.

I agree. I suspect Celia Elwell, The Researching Paralegal, also agrees, since she frequently posts articles such as this: Classic Writing Tips from C. S. Lewis

 

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