Advice From Judge Posner On Legal Writing

In a recent opinion, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who some describe as perhaps the greatest living appellate judge (a claim with which I would not necessarily disagree), offered some useful advice on the subject of brief writing. Specifically, he addressed the dense legalese that littered the briefs that had been submitted in a complex reinsurance case, and offered some advice that all attorneys ought to take to take to heart:

A note, finally, on advocacy in this court. The lawyers’ oral arguments were excellent. But their briefs, although well written and professionally competent, were difficult for us judges to understand because of the density of the reinsurance jargon in them. There is nothing wrong with a specialized vocabulary—for use by specialists. Federal district and circuit judges, however, with the partial exception of the judges of the court of appeals for the Federal Circuit (which is semi-specialized), are generalists. We hear very few cases involving reinsurance, and cannot possibly achieve expertise in reinsurance practices except by the happenstance of having practiced in that area before becoming a judge, as none of us has. Lawyers should understand the judges’ limited knowledge of specialized fields and choose their vocabulary accordingly. Every esoteric term used by the reinsurance industry has a counterpart in ordinary English, as we hope this opinion has demonstrated. The able lawyers who briefed and argued this case could have saved us some work and presented their positions more effectively had they done the translations from reinsurancese into everyday English themselves.

(Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog)

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One Response to Advice From Judge Posner On Legal Writing
  1. Gretchen E. Leonhardt
    October 19, 2010 | 2:38 pm

    [Please delete the previous comment and include this revised one, instead.] As an aspiring legal-writing specialist, I find this to be excellent advice to pass along when emphasizing the effect of jargon on judges.